SARASOTA, Fla. -- Breaking news: Johnny Cueto is human. Cueto had pitched so brilliantly for the Reds this spring, it was easy to become spoiled and expect dazzling performances every outing. Yet, he too is capable of having a bad day. Sunday's start vs. the Rays in a 10-9 loss certainly qualified, as Cueto couldn't get out of the first inning.
The 21-year-old right-hander's line: two-thirds of an inning with five earned runs, three hits and five walks allowed. Cueto threw 41 pitches, only 18 of which went for strikes. "I didn't have the feel of the fastball. I wasn't throwing it for strikes," Cueto said in Spanish through closer Francisco Cordero, who interpreted. Cueto's short day dragged for 20 minutes and it didn't take long for him to find trouble. Akinori Iwamura hit a leadoff double, Carl Crawford walked and then Carlos Pena hit a three-run home run. After two quick groundouts, Dioneer Navarro walked. "He was just flying open and his ball was running off the plate," manager Dusty Baker said. "He just couldn't make the correction. [Catcher] Javy [Valentin] tried to help him out there. When you're young, these things happen sometimes." Pitching coach Dick Pole visited the mound in an effort to calm things down but it didn't help. Three of the next four batters walked, including Jason Bartlett and Rays pitcher Matt Garza, both on four pitches. In between Joel Guzman smacked a two-run double that made it 5-0, Tampa Bay. Baker removed Cueto after Iwamura walked in his second plate appearance of the inning. Cueto's spring ERA soared to 5.27 (eight earned runs over 13 2/3 innings). "I'm sure that probably won't happen to him again the rest of his career," Baker said. "It was a bad outing and he felt terrible about it. Everybody was giving him some love in the dugout, the guys on the team. Everybody -- [Ken] Griffey, [Adam] Dunn, Mario Soto. I was talking to him. Dick was talking to him." Cordero, a fellow Dominican, also spoke with the rookie in the clubhouse, delivering a positive message. "Everybody goes through that," Cordero said, speaking for himself. "It's going to happen to everybody. Not one person is perfect. You can have 10 wins in a row and then one day you come in confident and think you're going to do good. it happens that you don't throw strikes or when you throw strikes, they hit it because they're ready for it." Cueto has been a Grapefruit League sensation and scouts, opponents and media around Florida have been buzzing about him. The prospect, a non-roster invite, pitched himself into the rotation with a 2.08 ERA and 12 strikeouts over 13 innings in four games. Coming into Sunday's game, he had only four walks, a total he more than doubled on Sunday. The outing shouldn't hurt Cueto's chances of making the team, however. Although Baker has set nothing in stone, Cueto will likely open the regular season as the Reds' third starter. "He'll be fine," Baker said. "You learn more from those outings than the good outings. I told him to learn from this. I'm sure he will."
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.