Will Johnny Cueto Be Reds' Secret Weapon in Possible NL Wild Card Game?

Josh SchochAnalyst IIISeptember 11, 2013

Jun. 21, 2013; Phoenix, AZ, USA: Cincinnati Reds pitcher Johnny Cueto reacts as he leaves the game in the fifth inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

As the Cincinnati Reds prepare for the NL Wild Card game, the return of pitcher Johnny Cueto could be the difference-maker.

According to John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer, Cueto recently threw 60 pitches to live hitters on Wednesday, and felt good when he did it.

Reds manager Dusty Baker thought Cueto looked good as he works his way back (per Fay):

He was throwing pretty good. It’s not surprising to me. Like I said, he’s so mechanically sound. He tired a little bit at the end, which is to be expected. It’s a matter of endurance. The velocity was pretty good. That’s the reason we had the radar gun out there. Where he dropped was in location some.

You could tell by the look on his face. He wears his emotions on his face. He always has a good time pitching. He enjoys competing. He was having fun.

As the MLB season draws to a close, the Reds look like they will be playing the other wild card team from the NL to start the postseason. The Reds have been overlooked all year because they are third in the tight NL Central, but winning the first game of the playoffs and advancing to the next round would be huge for the team.

Obviously, Cueto wouldn't start the game over Mat Latos, but according to Mike Axisa of CBS Sports, Cueto would be more than willing to pitch out of the bullpen instead of starting.

Cueto hasn't pitched in MLB since June 28 against the Texas Rangers, when he was pulled from the game after one inning of work, due to his injury. He is now on his way back to Cincinnati, and he could easily be back before the Wild Card Game. If he is back in time for that game, having him pitch out of the bullpen could potentially surprise whichever NL Central rival they play in the game.

Cueto has never pitched out of the bullpen before, with all 158 of his MLB appearances being starts.

This could both either a blessing or a curse for Cueto, as he will be unpredictable out of the 'pen, but his mojo could be thrown off because of the change. However, according to Axisa, Cueto has experience pitching out of the bullpen in winter ball, which could serve him well this season.

With setup man Jonathan Broxton done for the year, there is a need in the bullpen for a guy like Cueto.

Despite being the team's starter on Opening Day this season, Cueto could potentially be asked to pitch just one inning in the team's Wild Card Game. His season has had its ups and downs, but he could potentially be a not-so-secret weapon out of the bullpen.

If Cueto does end up pitching out of the 'pen it will be interesting to see how opponents face him. Usually teams like the Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals have seen Cueto start games, but this change of pace could benefit Cueto.

Dusty Baker has yet to announce how he will use his pitcher this year, but if he comes out of the bullpen it will be interesting to see how the change affects him and his opponents.