Sure, the usually pinpoint Reds ace walked three straight, one that forced in a run, in a decisive fifth inning -- but neither Cueto nor manager Bryan Price pinned the unusual wildness to anything physical.
Cueto started on eight days' rest as a precaution after being bothered by lingering elbow stiffness between recent outings. However, even though he gave up all of two earned runs and two hits over six innings, Cueto wasn't good enough to win. He was outdone by an eight-inning, 89-pitch effort from Mets rookie Noah Syndergaard in Cincinnati's 2-1 defeat.
"I want to make something clear: Thank God everything is OK," Cueto said through translator Tomas Vera. "The few days I had off were a manager's decision. Everything's OK with my elbow. I'm doing fine."
While Cueto might be able to cool some of the spotlight off his elbow, it will only heat up more speculation over whether the soon-to-be free agent will be dealt. He did not feel he was auditioning for other clubs, or their scouts.
"You don't think about that. I'm a man of God. I leave everything in His hands," Cueto said. "Right now, I'm pitching for the Reds and what I think is what I've always been doing and how I've been pitching. I'm pitching for the Reds right now."
Cueto's night began in ominous fashion when leadoff batter Curtis Granderson hit a 1-1 fastball into the right-field upper deck. Following the homer, the 11th he's allowed this season, Cueto retired his next nine straight -- including four straight strikeouts.
With two outs and 1-1 score in the fifth, Dilson Herrera hit a triple before Cueto walked his next three batters -- Granderson, Eric Campbell and finally, Lucas Duda on a full count with the bases loaded for the go-ahead run.
"You know, things happen," Cueto said. "I was too careful during that inning. I didn't want to leave the ball over the middle, I was trying to trick them. I didn't want them to get a home run or anything or a big hit that would cost me more than inning."
The Mets were stunned to see Cueto missing with his pitches. He came in with the Majors' 10th-best walks-per-nine-innings ratio of 1.59.
"Very surprising. Very, very surprising," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "We're just sitting there in the inning thinking, 'He's 3-2 on Campbell.' And when he walked Campbell, I was shocked. And Duda came up, I just said, 'Well, he's not going to walk Duda.'"
The walks had nothing to do with Cueto's elbow or the layoff, Price said when asked.
"No, no, no, no, no ... no," Price replied. "It's an obvious question. We gave him some extra time just to let things mellow out a little bit. He felt good. He felt fine all the way throughout. That was the most encouraging thing. He pitched six innings and gave up two runs. So I'm happy with how things turned out and how he came out of it."
Cueto had 96 pitches through the fifth inning and Price was prepared to take him out. But Cueto successfully lobbied to go back to the mound.
"I said, 'No, no, no, I'm not done,'" said Cueto, who threw a 1-2-3 sixth and finished with 112 pitches. "Give me one more inning. I can pitch one more inning.'