Johnny Cueto was a relatively unknown 20-year-old when he pitched for the Dayton Dragons in 2006. He was still two years away from making his big-league debut, and it would be another five years until he became the dominant pitcher he is today.
Cueto will return to Fifth Third Field at 7:05 tonight as the Dragons take on Lansing, making his first rehab start since suffering a strained right lat muscle in his back on April 13. He went on the disabled list April 15.
“I like Dayton,” said Cueto on Wednesday after the Reds lost to the Braves 7-2 at Great American Ball Park. “The stadium, the people, the crowds, I like it.”
Cueto made 14 starts for the Dragons in 2006 and was 8-1 with a 2.59 ERA when he was promoted to Sarasota in late June. The Dragons manager at that time, Billy Gardner Jr., said, “At the end of the day, Cueto probably needed a new challenge.”
Cueto has more than met all the challenges in front of him, but now he has to show he’s healthy enough to return to the rotation. He’s 1-0 with a 2.60 ERA. He was injured in his third start. Tony Cingrani has taken his place in the rotation and is 2-0 with a 2.63 ERA in four starts.
Cueto threw 25 pitches in a bullpen session Monday. He expects to make two rehab starts.
“I’ll see how I feel tomorrow in the game,” he said. “The bullpen is different than the game. I need to throw in the game.”
Reds manager Dusty Baker was encouraged by the news that Cueto would pitch in a game. His first scheduled rehab start was postponed because of soreness.
“I just hope he’s well,” Baker said. “We’re not as worried about the performance as we are him coming out of the game healthy.”
Today’s Dragons game will be televised on WHIO Digital Channel 7.2 and Time Warner Cable channels 23 and 372.
Other injury updates: Reds catcher Ryan Hanigan went 1-for-2 in his first rehab appearance at Triple-A Louisville on Tuesday. He’s recovering from a strained left oblique.
The rehab schedule for Chris Heisey, on the DL since April 29 with a strained hamstring, may be announced later this week.
Choo’s power: With two home runs Tuesday, including the game-winning walk-off blast in the ninth, Shin-Soo Choo took over the team lead with seven home runs. He also leads all lead-off hitters in baseball in home runs.
Choo hit 22 home runs two years ago with the Indians and had 16 last season. He’s on pace to hit a career-high 34 this season.
“Choo’s been great for us,” catcher Devin Mesoraco said. “It’s crazy how good he’s playing. To watch him hit every day, it’s pretty fun. He never gives away an at-bat.”
Looking ahead: The Reds get their first off day in Cincinnati since April 2 today and then begin a three-game series against the Brewers at Great American Ball Park at 7:10 p.m. Saturday.
The Brewers, who were 4½ games behind first-place St. Louis going into Wednesday night’s games and two behind the Reds and Pirates, are the only National League Central team the Reds haven’t seen yet.
Hot and not: Joey Votto went 0-for-4 Wednesday, ending his 10-game hitting streak. He’s hitting .315, second on the team to Choo (.323).
• Reds pitchers struck out 32 batters in the three-game series against the Braves.
• The Reds have scored two runs or fewer in six of their last eight losses.