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04-04-2008, 12:52 AM
Tom Archdeacon: Rookie righty puts on sensational display
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By Tom Archdeacon

Staff Writer

Friday, April 04, 2008

CINCINNATI — He doesn't throw lemons anymore.

Literally or figuratively.

Growing up poor in San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic, Johnny Cueto said his first baseball bat was a tree branch and his first glove was an old piece of leather held together with shoestrings.

"And my first ball," the Cincinnati Reds rookie pitcher said in Spanish, "was a lemon."

As he stood at his dressing stall in the clubhouse and thought back to those hard-scrabble days, he started to laugh. It had been a long time since he threw a lemon.

Certainly he didn't toss one at Great American Ball Park on Thursday afternoon, April 3.

In his major-league debut against the Arizona Diamondbacks — and just two seasons removed from the Dayton Dragons — the 22-year-old right-hander put on a display that was "amazing, just unbelievable" gushed Reds veteran closer, and fellow Dominican, Francisco Cordero.

Mixing fastballs up to 97 mph with disconcerting changeups and pinpoint control, Cueto retired the first 15 batters he faced before his perfect game was stained by a Justin Upton home run.

But after that, Cueto continued his domination until Reds manager Dusty Baker removed him after the seventh inning of what would be a 3-2 Cincinnati victory. Cueto finished with 10 strikeouts, no walks and gave up just that one hit.

Major-league records go back to 1900, and in that time, no Reds pitcher has ever struck out 10 in his debut performance.

"He is fun to play behind, because every pitch you're waiting for him to do something spectacular — and today he did just that," said Reds left fielder Adam Dunn. "He's just one of those special guys."

And unlike Homer Bailey — last season's supposed "special guy" — Cueto lived up to his billing.

Actually, Bailey had far more hype, in part because he was a first-round draft pick in 2004 who signed for $2.3 million. That same year, Cueto — who had dropped out of school in the ninth grade and attended the Reds' Dominican baseball academy — signed for $3,500.

Even today, Cueto makes the minimum $390,000 a year, while Cordero makes more than $8.6 million and Dunn $13 million.

Before the game, Baker said he told Cueto in Spanish to relax and be calm: "He shook his head like he always does, gave me that little boy smile of his and said, 'OK, no problem.' "

That smile, Dunn said, is deceiving: "He's totally different on the mound than he is in the clubhouse."

Not totally. Cueto did show that little boy side at the end of the fourth inning after Dunn had crashed into the left-field wall to catch an Orlando Hudson blast.

Clapping his pitching hand into his mitt, the beaming Cueto waited for Dunn, giving him a high-five and a pat on the butt before they both trotted to the dugout.

"When a guy's pitching like that," Dunn said with a smile, "you want to make plays for him."

Cordero — who retired the side in the ninth inning to collect his first save since coming over from Milwaukee — felt the same way:

"When you pitch like Cueto did, you deserve the win. My big concern was just to get three people out, get the save and hand the ball to him."

And when Cordero did, Cueto had to like the feel.

It felt nothing like a lemon.


04-04-2008, 12:57 AM
And unlike Homer Bailey — last season's supposed "special guy" — Cueto lived up to his billing.
That's a Brantleyish type comment. Not sure why that was needed.

I did love the "He doesn't throw lemons anymore" line.

04-04-2008, 12:59 AM
I love Dominican players. No one loves baseball more than those kids from the Dominican Republic. You always hear the stories of these kids being so poor that they have to play with sticks, rocks, lemons and so on. It's amazing what they'll do just so they can play the game they love. I admire them for that. Nothing makes me happier than seeing a great kid like Johnny Cueto, who only signed for 3,500 dollars and grew up extremely poor, reach the majors and make a minimum of 390,000 dollars a year. With that golden right arm of his it won't be too long before he's making millions of dollars, hopefully with our Reds for a longtime. I know one thing - I'll never forget his major league debut.

I'll be customizing me a Cueto jersey here in the next week or so.

04-04-2008, 01:28 AM
Fans awestruck by rookie effort
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Reds pitcher Johnny Cueto made his major-league debut during a rainy Thursday afternoon game. According to the announced game attendance, only 11,987 fans got to see it in person.

And they won’t be forgetting the performance anytime soon.

“It was impressive,” said 43-year-old Gary Heflin of Anderson. “Once SportsCenter and everybody else picks up on it, you’re really gonna hear about this kid that Cincinnati has.”

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Heflin and fans like him left Great American Ball Park equal parts excited and dumbfounded Thursday after Cueto went from prized prospect to potential phenom.

The 22-year-old allowed one hit and struck out 10 in seven innings, picking up the win in a 3-2 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks. He was perfect through five innings before making his only mistake of the day, giving up a home run to Justin Upton.

Despite the rain, most fans in attendance stayed throughout the masterpiece. They cheered from underneath ponchos and umbrellas. And when it was over, one name was on their lips.

“Cueto gave a great effort – 10 strikeouts, what can you say,” said Greg Trame, 46, of Covington. “I was getting a little nervous when the (relievers) came in. I thought maybe they’d blow the game and it’d be a typical scenario.

“It was just exciting to be a part of.”

Some fans, like 15-year-old Keith Molz of Kettering, came to the game with high hopes for the Reds’ latest can’t-miss youngster.

“I wanted to see him because there’s been so much hype about him. I thought he was great,” said Molz, who attended the game with his brother, father and uncle. “Especially for his first start – there had to be a lot of pressure – he was solid.”

Other fans, like Heflin, didn’t know what to make of the rookie before the first pitch.

“But now,” Heflin said, “whenever he’s pitching, I’m going to try to get tickets for those games.”

Dave Molz, Keith’s father, was struck by a different idea as his group walked away from the stadium. And it had nothing to do with getting out of the steady drizzle.

“We’ve got to get home,” he said. “I’ve got to get Cueto on my fantasy team.”