No rust for Cueto in return to spring action

Righty goes five innings in Minor League game upon return from Dominican Republic

No rust for Cueto in return to spring action

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Other than the fact that he occasionally told his catcher, and by virtue the opposing hitter, what he was throwing and where it would be located, Reds ace Johnny Cueto had a pretty normal-looking first start back on Friday after his return to camp.

Facing Dodgers Minor League hitters in a Double-A game on a back field at the Reds complex, Cueto pitched five innings with two earned runs and five hits, no walks, four strikeouts and one wild pitch. He threw 60 pitches, including 47 for strikes.

"I thought I was going to be a little wild and stuff like that, but no, everything felt pretty good," Cueto said with teammate Brayan Pena translating. "I was trying to throw the ball down and I was effective. So I was very pleased with my start."

Cueto had not pitched in a game since March 15 vs. the Cubs because he left camp to return home to the Dominican Republic. His mother, Cristina, required open-heart surgery. Cueto rejoined the team on Thursday after his mother's health improved.

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"In the big picture, we were really looking at how his delivery looked and the quality of his pitches, which I thought was outstanding," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "He threw all of his pitches for strikes, a lot of balls were in play on the ground. I thought he threw very well, especially after a fairly extended layoff from facing hitters."

Cueto's fastball was often up to 92 mph, and he hit 93 mph one time. He worked relatively quickly, with no inning lasting longer than 15 pitches. In a 1-2-3 second inning, he threw 10 pitches with nine strikes. There was a leadoff double and a run allowed in the third.

Behind the plate for the outing was Triple-A Louisville catcher Tucker Barnhart, who was often told what pitch was coming instead of having to give signs.

"I was trying to make sure he knew. I just wanted to keep it going," Cueto said. "I didn't have too many pitches, so I wanted him and I to be on the same page and I just wanted to move the game a little faster. It was hot."

Cueto's next start will be in a big league game vs. the D-backs on Wednesday. Five days after that is Opening Day on April 6, when he is scheduled to face the Pirates at Great American Ball Park.

"I don't see any reason to think he won't be ready for Opening Day," Price said. "He stayed on a pretty consistent throwing and conditioning regimen when he was at home."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.