Opinion

Johnny Cueto feels ‘emotional’ returning to Cincinnati with Royals

Kansas City Royals pitcher Johnny Cueto, left, hugs Cincinnati Reds manager Bryan Price before a baseball game, Tuesday, August 18, 2015, in Cincinnati. Cueto was traded to the Royals from the Reds in July.
Kansas City Royals pitcher Johnny Cueto, left, hugs Cincinnati Reds manager Bryan Price before a baseball game, Tuesday, August 18, 2015, in Cincinnati. Cueto was traded to the Royals from the Reds in July. The Associated Press

Johnny Cueto studied the Royals schedule leading up to this week’s two-game series with the Reds. Before the Royals arrived, Cueto approached pitching coach Dave Eiland with a question: Could he pitch against his former club, in the ballpark he had called home since 2008?

The Royals harbor plans that trump sentimentality. Eiland informed Cueto that the team would not pitch him on short rest. He will start again this weekend in Boston.

And perhaps this is for the best. During a news conference with reporters on Tuesday, Cueto admitted he felt strange dressing in the visitors’ clubhouse at Great American Ball Park.

“He said he feels a little timid,” said catching coach Pedro Grifol, who translated for Cueto. “It is emotional coming over here and not being with Jay Bruce and some of the guys he came up with.”

The Royals acquired Cueto on July 26 for a three-man package of left-handed pitching prospects. Both Brandon Finnegan and Cody Reed are currently throwing in Cincinnati’s minor-league system. John Lamb made his big-league debut last week and gave up five runs in eight innings. Like Cueto, Lamb will also not pitch against his former team this week.

Cueto, who’s 2-1 with a 1.80 ERA in Kansas City, has excelled for the Royals during his four starts. He threw the team’s first shutout of the season on Aug. 10 against Detroit. In his next outing, he allowed one run in eight innings against the Angels.

Cueto will become a free agent at the end of the season. When preseason contract negotiations with Cincinnati broke down, Cueto understood he would likely be traded if the Reds stumbled in 2015. So he had months to prepare for his departure from the organization that signed him out of the Dominican Republic in 2004.

Cueto hoped to receive a kind reception during these two games.

“The fans really supported him here, throughout his years,” Grifol said. “He gave the Reds and the fans everything he had in his time here.”

Despite the pangs for his former club, Cueto indicated his enthusiasm for his current situation.

“Thank God, he feels really good right now,” Grifol said. “His arm feels good. He just feels at his best. And also, thank God, that he was able to join us, the Royals, at this time, with the chances of playing in the postseason and the World Series.”

To reach Andy McCullough, call 816-234-4730 or send email to rmccullough@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @McCulloughStar. Download True Blue, The Star’s free Royals app, here.

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