Johnny Cueto wasn’t electrifying in his Kansas City Royals debut Friday night against the Toronto Blue Jays, but he laid the groundwork for what should be a strong second half of the season.
Cueto‘s night ended after six innings. He allowed three earned runs on seven hits, while striking out seven batters and walking two. Blue Jays hitters did a great job of working the count, forcing the ace to throw 111 pitches.
By the time Cueto exited, the Royals were ahead, however, 6-3. Kansas City fan Brent Richard was heartened by what he saw from the right-hander:
The Cincinnati Reds traded Cueto to the Royals last week. Starting pitching has been an issue for Kansas City all year, so the team went out and added one of the best pitchers on the market.
“(Royals general manager) Dayton Moore targeted Johnny Cueto really early on in the process,” said Royals manager Ned Yost, per C. Trent Rosecrans of the Cincinnati Enquirer. “That was someone Dayton kept focusing on, somebody he would like to get when we got closer to the trade deadline.”
Cueto couldn’t have envisaged a better start to the game. He needed six pitches to get Troy Tulowitzki, Josh Donaldson and Jose Bautista to ground out in order in the bottom of the first. He set the Blue Jays down in order in the bottom of the second, also striking out Justin Smoak and Russell Martin.
One thing Cueto did very well, which the Kansas City Star‘s Andy McCullough highlighted, was slightly adjusting his windup to throw off Toronto’s hitters:
MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan believed the 29-year-old was emulating a former great:
Cueto and the Royals ran into trouble in the bottom of the third after Kevin Pillar and Ryan Goins picked up back-to-back singles to start the inning. They came home on a double by Donaldson caromed off the left-field wall and eluded Royals left fielder Ben Zobrist.
Toronto added a third run in the the bottom of the fourth after Pillar singled home Edwin Encarnacion.
Cueto settled down at that point. After a stress-free fifth inning, he danced out of trouble in the sixth after an Encarnacion double and a walk to Russell Martin. Ezequiel Carrera grounded into a double play, which killed the Blue Jays’ rally. Pillar popped out to end the inning.
Despite leaving with the lead, Cueto earned a no-decision after Ryan Madson allowed three runs in the bottom of the seventh.
Still, Cueto did his job. As Fox Sports’ Rob Neyer noted, giving Kansas City six strong innings has been enough to essentially guarantee a win this year with the Royals’ loaded bullpen:
While he was a bit off his best, a little transition period will be natural for Cueto. He’ll need some time to build a strong rapport with battery mate Salvador Perez. When that happens, Kansas City should have the anchor of the staff it so sorely craves.
The success or failure of the Cueto trade won’t hinge on Friday night’s performance. To a certain extent, it won’t even hinge so much on his regular-season performance as a whole. Even if Cueto struggles between now and early October, the Royals should be good enough to win the American League Central.
Cueto will be judged on how he pitches in the postseason and whether the Royals can match or even surpass last year’s success.
Considering how his last postseason appearance turned out, Cueto will have playoff demons of his own to exorcise as well.