DENVER -- Each of Johnny Cueto's recent starts has been performed under a cloud of potentially being the ace's final one in a Reds uniform. But Saturday's 5-2 win over the Rockies provided an even tougher distraction for Cueto.
While Cueto was warming up, he found teammate and rookie Michael Lorenzen also preparing to pitch. Lorenzen was Cincinnati's scheduled starter for Sunday.
"I was warming up and he was there in the bullpen and I told him, 'What are you doing here?' He told me, 'I'm going to pitch because you're going to get traded.' That happened 10 minutes before the game," Cueto said through translator Tomas Vera.
Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports reported later Saturday night that the Reds and Royals had a deal in place for Cueto before it fell through when one of Kansas City's players did not check out medically. On Sunday afternoon, the Royals and Reds announced that they had completed a Cueto deal that sent left-handed pitchers Brandon Finnegan, John Lamb and Cody Reed to Cincinnati.
"I don't want to use a bad word in this location, but it was really bad how I found out what happened," Cueto said after Saturday's game. "My head went around the whole way. My thoughts were all over the place. I didn't know what to do."
What Cueto did was pitch marvelously for eight scoreless innings against the Rockies. If this really was Cueto's last start, it put an exclamation point on his tenure for Cincinnati. With numerous scouts in attendance at Coors Field, he gave up four singles with one walk, one hit batter and five strikeouts.
Some good stuff postgame from Cueto. Lorenzen was getting ready to pitch. Told Cueto he was getting traded. But deal didn't happen. #reds
No Rockies batters reached second base against Cueto, who retired nine of his first 10 batters and 12 of 14 through his first four innings. Cueto had 100 pitches, 68 for strikes, when he was lifted for a pinch-hitter in the top of the ninth.
"He was done. One of many things I love about Johnny is he will tell you the truth," Price said. "He's not a guy that will go out there and say I have to have the complete game. If he's tired, he'll tell you he's tired."
Because he will be a free agent after the season, Cueto has long been considered one of the premier pitchers available before Friday's non-waiver Trade Deadline. But it's also a buyer's market with aces like Cole Hamels, David Price and Yovani Gallardo also reportedly available.
Since his two-hit shutout at Washington on July 7, Cueto's last two starts were especially subpar. He gave up five runs (three earned) over five innings at Miami on July 12, and last Sunday against Cleveland he issued a season-high six walks while lasting only four innings.
"I'm telling you, today he was on a mission," Reds catcher Brayan Pena said. "I saw something in his eyes that I never saw before. He was ready today. He was just waiting for something special to show and that's exactly what he did."
Much concern over Cueto came in May when he missed a start with right elbow stiffness. But in the 10 starts since, he is 4-2 with a 2.20 ERA, and has worked eight innings or more three of his last five starts.
As for the unusual pregame situation with Cueto and Lorenzen, Price did not deny that something was possibly afoot.
"We know there's a lot of people after our players and we have to be prepared for anything that can happen," Price said. "There are times we have to concern ourselves with 'what if somebody gets traded, and how do we fill that void?' That's a protocol that isn't unusual if you have players that may be moved."
When he exited the game, Cueto received a lot of hugs from teammates in the dugout. All seemed to be resigned to what's next.
"Every time I come to the ballpark, I feel that way. I feel like this is the last time," Cueto said. "My teammates feel the same way. Something is going to happen. They're going to trade me. I don't know what's going on."