Johnny Cueto isn't the overpowering thrower he was when he broke in with the Reds in 2004.
But he has come a long way on the pitching part. Cueto will make his second straight Opening Day start Monday. He's the first Reds signed-and-developed pitcher to do that since Tom Browning in 1990 and '91.
Cueto, a 27-year-old right-hander, is honored to get the ball.
"I'm very happy," he said. "I called my mom. She was very happy."
Cueto made the team out of spring training in 2004. He struck out 10 in his debut. But he went 9-14 with a 4.81 ERA that year. He was mostly a power pitcher. He has steadily gotten better. He went 9-5 with a 2.31 ERA in 2011 and 19-9 with a 2.78 ERA last year, finishing fourth in the National League Cy Young voting.
"He's become a pitcher," said Mario Soto, a Reds Hall of Famer who is one of Cueto's mentors. "I made a comment to him because I watched him pitch on TV. These days, he's not a guy who goes out and throws 94, 95 the whole game. But when he needs to reach back, he's got that velocity. If you can pitch 92, 93, you're in pretty good groove right there. Then when you need it 95 and 96 and you get it.
"That's what he's doing right now. He's enjoying it. He learned a lot. He told me this morning, 'I threw a fastball inside and then I came back with a changeup.' He's enjoying what he's doing and the results are there."
Manager Dusty Baker says Cueto is a master at adjusting to the game situation.
"He can pitch to what he needs," Baker said. "That's the difference between him now and when he was younger."
To wit: With bases loaded, hitters went 0-for-17 with three walks in such situations.
"Johnny is one of the best competitors I have ever been around," Baker said. "When he first got here, he couldn't bunt. He couldn't spell 'bunt.' Now he's one of the best bunters we have. He realizes all of these things can help him and help us win games."