As the Royals scheduled their rotation for this weekend at Camden Yards, the team presented struggling ace Johnny Cueto with a choice. He could pitch Saturday afternoon or Sunday evening. Cueto informed manager Ned Yost he would prefer to pitch Sunday’s game, which will be broadcast on ESPN’s “Sunday Night Baseball.”
Yordano Ventura was moved up to pitch Saturday, his regular day of work, in Cueto’s place. Both Cueto and Yost indicated the switch was not related to any physical issues for Cueto, who has given up 22 runs in 20 innings in his last four starts.
“It’s all about getting him comfortable right now,” Yost said before Friday’s game against the Orioles. “He’s healthy. It’s just about getting him back going in a new direction.”
Cueto, who is 2-5 with a 4.86 ERA for the Royals, has not experienced any noticeable dip in velocity during his four-start struggles. He has told friends he feels no issues with his right elbow, which underwent an MRI in the first half when he experienced stiffness with the Reds. The examination showed no significant structural damage to the joint, and he has not undergone any subsequent MRIs.
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Cueto insisted he just preferred to pitch at night. Asked about his physical condition, Cueto, who prefers not to conduct interviews in English, said, “I’m good.”
The Royals acquired Cueto shortly before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline and tabbed him as the missing piece for their starting rotation. After four encouraging starts, his performance has cratered.
Yost espoused the belief that Cueto requires an adjustment period in moving to a playoff race in the American League.
“This is the first time for Johnny, so I think there’s a bit of a learning curve,” Yost said. “Getting used to a new team. Getting used to a new league, hitters he’s never faced. Getting used to a new catcher. Getting used to a whole new set of expectations.”
Yost added, “I know there’s a lot of concern around the baseball world about Johnny. But there’s none in our locker room. We think Johnny’s going to be ready to help us hopefully win a world championship.”