Johnny Cueto Ortiz
- Bats Right, Throws Right
- Height 5' 10", Weight 220 lb.
Johnny Cueto was a two-time Reds Minor League Pitcher of the Year before making his major league debut in 2008.
Cueto was signed by Cincinnati Reds scout Johnny Almaraz in 2004 and debuted with the DSL Reds, going 3-6 with a 2.58 ERA. In 2005, he was 2-2 with a 5.02 ERA for the GCL Reds and 0-1 with a 3.00 ERA for the Sarasota Reds.
Cueto made major strides in 2006. The 20-year-old was 8-1 with a 2.59 ERA for the Dayton Dragons with 52 hits, 15 walks and 82 strikeouts in 76 1/3 IP. He led the Midwest League with two shutouts (tied with Ramon Garcia. He started the MWL All-Star Game for the East team, allowing one run in one inning. Promoted back to Sarasota, his record was 7-2, 3.50 with 48 hits allowed and 61 strikeouts in 61 1/3 innings. He led Cincinnati Reds farmhands in wins and was second in strikeouts. He was named the Reds' Minor League Pitcher of the Year. Baseball America ranked him as the #12 prospect in the MWL and the #14 prospect in the Florida State League.
Johnny remained effective in 2007. He started with Sarasota (4-5, 3.33, 72 K in 78 1/3 IP) and moved up to the Chattanooga Lookouts. His record was 6-3 with a 3.10 ERA for the Lookouts, with 11 walks to 77 strikeouts in 61 innings. Moving up another step to the Louisville Bats, he was 2-1 with a 2.05 ERA. In 22 innings, he fanned 21 while walking just two. He led Reds farmhands in ERA (3.07) and strikeouts and was third in wins. He was again the Reds Minor League Pitcher of the Year. Baseball America rated him as the 5th-best FSL prospect and 4th-best Southern League record. They also proclaimed Cueto as having the best slider and control in the Reds organization.
The 22-year-old made the Reds out of spring training in 2008 and was their #3 starter. He had a fine major league debut against the Arizona Diamondbacks on April 3rd. He struck out his first batter, Chris Young, and fanned seven more in his first five innings without allowing either a hit or walk. Justin Upton opened the 6th with a home run for the only hit off Cueto, who tossed another two perfect innings before being replaced by David Weathers. Cueto picked up the victory. His second start included 8 more strikeouts. With 18 strikeouts and no walks in his first two games, Cueto became the first major leaguer to start so auspiciously since 1900. He lost his next five decisions, though, as his ERA rose from 2.02 to 5.56. Cueto then settled back to finish 9-14 with a 4.81 ERA, reaching neither the highs of his first games or the lows of his next stretch. His ERA+ was 94. He was 8th in the 2008 NL in strikeouts per 9 innings (8.17), but tied for 6th in homers allowed (29), tied for 4th in losses and tied for first in hit batsmen.
Cueto got the only Dominican win of the 2009 World Baseball Classic as they were surprisingly ousted in three games. He held the Panamanian national team to 3 hits and no runs in 4 2/3 innings and fanned five in his outing. He had another good season for the Reds in 2009, lowering his ERA from 4.81 to 4.41 and improving his record to 11-11. He only was among the 2009 NL leaders in hit batsmen (14, one behind leader Dave Bush. The following season, on May 11, 2010, he pitched a gem against the Pittsburgh Pirates, giving up a single hit in a 9-0 win; the only safety was an infield single by Ronny Cedeno which deflected off the glove of a diving Paul Janish in the 3rd inning. He made 31 starts that year, going 12-7 with a 3.64 ERA and 138 strikeouts in 185 2/3 innings. He tied for 6th with 9 hit batsmen and was 10th in winning percentage in the 2010 NL. He started Game 3 of the NLDS against the Philadelphia Phillies; he gave up a pair of runs, including a solo homer by Chase Utley, in 5 innings of work and was charged with the Reds' 2-0 loss that completed the Phillies' three-game sweep. He signed a four-year, $27 million contract after the season.
Johnny missed the start of the Reds' 2011 season with a muscle irritation in his pitching arm, only making his debut on May 8th after a short rehabilitation stint in the minors. He was also shut down for the second half of September with the Reds out of contention in the NL Central and was thus limited to 24 starts. He made the most of those starts, however, maintaining an outstanding 2.31 ERA in 156 innings, just short of qualifying for the ERA title which went to Clayton Kershaw at 2.28. His record was 9-5 and he struck out 104 batters, while giving up only 123 hits. He made the league leaders in complete games (3, tied for 5th), hit batters (10, 5th) and numerous sabermetric measures for success.
He was named the Reds' Opening Day starter for 2012. Even though he was not named to the All-Star team, he had a tremendous season that year. On August 18th, a 5-3 win over the Chicago Cubs improved his record to 16-6, making him the first pitcher in the National League to 16 wins that year, and tied him with the Tampa Bay Rays' David Price for the major league lead. He finished the year with a record of 19-9, 2.78, getting 170 strikeouts in 217 innings, placing him third in the NL in both wins and ERA. The Reds won their second NL Central title in three years, and he was designated to start the opening game of the NLDS against the San Francisco Giants on October 6th. However, only two batters into the game, he had to leave, bothered by back spasms.
He was again the Reds' opening day starter in 2013, but his year was characterized by health issues. He went on the disabled list for the first time from April 19th to May 19th with a strained lateral muscle. He came back to make three starts before returning to the DL, then made three more starts in late June. In the last of these, on June 28th, he threw only 29 pitches and left after only one batter in the 2nd inning, being charged with a 4-0 loss to the Rangers. He was placed on the DL for the third time already after the game because of what was called tightness in his lower back. In between his injuries, he had pitched quite well, though, as his record stood at 4-2, 3.33 after 9 starts. He came back in time to make two late-season starts, ending the year at 5-2, 2.82 and was chosen to start the National League Wild Card Game against the Pittsburgh Pirates on October 1st. Things did not go so well despite historically having dominated Pittsburgh, as he gave up 4 runs in 3 1/3 innings and was charged with the 6-2 loss.
Cueto got a measure of revenge over the Pirates on April 16, 2014 when he recorded his first win of the season after two losses over them, throwing a masterful three-hit shutout in a 4-0 win. It was his first shutout since 2011. He then had another great game against Pittsburgh on April 22nd, when he took a shutout into the 9th inning before Andrew McCutchen touched him for a solo homer in the 9th. Still, he won, 4-1, with another complete game, improving to 2-2, 1.38 on the year. In that game, he also passed 1,000 innings pitched in his career. On May 15th, when he pitched a three-hit shutout over the San Diego Padres, it gave him 9 straight starts of at least 7 innings in which he had allowed 2 runs or less since the beginning of the season. One had to go back to Harry Krause's season with the 1909 Philadelphia Athletics to find a pitcher starting a year with 10 such outings. Cueto's streak ended with his 10th start, as he gave up 8 runs (6 earned) in 5 1/3 innings in a 9-4 loss to the Washington Nationals on May 20th. After making the All-Star team for the first time that season, he became the first pitcher in the majors to reach 15 wins when he defeated the Colorado Rockies, 3-2, on August 15th. He ended up as the Reds' first 20-game winner since Danny Jackson in 1988, as a win over the Pirates on the final day of the season, September 28th, put his record at 20-9, 2.25. In 243 2/3 innings, he allowed a mere 169 hits while striking out 242. He would normally have been a favorite for the Cy Young Award, but stood little chance given the the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw had put up even more staggering numbers.
On July 7, 2015, he pitched an absolute gem in shutting out the Washington Nationals, 5-0, with a two-hitter in which he struck out 11 opponents. Just a day earlier, he had been named one of five candidates from the National League to be named to the All-Star Game under the Final Man Vote procedure. By the end of the month, with the Reds going nowhere, trade rumors were swirling around his name, and on [July 25]]th, he made a start for the Reds after rumors that he had just been traded to the Kansas City Royals were nixed. Unperturbed, he pitched 8 scoreless innings in defeating the Colorado Rockies, 5-2, improving to 7-6, 2.62 on the year. The next day, the trade to the Royals was confirmed as he headed to the team holding the best record in the American League in return for three pitching prospects, Brandon Finnegan, John Lamb and Cody Reed. In his first home start for his new team on August 10th, he threw a four-hit shutout while striking out 8 and walking none to beat the Detroit Tigers, 4-0. However, his performance for the Royals was up-and-down, as he went 4-7, 4.76 in 13 starts for them, ending up at 11-13, 3.44 for the season. However, the Royals had not acquired him for the regular season but for the postseason, and he proved his mettle there when he won Game 5 of the Division Series, 7-2 over the Houston Astros, by pitching 8 innings of two-hit ball. He was rocked in his lone start of the ALCS, though, when he gave up 8 runs in 2 innings against the Toronto Blue Jays in Game 3. He then bounced back with a gem in the World Series, a 2-1 complete game win over the New York Mets in Game 2, which gave the Royals a two games to none lead. He became a much sought-after free agent after the season. On November 29th, reports emerged that he had turned down an offer of six years and $120 million from the Arizona Diamondbacks, hoping for an even larger payday. He then signed with the San Francisco Giants for $130 million over six years on December 14th.
Cueto gave the Giants a scare during a spring training outing on [[March 14], 2016 as he was hit in the forehead by a line drive off the bat of Billy Burns of the Oakland Athletics. He finished his three-inning stint before being taken to hospital as a precautionary measure, but seemed to suffer no serious injury. He was a winner in his debut in a Giants uniform on April 5th on the road against the Milwaukee Brewers, when he gave up only 1 run in 7 innings in a 2-1 win. In his first home start on April 10th, however, he was roughed up by the Los Angeles Dodgers for 5 runs in the 1st, but hung on to pitch until the 7th and ended up winning a 9-6 decision. He finished the year with a brilliant record of 18-5, 2.79, leading the NL with 5 complete games and making the All-Star team for the second time. He then lost his only postseason start, in spite of a brilliant outing in Game 1 of the NLDS against the Chicago Cubs on October 7th: he gave up just 3 hits in 8 innings, walking jone and striking out 10, but a solo homer by Javier Baez in the 8th was enough to saddle him with a 1-0 loss. However, like the rest of the Giants, he struggled in 2017, ending up at 8-8, 4.52 in 25 starts as an Francisco finished in last place.
Johnny got off to a great start in 2018, as after four appearances, his ERA was a minute 0.35, the result of giving up just one run in 26 innings. His other stats were just as brilliant: 13 hits and 4 walks allowed for a WHIP of 0.65, and 23 strikeouts. But the Giants' offense was struggling to score runs, meaning he had just 2 wins to show for those four brilliant outings. However, on May 1st, the Giants announced that they had placed Cueto on the DL retroactive to April 29th with elbow inflammation. The fear was that he was to undergo Tommy John surgery, but the diagnostic from Dr. James Andrews was that there was no tear and that he would need 6 to 8 weeks of rest and rehabilitation instead of season-ending surgery. However, that early optimism proved unfounded. he did return to the mound in early July but pitched poorly, going 0-2, 6.86 in 4 starts, to bring his season's record to 3-2, 2.32. On August 1st, he threw in the towel, announcing he would be having the surgery in the coming days.
He returned to action on September 10, 2019, having missed a little over a year of action. He was brilliant in his first game back, giving up no runs on just 1 hit in 5 innings to earn a win against the Pittsburgh Pirates. He then made three more starts, finishing at 1-2, 5.06. He was healthy in 2020, but that was the year when the Coronavirus pandemic cut the season down to 60 games. His 12 start were the equivalent of a full season of work, and he went 2-3, 5.40, never quite getting into a groove. He pitched better in 2021, going 7-7, 4.08 in 22 games, 21 of them starts, and logging 114 2/3 innings. By then, the Giants had emerged from a few seasons of torpor to have one of the bests seasons in franchise history, winning 107 games and a division title, so his .500 record was nothing great. Moreover, he only pitched once after the end of August (that was his only relief outing of the year, lasting 2 1/3 innings) and did not record a win after July 29th. As a result, he did not appear in the postseason, when the Giants lost the Division Series to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
He became a free agent after the 2021 season and had to wait until April 8, 2022 to find a team, signing with the Chicago White Sox when they were concerned about an injury suffered by Lance Lynn. He started the year in extended spring training, then made four starts for the AAA Charlotte Knights before being called up to Chicago on May 16th. He was excellent in his first start against the Kansas City Royals that day, striking out the side in the 1st inning while retiring the firstnine batters he faced in order. He ended up pitching 6 scoreless innings, giving up just 2 hits and striking out 7 but ended up with a no-decision as the game was only decided in the 10th inning.
Cueto is an atypical major league pitcher because of his small size and relatively heavy built, especially for a righthander. He also has a very unusual pitching motion, similar to that used in the 1970s by Luis Tiant and Gene Garber, which sees him pivot his body towards second base before throwing home. He is also known for his ability to make adjustments on the fly, noticing a flaw in a batter's swing that particular day and being able to exploit it immediately, an ability that very few pitchers have.
- 2-time NL All-Star (2014 & 2016)
- NL Innings Pitched Leader (2014)
- NL Strikeouts Leader (2014)
- NL Complete Games Leader (2016)
- 15 Wins Seasons: 3 (2012, 2014 & 2016)
- 20 Wins Seasons: 1 (2014)
- 200 Innings Pitched Seasons: 4 (2012 & 2014-2016)
- 200 Strikeouts Seasons: 1 (2014)
- Won one World Series with the Kansas City Royals in 2015
- 2008 Reds Media Guide
- World Baseball Classic
- Jorge L. Ortiz: "Johnny Cueto, an unconventional ace, gives Royals a championship look", USA Today Sports, July 26, 2015.