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OnBaseMachine
06-04-2006, 03:08 AM
Tom Archdeacon: Dragons' Cueto's talent talks loud, clear

He's shown it all season and Saturday afternoon he finally said it:

"I am a pitcher."

A faint smile crept over Johnny Cueto's face as he looked at his two Dayton Dragons teammates and then at Lois Spetter, who nodded approvingly:

"Bueno."

Feeling sure of himself, Cueto delivered again, this time with more zip on his English:

"I am a pitcher!"

It was a few hours before the Dragons would play Beloit and Cueto was showing his stuff. Not on the field where he's become one of the Cincinnati Reds' most promising prospects this season but in a makeshift classroom at Fifth Third Field.

Under the guidance of Spetter a retired English-as-a-second-language coordinator for the Huber Heights schools the Dominican-born Cueto was taking part in club-sponsored English classes with Panamanian infielder Yoni Lasso and fellow Dominican Gerardo Cabrera, who's already proficient in the language after two years of junior college baseball in Miami.

In fact, Cabrera, a 22-year-old outfielder from Santo Domingo, acts as a clubhouse interpreter for the 20-year-old Cueto.

On the mound, the right-hander with the overpowering fastball needs no one to translate. The Dragons' ace is 5-1 with 2.72 earned run average and going into today's start has struck out 63 batters in 53 innings.

The Reds named him their minor league pitcher of the month for April. In May, Cueto followed a no-hitter with a one-hitter and threw 21 consecutive scoreless innings.

The Dragons are seeing what Johnny Almarez, the Reds' director of player development/international operations saw when before a morning flight out of Santo Domingo a couple of years ago he agreed to a just-past-dawn detour to San Pedro de Marcoris to watch Cueto put on a quick exhibition.

Almarez signed him on the spot and got him to the Reds' baseball academy the first step for Cueto in a dream to follow Pedro Martinez and Sammy Sosa to the majors.

"Like a lot of Dominicans, Johnny has a real passion for the game," Dragons manager Billy Gardner said. "They know baseball could be that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and, for a lot of them, that's all they have."

The small island nation of 8 million has more baseball talent per capita than any place on Earth. More than 100 Dominican-born players were on Opening Day rosters in the major leagues.

Cueto first began playing baseball with a tree branch for a bat and an old piece of leather held together with shoe strings for a glove. He quit school in the ninth grade and, like many Dominicans, signed as a free agent for a pittance compared to the riches similar talent gets in the United States.

"That's how it is," Cabrera said, "but we just want a chance."

Cueto is getting that and said he hopes to be in the big leagues in three years. He said he wouldn't mind pitching to Sosa now: "I have my pitches. I have a fastball."

When it was mentioned that Almarez said it was 93-94 mph, Cueto shook his head before Cabrera could translate.

"Ninety five," he said in English, smiling. "Ninety six."

http://www.daytondailynews.com/sports/content/sports/daily/0604arch.html

OnBaseMachine
06-05-2006, 03:25 AM
Dragons' Cueto turns in rare clunker
By Doug Harris

Staff Writer

DAYTON The language barrier kept Dayton Dragons pitching ace Johnny Cueto, a native of the Dominican Republic, from adequately explaining a rare bad outing.

And manager Billy Gardner Jr., who speaks perfect English, couldn't offer much assistance.

The offense gave Cueto a three-run cushion against the visiting Beloit Snappers on Sunday, but he couldn't close the sale. He was yanked with a 5-4 lead after five innings, having given up eight hits, and the bullpen frittered away the rest of the margin in a 6-5 defeat.

"Cueto just wasn't on. He wasn't making his pitches," Gardner said. "A three-run lead should be enough for him ... but that's how it goes sometimes."

The comet-throwing Cueto, who tossed the franchise's first no-hitter earlier this season, took a 5-1 record and 2.72 ERA into the game. But he couldn't consistently find the plate, walking two and beaning another batter.

Still, he exited with a lead and could have picked up the win, but reliever Jeff Stevens gave up a homer to the first batter he faced. And a defensive lapse by the Dragons (27-30) led to the tie-breaking run in the ninth.

Second baseman Mike DeJesus fielded a slow grounder and tried to get a force out at second, but the throw was high and late. Pinch-runner Tarrence Patterson then scored on a hit-and-run single by Toby Gardenhire.

"We probably should have taken the out (at first) there," Gardner said. "That would have been two outs, and you take your chances from there."

Short hops

The Dragons, who have lost eight of 10, sent 10 batters to the plate in the third inning and scored five runs. But they had just one hit after that.

Dayton turned three double plays, including one in the seventh inning when catcher Chris Denove threw out Gardenhire attempting to steal after a strikeout.

The Dragons' Jay Bruce, who went into the game leading the Midwest League in extra-base hits with 30, had a triple in three at-bats.

http://www.daytondailynews.com/sports/content/sports/daily/0605dragons.html