Right-hander Johnny Cueto exited Game 1 of the National League Division Series at AT&T Park on Saturday night after recording only one out because of what a club spokesperson termed back spasms and pitching coach Bryan Price called a "rib cage issue."
But there was a double dose of good news for the Reds: They won anyway, thanks to emergency relief by Sam LeCure and scheduled Game 3 starter Mat Latos, beating the Giants, 5-2, to take command of the best-of-five series. And Cueto predicted that he'd pitch again in this NLDS, perhaps as early as Tuesday, when the series shifts to Cincinnati.
"We'll see how I feel [Sunday], but I hope to pitch in the third game," Cueto said. "I already feel better."
Manager Dusty Baker and Price were in no rush to reveal their pitching plans for the rest of the series. Veteran Bronson Arroyo is scheduled to start Sunday night, by which time the Reds hope to have a better feel for Cueto's status.
Monday is an off-day in the series before the teams resume play Tuesday. If Cueto cannot pitch by then, right-hander Homer Bailey could bump up a day from his scheduled Game 4 start.
Games 4 and 5, if necessary, would be Wednesday and Thursday.
Reds general manager Walt Jocketty told TBS, which broadcast Game 1, that he had no plans to alter the postseason roster. If the Reds were to replace Cueto with a healthy player, Cueto would not be eligible to pitch again until the World Series.
The Reds will make their decisions in the coming days.
"You know how back spasms are," Baker said. "It lets you go when it wants to."
Cueto was feeling fine in the run-up to his first Game 1 start, but he developed "sharp pain" on his right side on his final warmup pitches in the bullpen. Cueto told Price, who told head athletic trainer Paul Lessard, who walked Cueto through a series of contortions to re-create the sensation.
"And we couldn't," Price said. "So we thought, 'OK, maybe we're by it.'"
No such luck. Cueto struck out Angel Pagan to start the game -- an at-bat that included one non-pitch, when plate umpire Phil Cuzzi granted a late timeout to Pagan while Cueto was already in his windup -- but walked off the mound after a called second strike to the Giants' second hitter, Marco Scutaro. Cueto put his hands on his hips while Lessard visited the mound, then flipped the baseball to Baker and walked off the field.
"Every pitch I threw, it hurt," Cueto said. "I felt it when I was warming up and in the bullpen. I was fine all day until then. Only God knows why it happened like that."
It was the shortest outing of Cueto's career. His previous low was a start that lasted two-thirds of an inning on July 6, 2009, at Philadelphia, when he allowed nine runs to the Phillies.
It was the shortest start in the postseason since the Braves' John Thompson also lasted one-third of an inning and eight pitches in Game 3 of the 2004 NLDS against the Astros. The Braves lost that game and dropped the series in five games.
Cueto's outing is also the new shortest postseason start in Reds history, replacing Joey Jay's two-out outing in Game 5 of the 1961 World Series against the Yankees. Jay allowed four runs on four hits, including a home run, and the Reds lost the game, 13-5, and the series, four games to one.
"For sure it's a big opportunity for us," said Giants outfielder Gregor Blanco. "But like I said, we still knew that they have great pitchers and they have a great bullpen. We knew it wasn't going to be easy, but for sure not facing Cueto is better. But I think they did a great job, and that's why they got the win."
By the time Cueto hit the dugout steps, Price was already formulating a plan for the rest of the game.
Instead of going straight to Latos, who had not pitched in relief since May 2009 for Class A Fort Wayne, the Reds tabbed LeCure and asked him to get five outs.
That gave Latos, who was previously scheduled to pitch Game 3, time to go through something approximating his usual routine. It had already been a busy day for the big right-hander; he threw a 20-pitch bullpen session in the afternoon, then lifted weights.
"Sam was doing something he'd done before," Price said. "He'd been in those situations. To ask Mat, first of all to see if he could pitch, was one thing. To say, 'By the way, go grab your glove,' he probably didn't even have his spikes on, [was another thing]. That wasn't a terribly difficult decision to make for us."
Latos took the mound for the third inning instead and held the Giants to one run into the eighth, when shutdown relievers Sean Marshall Jonathan Broxton and Aroldis Chapman took over.
"You've got to give big props to Latos," Baker said. "Here is a guy sitting back, relaxed, thinking he was going to pitch next week at home, and now all of a sudden, boom, this is his first playoff game. It was a great feat by him."
And it put the Reds in control of the series.
"It was huge," Price said. "This is a big situation for everybody, and we needed to calm the waters because we were all concerned about losing Johnny. That was a situation where it was easy to implode."