HOUSTON -- After coming over from the Reds as one of the highest-profile acquisitions before the non-waiver Trade Deadline, ace Johnny Cueto went through an uncharacteristically uneven second half with the Royals.
But Cueto has the chance to make up for it and more, as he's set to start Kansas City's biggest game of the season to this point, against the Astros in the deciding Game 5 of the American League Division Series on Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1.
"That's why we got Johnny," manager Ned Yost said. "To pitch in big games."
Cueto is coming off a no-decision in an eventual Royals win in Game 2, in which he allowed four runs over six innings. He got stronger as the game went along, and his final three innings were scoreless.
Cueto knows how important his postseason starts are to Kansas City, but the impending free agent insists it doesn't put any extra weight on his shoulders. And as much as the Royals are coming off a huge Game 4 win in Houston on Monday, as the saying goes, momentum is only as good as your next starting pitcher.
"Obviously this is the deciding game, you either win and stay or you go home," Cueto said on Tuesday. "I'm ready for the opportunity, and I'm going to go get 'em."
Astros manager A.J. Hinch liked his club's approach against Cueto early in Game 2, but he said it's important to get off to another hot start.
"I did like the way that we came out aggressive against him," Hinch said. "Against good pitchers and notable pitchers, you do have to try to get them early. If you allow them to settle in, it can be very, very difficult for you."
After coming over from Cincinnati on July 26, Cueto went 4-7 with a 4.76 ERA in 13 starts for the Royals. He posted a 2.62 ERA in 13 outings with the Reds before the trade, and he had a 3.21 ERA in his eight years in Cincinnati.
Cueto started his Kansas City tenure strong -- recording a 1.80 ERA in his first four starts -- before hitting a rough patch, going 0-5 with a 9.57 ERA over his next five outings for a career-long five-game losing streak. But he turned it around late in the season, with a 3.24 ERA over his final four regular-season starts.
"I think it was more [that] he was executing pitches better," Yost said of Cueto's turnaround. "When he first got here, he was really, really, really good. Then he went through a little bit of an adjustment period. Finally got settled in with [catcher] Sal [Perez], him and Sal got on the same page, and I think Johnny got back to being Johnny."
The Royals, who are alive after an epic comeback in Game 4 that saw them erase a four-run deficit in the eighth inning, have plenty of confidence in their ace as they head into the final game of the series. It's sure to be an electric atmosphere at Kauffman Stadium, and they're hoping their momentum from the comeback victory will carry over.
"When you make a big trade at the Deadline, it's exactly what it's for, for big games and playoff games," first baseman Eric Hosmer said. "And we had planned to be here in this situation in the postseason, and we need to ride him as much as we can. He's a big-game pitcher. He's a guy that's proven himself throughout the league."