CINCINNATI, Ohio—Signed out of the Dominican Republic by the Cincinnati Reds for a modest $35,000 signing bonus in 2004, Johnny Cueto worked his way into becoming debatably the best pitcher the franchise has had in the 21st century. Cueto was a NL Cy Young Award finalist in 2012 and the NL strikeout leader in 2014. He spent parts of eight seasons in Cincinnati’s major league rotation, a tenure that ended at the 2015 trade deadline when he was sent to the eventual World Series champion Kansas City Royals.
“It’s a long time,” Cueto told Fish on First in English reflecting on that chapter of his life. While the 37-year-old plans to continue pitching beyond the 2023 season, Wednesday’s start could prove to be the final one he makes in the city that launched his career.
“I feel very excited just to be here and pitch in this park again,” Cueto said via interpreter. “With all of the fans and staff around here, I’m very excited to have the opportunity.”
The later Reds teams Cueto played on—some coincidentally with future Marlins manager Skip Schumaker on the roster—share some similarities with the current Marlins team on the field today. They were younger, newly built-up rosters that were looking for something to prove, particularly behind a great pitching staff.
I spoke with former Reds pitcher Bronson Arroyo earlier in the summer about that same pitching staff Cueto was a part of from 2008-2013. Arroyo preached being a leader to those younger guys and sees a bit of himself in Cueto.
Cueto said, “I learned a lot from him, but even more from my Latino teammates like Miguel Cairo. But I learned it’s all about watching the game—you have to pay attention. Some of these kids nowadays, they don’t pay attention to it. Inside the dugout, they’re not following up. I try to tell them to just keep yourself in the game and pay attention to all of the details.”
Cueto was a prototypical power pitcher during his prime years in Cincinnati. As is the case with any pitcher who has survived 16 seasons at the highest level, he’s been forced to evolve.
“He’s in a different spot in his career,” Skip Schumaker said. “He was a power pitcher and now he’s got a quicker pitchability. He still can punch you out, but he has more pitchability now and tries to trick you a little bit.”
Cueto will be on the bump today at 12:35 p.m. for what will be his 102nd career regular season start at Great American Ball Park. Watch on MLB Network nationally, and locally on Bally Sports Florida and Bally Sports Ohio.