Cueto Makes Rehab Start

Still only in the month of May, the Reds are soon coming to a second decision-making time for their rotation. In the first one they opted to leave Aroldis Chapman in his closer role. Now Johnny Cueto is working to return from the DL while replacement, prospect Tony Cingrani, has impressed in his absence.

Dayton erupted for five runs in the first inning, built an 8-1 lead, and held on for a 9-6 win over Lansing at Fifth Third Field. Johnny Cueto took the hill in his first rehab start and gave up a run in the first inning. That was the only one that would cross the plate against him and he finished three innings allowing four hits without a walk while striking out three. Joey Housey relieved him with a scoreless inning making way for Ismael Guillon to make his first relief appearance of the season. Guillon was roughed up for four runs in four innings but the Dragon offense provided him with the win.

The Dragons' five run rally started when the first four batters of the game reached base safely. Jeff Gelalich and Jesse Winker plated runs with singles before Tanner Rahier cleaned off loaded bases with a three run double. Winker drove in another the next inning with a groundout and then Robert Ramirez pushed two more across in the third with a single. Rahier came back to cap off his team's scoring with a solo home run in the fifth. He had two hits on the night and has now homered in two consecutive games. Gelalich also added two hits while Ramirez reached with a single and two walks. Joe Hudson walked twice.

Probably not much stock should be put into Cueto's rehab start other than the fact that he was ready to make one after postponing it earlier. In 2011 he started the season on the DL and made four rehab starts at Louisville that allowed twelve runs in fourteen innings. After that he went on to post a 2.31 ERA over the remainder of the season for the Reds and would have finished with the second lowest ERA in the NL (0.03 higher than Clayton Kershaw) had he thrown six more innings. He's been one of the elite pitchers in the game since, finishing in the top for vote recipients for the NL Cy Young award last season.

During the offseason there was considerable speculation that the Reds rotation would be overcrowded with all five pitchers returning this year and the re-signing of Jonathan Broxton misconstrued as a signal that Aroldis Chapman would be converted into a starter. Before the beginning of the season the decision was made that Chapman would return to his closer job and join Broxton in the pen. Now Cueto's expected return appears to be creating another logjam decision with six pitchers for five jobs.

Tony Cingrani was called up from Louisville to take Cueto's spot after dominating International League hitters in his first three starts. The southpaw is one of the top pitching prospects in the system and has been included in top 100 lists of top prospects in baseball, so he figures prominently in future plans. However, before shooting up the Cincinnati system the previous two seasons he was converted from a closer, the job he had collegiately. There were some notions that he could provide another lefty in the Reds bullpen, but depth in the pitching staff led to the decision to send him to AAA to continue developing as a starter. Since his call-up Cingrani is making a case that even though his promotion was early, it was not too early as he's started out with a 2.63 ERA/0.833 WHIP. He'll look to add to that success when he makes his fifth start against Milwaukee today.

Once again speculation would point to Mike Leake as being the odd man out. Leake is a survivor, surprisingly keeping a spot in the rotation multiple times over his four-year career. No one expected him to be the first player in over a decade to make a MLB debut without any minor league experience back in 2010. He wasn't among the pitchers considered the top five Reds starters in 2011, but a couple of preseason injuries pulled him back into that group and he kept the spot all season, leading the team in wins with the lowest non-Cueto ERA in the rotation. Last season he was a clear five-man, the only Reds starter with less than 200 innings pitched and ERA over four. However he did take the hill thirty times and finished strong after a rocky start to prove adequate in that role. Also his age gives reason to believe there is still some potential upside left in his game.

Leake was the eighth overall selection in the 2009 draft so he should still have a future in Cincinnati. Had he been on a normal schedule and not skipped the minors he would be making his debut around now at the age of 25. Instead, a spot on the Louisville roster now would probably be more of a holding area instead of a developmental one for the MLB veteran. He and the Reds agreed to a $3 million contract for this season and he's not eligible for free agency until 2016. Thus far this season Leake's 4.32 ERA is around where he finished in 2012. He's made two quality starts out of seven outings including seven shutout innings against Philadelphia on April 17. He narrowly missed another on two starts ago, allowing two runs over 5 2/3 innings and he allowed only two after seven innings his last time out, but ran into trouble in the eighth.

They may opt to send Cingrani back to Louisville if/when the need arises. However, he's got the potential to be a special pitcher at the highest level. Of course the main reason to have him continue to develop in the minors is uncertainty on his MLB readiness. With each start he's making now that uncertainty diminishes. It's a good problem to have because Reds rotations of the not-too-distant past would have been happy to have both in spots closer to the top of them. Now they're coming off a season where the strength of their pitching staff was the main driver behind a successful 97-win campaign. Whatever decision is made Reds fans have good reason to expect the ball to be put into a capable hand to throw out first pitches over the remainder of this season.

Other Organizational News:

The Reds were idle Thursday and will open a home series against Milwaukee this weekend.

Louisville scored one run in four of their last five innings for a 4-2 win at Lehigh Valley. Pedro Villarreal was rewarded with a win for throwing six shutout innings, allowing only three hits and three walks. Yohan Pino entered in the eighth and finished the game without allowing a run for the save. Mike Hessman finished with three hits and an RBI. Billy Hamilton and Felix Perez had two hits apiece and Neftali Soto added a solo home run.

Pensacola lost 10-3 at Jacksonville. The Suns struck for three in the first inning and blew the game open with five in the eighth. Tucker Barnhart and Travis Mattair stroked two hits each, Theo Bowe reached with a triple and a walk, Joe Mather had a single and a walk, and Michael Gilmartin drew a couple of free passes. Daniel Renken took the loss after allowing four runs in five innings. He struck out seven, but allowed four walks and five hits.

Bakersfield allowed four in the sixth to fall behind by six en route to a 6-2 loss to visiting San Jose. Carlos Contreras was lifted in the sixth and took the loss after allowing five runs. Brian Pearl entered in the eighth and shut out the Giants over the last two frames. Juan Silverio had two doubles and an RBI while Ryan Wright contributed two more of the seven Blaze hits.

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