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Associated Press
Cincinnati catcher Brayan Pena congratulates starting pitcher Johnny Cueto after the Reds defeated San Diego 5-0. Cueto pitched a complete game and lowered his ERA 1.25.

Padres discover Cueto is baseball’s best pitcher

– Yo, can someone swing that major league baseball spotlight over here a moment? Care to see the best starting pitcher in the game at the moment?

There he was Thursday, with ice bags on his right arm after shutting out San Diego on three hits, getting asked if he truly was the fairest of them all on the mound right now.

“I would say yes,” Johnny Cueto said via a translator after a 5-0 win in the first game of a doubleheader. “Because the numbers talk.”

Yes, they do. Listen to their chatter.

Cueto’s ERA is 1.25. Try to find one lower among any starter in the game. You can’t.

He has 78 strikeouts in nine games but has allowed only 33 hits. No opposing team has managed more than five hits yet.

His shortest stint has been seven innings. The last Cincinnati pitcher who could say that after nine starts was Bucky Walters. In 1944.

You remember Harry Krause. No? That’s probably because he pitched for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1909. Quite an early season Harry had back then, going at least seven innings in each of his first 10 starts, never allowing more than two runs.

Nobody has matched that, for even nine starts, in the 105 years since. Until Thursday. Cueto’s nine pitching lines this season are like the movie “Groundhog Day,” everyone just about the same.

“I didn’t (know) that was something that was there,” Cueto said of Krause’s feat. “Now that I know, I would say, thank God I’m the guy doing it after a hundred years.”

His 4-2 record might not sizzle, but please note, the Reds have lost two of his starts 1-0 and another 2-1. So Thursday against the Padres was cake, with a 5-0 lead.

“I think the thing that’s amazing about this whole start of the season for Johnny is every pitch has a lot of consequence with it,” said manager Bryan Price, whose team lost Thursday’s second game 6-1 as Rene Rivera hit one San Diego’s three homers.

“And he doesn’t get caught up in (the score) being 1-1, 2-2, 0-0, 1-0. It doesn’t matter. He just attacks the hitter with great confidence. I haven’t seen him back down to a hitter.”

Has the baseball-speaking world caught on yet? His teammates don’t think so.

“That guy, he needs to start getting some national attention,” shortstop Zack Cozart said. “I was watching TV the other day, and they’re still talking about (Zack) Greinke and (Clayton) Kershaw and (Jose) Fernandez. I’m like, ‘What about Johnny C?’ ”

OK, what about Johnny C? Other than the fact that at 5-foot-11, 215 pounds, he might be a fullback with another shaped ball.

“I don’t know what else I can say about Johnny,” Price said. “He’s attacking the zone, he’s using both sides of the plate with his whole mix. He’s just really feeling it right now.”

This from his catcher, Brayan Pen: “He’s just getting better and better each time he goes out there. His mindset is so strong. It’s fun to be behind home plate when he’s pitching.”

The chemistry between Cueto and Pena is an important part of this pitching tour de force.

“We’re on the same page,” Cueto said.

Well, not always, when it comes time to call a pitch.

“Sometimes, I’ve got to be the bad boy,” Pena said. “He trusts his off-speed pitches so much, he’s not afraid to throw them behind in the count.”

Sounds like a fine partnership. But who’s the boss?

“The boss is me,” Cueto said. “I’m the one that has got the ball in my hand.”

He’s the boss, all right, especially over anyone with a bat lately. Johnny C deserves the spotlight.

Mike Lopresti is a freelance writer. His columns appear periodically in The Journal Gazette.

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