During a 7-1 Reds win over the Indians, that's exactly what Cueto did as he made the visitors' bats look weak. In his second complete game of the season and sixth of his career, he gave up one run and six hits with no walks and seven strikeouts.
"He's one of the best pitchers in the National League. We ran into him on a tough night," said Indians manager Manny Acta, who started eight hitters batting from the left side vs. Cueto.
Cleveland made it a 1-0 game in a hurry as Shin-Soo Choo led off the game with a double and scored on a Jason Kipnis one-out RBI single to left field. Cueto retired 24 of his last 29 batters from there, with the five other Indians hits being singles. No one reached second base against him after the first inning as he improved to 7-3 with a 2.46 ERA over 13 starts.
"He's fun to play behind, because he works fast, he throws strikes, he's excited when we're playing good and he's cheering for the team," said center fielder Chris Heisey, who was 2-for-4 with two runs scored. "Every fifth day, I love when he's going out there. He's got energy, and we feed off him."
It was a night when the Reds needed Cueto to have enough energy for more than one person. Manager Dusty Baker had only two healthy players on his bench in Miguel Cairo and Kristopher Negron.
Heisey was among those feeling under the weather. So were first baseman Joey Votto and shortstop Zack Cozart, who could not start. Cozart's replacement, Wilson Valdez, supplied three hits to pick up some slack. Even Wednesday's scheduled starting pitcher, Mike Leake, was sent home sick. Mat Latos will move up a day to start in Leake's place.
"It wasn't really as bad as some of the other guys," Heisey said of his situation. "They were throwing up, and I never had any of that. It was an interesting day for sure. It was weird to try to piece together how everyone got sick. I don't think we've figured it out."
In the Reds' third vs. starter Jeanmar Gomez, Cueto lined a single to right field, advanced to second base on a wild pitch to Heisey and reached third on Valdez's second hit of the night. Following a Gomez pitch in the dirt to Votto, catcher Carlos Santana's errant pick-off throw to first base allowed Cueto to score and make it a 1-1 game.
The Reds built a bases-loaded, one-out rally in the fifth. It only yielded a Jay Bruce sacrifice fly for the go-ahead run.
Following a Valdez leadoff single in the seventh off reliever Joe Smith, Acta summoned struggling lefty Tony Sipp and his 6.53 ERA to face Votto, a .304 hitter this season vs. left-handed pitching. Votto drove Sipp's 2-0 pitch the other way into the left-field seats for a two-run homer.
Votto made it a six-run game in the Reds' three-run eighth, capping Cincinnati's scoring with an RBI single.
"What a performance by Joey," Baker said. "I said, 'Don't take any BP today, stay inside and come out game time.' I could tell he was exhausted from running. You see Joey's head down, and you know something is wrong. That was a gutsy performance by Joey, too."
With the Reds blowing the game open in the eighth, the only question left was whether Cueto would finish. He had 110 pitches and while batting in the bottom of the eighth, ran full blast to first base on a groundout in front of the plate.
There were two outs in the ninth when Cueto gave up an infield hit to Santana. That brought Baker to the mound to consult with his pitcher and catcher Ryan Hanigan amid boos from the 24,758 fans at Great American Ball Park.
"When I saw him coming to the mound, I said, 'I want to finish my game,'" Cueto said. "Then he came and asked me how I felt, I said 'Give me one more hitter.' Dusty said, 'I trust you, and I will give it to you.'"
On his first pitch to Michael Brantley -- pitch No. 122 on the game -- Cueto got a routine grounder to second base to end it.
The win was important on multiple levels. It put the Reds back into sole possession of first place in the National League Central, one game up on the Pirates. Cincinnati was also coming off losing back-to-back games to the Tigers over the weekend, including a heartbreaker on Sunday night.
It was the second time in a row that Cueto stopped a losing streak at two games.
"That's what your ace is supposed to do," Baker said. "Your ace is supposed to stop losing streaks. Johnny is a big-time competitor."