Little did the Cincinnati Reds know what would follow.
Cueto’s sterling May was the best month of his brief career, and a sixth consecutive victory Tuesday night would help visiting Cincinnati regain sole possession of the NL Central lead.
The Reds (30-22) had seen glimpses of Cueto’s potential during his first two seasons in the majors, but the right-hander seems to finally be putting it together.
Cueto (5-1, 3.25 ERA) gave up two runs over five innings in a 3-2 victory at St. Louis on April 30, and though he was hardly fantastic in that performance, he’s been practically flawless every since. Cueto went 4-0 with a 1.59 ERA in five May starts, holding opponents to a .182 average while striking out 37 over 34 innings.
His ERA in winning his past four decisions is 0.96 after holding Pittsburgh scoreless over six innings and striking out nine Thursday in an 8-2 victory. Cueto exited after six as a precaution because of a blister on his pitching hand, but manager Dusty Baker didn’t see any reason to keep his rising star in with a comfortable lead.
“They’ve been treating it. They’ve been putting all kinds of stuff on it,” Baker said. “It bothered him some on his slider, so he didn’t throw too many sliders. But he threw a few, and he’ll be ready and feel 100 percent to throw all his pitches his next start.”
Cueto was 0-2 with a 16.20 ERA in two starts versus St. Louis (30-22) as a rookie, but he’s 3-0 with a 2.39 ERA in five outings over the past two seasons. Cueto has also held Albert Pujols(notes) at bay, yielding two hits to the reigning NL MVP in 11 career matchups.
Cincinnati didn’t have much success containing St. Louis’ lineup Monday in the series opener at Busch Stadium, however. Pujols was one of six Cardinals with multiple hits as they set a season high (16) in a 12-4 rout.
Manager Tony La Russa didn’t spend much time celebrating his team’s sixth victory in 10 tries against Cincinnati, one that pulled the Cards into a tie atop the division.
“Well, let me see, we’ve got Johnny Cueto tomorrow and he’s really good, so I’d be a fool to say that we’re really hot because good pitching shuts you down,” manager Tony La Russa said. “I’ll tell you, Cincinnati is a legitimate club.”
The Cardinals are 4-3 in their last seven games, totaling 36 runs in their wins and one in their losses.
One of those victories came Thursday at San Diego, and was P.J. Walters’(notes) first in the major leagues. The rookie right-hander, whose infant daughter passed away prior to the beginning of the season, gave up four hits over five scoreless innings in an 8-3 win over the Padres.
“I think that the situation I’ve gone through has helped me to concentrate much better,” Walters told the Cardinals’ official website. “I’m able to worry about what’s going on right then in that situation, not what could happen.”
Walters (1-0, 2.00) will likely have to face Joey Votto(notes) on Tuesday, as Cincinnati’s first baseman is expected to return after missing six games with a stiff neck. Votto is a lifetime .378 (14 for 37) hitter at Busch Stadium with 10 walks.
A victory would move St. Louis to 9-0-1 in its last 10 home series against Cincinnati.