When the Kansas City Royals acquired Johnny Cueto from the Cincinnati Reds, he was expected to be that piece they so desperately needed in the starting rotation. Here was a true, bona fide ace, ready to front the rotation and give the Royals a pitcher to match up with other top pitchers in baseball. He was going to be the pitcher that would help bring a championship back to Kansas City for the first time in thirty years.
In Cueto’s first four starts in Kansas City, he certainly looked the part. Although the Royals were only 2-2 in those outings, Cueto allowed only only six runs on 24 hits and four walks, striking out 21 batters in 30 innings. That is certainly the type of production one would expect from an ace pitcher. Everything was great on the Cueto front, aside from the Royals record in those games.
Then came Cueto’s last three starts. Instead of being that ace pitcher, Cueto has allowed 17 runs, 16 earned, on 30 hits and a walk in his last 17 innings. Yes, he has struck out 13 batters in that time, but he is still being hit at a horrendous .380/.395/.646 clip. Now, instead of being that ace that the Royals needed, it is as though they acquired the second coming of Kyle Davies. Oh, calamity!
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It is human nature to panic the moment that expectations crumble. Indeed, the expectations for Johnny Cueto when he came over to the Kansas City Royals were to the point where he would need to channel Old Hoss Radbourn from 1884, literally pitching every game for the Royals to lead them to the title. Stretches like this, where Cueto looks less than mortal, were not a part of the plan.
These struggles are something that every pitcher goes through. In his two starts on May 3rd and May 9th, Cueto allowed nine runs in 14.1 innings. In the two starts before his dominant final outing with the Reds, Cueto allowed seven runs, five earned, on seven hits and seven walks in nine innings. It just happens.
This does not change what Cueto is. He is a true top of the rotation starter, and one who can make the rotation better just by letting other pitchers fit in their natural slots. Let us also keep in mind how Yordano Ventura has performed since Cueto’s arrival, as he has begun to look like an ace pitcher himself. Since Cueto also had to deal with similar questions about his maturity and excitability at the start of his career, he is the perfect mentor for the young Ventura.
Johnny Cueto is simply going through a bit of a slump, and will likely be back to his usual standards of excellence before long. In the meantime, it is not even close for the Kansas City Royals to be hitting that panic button.