GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- It wasn't much a mystery or a plot with a twist when it came to figuring out whom the Reds' Opening Day starter would be this year. Johnny Cueto easily had the best season from the rotation in 2011, deserved the opportunity and will get it. Cueto is expected to face the Marlins on April 5 at Great American Ball Park. "Yeah, probably so. I've got an idea," Reds manager Dusty Baker said on Monday.
Certainly more went into this decision than just Game No. 1 of 2012. "It's how you want to match them up during the season," Baker said. "I know how important Opening Day is in Cincinnati. It's more important in Cincinnati than any place I've been. But you end up having to match up against No. 1's the rest of the year. If we're just going on veteran status, it'd be Bronson [Arroyo]. But I think Bronson would be better down in the rotation."
In 24 starts last season, the first under a four-year, $27 million contract, Cueto was 9-5 with a 2.31 ERA in 156 innings pitched. He walked 47 and struck out 104 while surrendering just eight home runs.Arroyo, the longest tenured player on the team with a 2006 arrival, is coming off of a poor 2011, in which he went 9-12 with a 5.07 ERA. "When you start talking about matching up No. 1 and No. 2's, it's in our best interest for you to have a pretty good or low ERA, because their No. 1 or No. 2 [usually does]," Baker said. "You're running a guy out with a 4.40 ERA against a guy with a 2.30 or 2.20 ERA, you're going to win some, but you will lose most." In all but three of his starts, Cueto gave up three runs or fewer, and he held the opposition to zero or one earned run in 12 outings. Cueto, 26, said he has not been told yet that he would start the opener. But he is beginning Spring Training without any setbacks or limitations after injuries got in his way last season. "I feel good. I've worked hard," Cueto said. "I worked out with [strength coach Matt] Krause this offseason in Cincinnati to get ready." Cueto has generally been one of the best on the team when it comes to conditioning and good health. But that didn't help him last spring, when he had irritation in the biceps and triceps muscles of his prized right arm. That forced him to begin the season on the disabled list and miss the first five weeks. Another injury came near the end of the season when a strained right lat muscle shut Cueto down in mid-September. At the time of his final start, he was leading the Majors in ERA but he finished six innings shy of qualifying for the title. The Reds told Cueto not to pitch in winter ball in the Dominican Republic so he could get more rest. "He never had a problem making his starts before," Baker said. "When you start the season hurt, it always makes for a long year. He started the season hurt and ended the season hurting. The key is getting him out of Spring Training. Then you still don't know if he can sustain that quality over 30 starts. Some of the best years I've seen from guys -- hitters and pitchers -- are guys that end up missing time end up staying strong most of the year." Thirty starts and 200 innings are the usual benchmarks starting pitchers shoot for from the start of every season. They are also solid signs of durability from a starter. If he can stay healthy, Cueto could reach both goals. He adjusted his delivery early last season, and got more groundball outs while using less pitches. "I want to go maybe 30 starts," Cueto said. "That would mean I am throwing strong."