Johnny Cueto, Juggling the Rotation

Quirk in the Rotation Helps Cueto Avoid Cards

When Reds pitcher Johnny Cueto went all Jet Li on Jason LaRue’s face on Aug. 10, kicking the St. Louis catcher onto the disabled list during a mid-fight scrum, everybody’s eyes quickly turned toward the teams’ next meeting—which happened over the weekend.

Anticipation can be a wondrous thing.

This particular anticipation, of course, was short-circuited when the Reds rotation shook out (inadvertently or otherwise) so that Cueto was not scheduled to face the Cardinals.

Cueto would have served as the most obvious target in recent memory, and Reds manager Dusty Baker opted to delay the inevitable; because it was the final meeting for the teams this season (barring a potential showdown in the playoffs), any retribution the Cardinals are able to inflict will have to wait for next year.

There had already been talk that the Reds might try to limit the pitcher’s visibility over the course of the weekend, but Cueto took things a step further, leaving the country with team permission to attend the funeral of an uncle in the Dominican Republic.

Since the fight, LaRue’s injuries—reported as concussion syndromes—have knocked him out for the season. Cueto was suspended seven games for his actions, essentially missing one start in the process.

The suspension also Baker the leeway to mix and match where in the rotation he reinserted Cueto (which he did in conjunction with figuring out how to reduce the work on fatigued rookie Mike Leake), the better to have the pitcher avoid St. Louis.

It wouldn’t be the first time such juggling has occurred. After Roger Clemens bounced a fastball off Mike Piazza‘s helmet in 2000, Yankees manager Joe Torre arranged his pitching rotation to ensure that Clemens was his Game 2 starter at Yankee Stadium, despite the fact that he was the Yankees’ best pitcher that year. This made Clemens the only member of the four-man World Series rotation to avoid pitching at Shea (where he would have been an obvious target the moment he stepped to the plate in the non-DH park).

“Did I juggle the rotation to keep him from pitching at Shea? Yeah, I probably did,” said Torre. “I’m not going to deny that. I didn’t need another soap opera.”

– Jason