Walk bug bites Cueto, Reds
Rookie right-hander issues eight free passes in loss to Cards
CINCINNATI -- The message to 22-year-old Johnny Cueto wouldn't be a message that Cueto couldn't figure out on his own.
Cueto, a rookie right-hander, need only to take a close look at the box score from Thursday night's 10-0 loss to the Cardinals. Beside his name, Cueto would find one glaring number: 8. As in eight bases on balls.
Walk eight batters in a Major League game, and you've found a recipe for disaster.
And Cueto did.
"We knew he had a lot to learn," said manager Dusty Baker, whose club has lost two straight to St. Louis. "He's young, you know. That's no excuse, but young is young."
But young players can grow up quickly after a night like Cueto had. Not that his pregame performance gave any hint that his outing would unfold as it did. As Baker said, Cueto displayed splendid stuff in the bullpen.
There, though, he wasn't facing live hitters like the Cardinals put in front of him. His inability to throw strikes helped the Cardinals jump ahead early.
"It was 5-0 before we ever hit," catcher Paul Bako said.
That deficit was built around Cueto's walks. His wildness created a mess of things. He had three walks in the first inning alone.
"He had trouble finding the plate," Baker said. "The walks are equal to hits, and he was in the stretch from the very beginning."
Along with those three walks, Cueto gave up two hits. They weren't just any hits; they were homers.
The first one was Rick Ankiel's three-run shot, which followed Cueto's walks to Skip Schumaker and Ryan Ludwick.
A walk to Troy Glaus and an out brought Jason LaRue to the plate to face Cueto. LaRue did what Ankiel had done; he homered.
While Cueto did right himself after first, he'd put the Reds too far behind to catch up, a task that was made all but impossible because of how well right-hander Braden Looper was pitching for the St. Louis.
Looper dominated. He didn't allow a Reds baserunner until two outs in the fourth when Ken Griffey Jr. doubled.
"Looper got the big lead and he was very relaxed," Baker said. "He could throw whatever he wanted to throw at any time and at any count. If the game had been close, he might not have thrown that certain pitch."
The game wasn't close -- not from the first inning on. Looper didn't give the Reds a chance to get back into it. He was the worst thing a team could face: a relaxed pitcher with a big lead. He was pitching without fear, Baker said.
Still, he found a bit of solace in that Cueto didn't fall apart altogether. He showed glimpses of what has made him a pitcher with a great deal of promise, which he's put on display more often than not.
His outing on Thursday was one he'd like to forget.
"He didn't have his command," Bako said. "When he threw a couple of strikes, they weren't the kind of strikes he was looking for. Ankiel and LaRue made him pay for it."
Justice B. Hill is a senior writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.