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Johnny Cueto needs to work inside to succeed against the Astros

Cueto is walking a fine line with these Astros hitters

John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

Johnny Cueto was not great for the Royals in Game Two of the American League Division Series against the Astros, but he did last six innings, giving up four runs and keeping the team in the game for a late comeback to win 5-4. Cueto's game plan seemed pretty clear from the get-go, pound the inside of the plate and keep the Astros hitters from extending their hands. He succeeded a bit, but he also suffered from some bad luck.

In the first inning, Cueto had a pretty good sequence with George Springer, working ahead with two cutters in on the hands for strikes. Here's the first one (Pitch f/x calls it a sinker, but it looks like a cutter to me), that Springer missed at.

For his next pitch, Cueto threw a cutter again on the inside corner to get strike two.

It appeared as if Cueto struck Springer out with a slider at the knees, but he didn't get the call from home plate umpire Angel Hernandez, and Cueto ended up losing Springer to a walk.

Cueto then faced Carlos Correa in a tough situation with a runner on base and one out. His first pitch is a nice cutter that is out of the strike zone, but somehow it seemed to satisfy Hernandez.

Pitch #2 is a fastball Cueto leaves up a bit, but thankfully Correa is a bit late on it and fouls it back. Correa then fouls off another fastball high and away, followed by a sinker in the dirt for ball one. Cueto finally finishes Correa off with another pretty cutter, again, out of the zone, called for strike three.

In the fifth, Cueto starts Correa off with a cutter on the inside corner for a called strike one. His misses with a slider away, then gets Correa to foul off a Correa for strike two. Correa fouls another cutter down the right field line that wasn't too far away from being a home run or at least extra bases, then fouls another cutter off his back leg. Cueto finally finishes him off with a fastball up and in that Correa can't keep up with. This is exactly where Kevin says to pitch him.

Cueto also suffered some bad luck on some pretty good pitches in on right-handed hitters. In the second, Cueto tries to saw off Chris Carter with a cutter in on his hands, but Carter is able to get enough wood on it to hit a broken-bat flare out to shallow left center for a single.

After just missing on a strike inside on Jason Castro to allow a walk, Jake Marisnick loaded the bases with his bunt single on the mental lapse by Mike Moustakas. After retiring Jose Altuve on a pop out, Cueto tries to work Springer inside. Springer is also able to fight it off for a bloop single to score two runs, although if Escobar gets a better throw, they probably nail Castro at home.

When Cueto left it out over the plate, he ran into trouble. Colby Rasmus has terrorized Cueto in his career, and he got it going again in the first inning. This isn't even a bad pitch, a nice sinker down in the zone, but it is over the plate and Rasmus "ambushes" Cueto with a double.

Also in the first, Cueto leaves his sinker out over the plate against Evan Gattis. Gattis, who has struggled all series, jumps on it for a base hit.

In the third, Cueto would work ahead of the count to Rasmus 0-2. But after just missing on a changeup on the outside corner, Cueto gives up a belt-high fastball that Rasmus jumps all over.

Here is Johnny Cueto's pitch plot against right-handed hitters.

It seems pretty clear Cueto was trying to pound the zone in on right-handed hitters. And for the most part, it was pretty effective. Perhaps Johnny could mix in a bit more hard stuff away on righties, but more than likely we won't see nearly as many bloopers fall for hits as we did in Game Two.

He still needs to be careful as we saw how well Correa hit a 96 mph fastball in on the hands against Yordano Ventura. But working inside will keep the right-handed hitters from extending their arms and driving the ball for the most part. As for how Johnny Cueto should approach left-handed hitter Colby Rasmus, I haven't any earthly clue and I doubt anyone else does right now.