Cueto brilliant amid trade speculation

In final year of contract, Reds star continues to pitch at high level

Cueto brilliant amid trade speculation

CINCINNATI -- The Reds have not given overt signals that ace Johnny Cueto is going to be moved before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline. But the fans certainly seem to appreciate that Cueto could be on borrowed time in Cincinnati.

Perhaps that's part of why Cueto received a standing ovation from the 26,459 fans at Great American Ball Park when he walked off the field after eight solid innings of work during Wednesday's 2-1 win over the Twins. He also received a pat on the head from catcher Brayan Pena and a handshake from manager Bryan Price once he reached the dugout.

"Johnny is special. He's so strong mentally," Pena said. "People don't realize how strong he is mentally. He reads. He watches TV, and he listens. For him to go out there and put everything on the side, and just focus on going out there and doing what he does best, that's impressive."

Cueto gave up one earned run over those eight innings, allowing four hits, one walk and a hit batsman while striking out eight. In another positive sign for his highly scrutinized right elbow, he threw 111 pitches. Cueto is 2-1 with a 2.52 ERA in six starts since he was skipped with elbow stiffness.

"Right now, I'm pitching for the Reds. That's where I want to pitch," Cueto said via translator Tomas Vera.

Cueto, Hamilton on 2-1 win

Speculation about Cueto has been rampant since the offseason, as he is in the final year of his contract. With the Reds at 36-41 and on the periphery of the National League Wild Card hunt, it's highly possible he could be traded.

Cueto will not have another start at home before the All-Star Game is played at Great American Ball Park on July 14. After that, just about anything is possible.

"I don't know what's going to happen," Cueto said. "They're still able to negotiate with me, so I don't know eventually where I'm going to be. I don't have to mind that.

"I like to be here. I like the fans here. I like my teammates. I want to stay here. It depends on the team."

Cueto encountered little trouble after giving up back-to-back singles to start the top of the second inning, retiring the next 11 batters. The only Minnesota run scored in the sixth when Brian Dozier came home on Eddie Rosario's groundout.

"He had all of his stuff. He's 90 percent pitcher, 10 percent showman," Price said. "It seems like every year, he comes out with some little twist -- a Luis Tiant turn, and now there are hesitations or quick pitches or things of that nature. I don't know if he needs all of it, but I do know he's one of the few guys that has that type of body control, who can go out there and throw quality pitches off all those different tempos, all those different rotations or non-rotations. He's a pretty special talent."

Price also compared Cueto to Hall of Famer Juan Marichal, before acknowledging he doesn't know how long he will have his ace.

"Johnny is going to have a lot of opportunities, it looks like," Price said. "Sometimes when it looks unrealistic to have a player return, you hope everyone has a chance to step back and enjoy what they're seeing. I do think we're seeing a very special pitcher right now, regardless of where he ends up -- whether it's Cincinnati or someplace else."

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