Eight more runs, four more homers, and another week off the clock for Johnny Cueto to figure things out.
Time--and in the case for most Royals fans, patience--is running out.
Statistically, Sunday night in Baltimore was Johnny Cueto's worst start in an already dubious tenure as a Royal. It was arguably the worst of his career. He allowed a whopping eight runs, tying his worst mark in a single game. He also allowed four home runs. His ERA with the Royals, which was 1.80 through his first four starts after being traded, is now close to 6 (5.59). He did pitch into the seventh inning, but he surrendered runs in five different frames. He allowed 11 hits and one walk while striking out just three Orioles.
In two match-ups with Baltimore this season, Cueto has allowed seven homers and 14 runs over 12 innings.
Following a walk and a single, Adam Jones walloped a high fastball over the center-field wall for a three-run first-inning home run. Two of the remaining three home runs were by Jonathan Schoop, and the fourth was Chris Davis' MLB-leading 42nd big fly of the season. Baltimore knocked Cueto out of the game in the seventh inning, plating two additional runs to blow the game open.
The movement on Cueto's pitches, at least from my perspective, was very good all evening. He hung a couple of breaking balls, but his changeup was nasty and his cutter had more "cut" than in games past. His fastball betrayed him on multiple occasions. Unfortunately, he couldn't locate any pitch whatsoever; Salvador Perez would set up on the lower-outside corner only to watch as Cueto would miss up and inside with pitches that would be banged into (and over) the alleys.
From 2011 through the first half of 2015, in a span of 121 starts, Johnny Cueto allowed six runs in an outing just four times. In nine starts as a Royal, he has allowed six runs three times.
So, what the hell is wrong with this guy?
Don't kid yourself, Johnny Cueto is one of the best pitchers in baseball. The stats back it up. Dayton Moore did what he had to do. The poor results thus far do not necessarily mean the rationale behind the trade was bad. The Royals' starting rotation was one of the worst in the American League, so Moore went out and brought in the best starting pitcher on the trade market.
Since firing a shutout in his home debut in what seems like years ago, he has been a complete disaster. In the last month, he's no-showed more fan appearances than he has victories. He's asking to be pushed back in his starts. He can't strike anybody out. His velocity is fine, but he's getting BABIP'd to freaking death.
I like Johnny. I really do. At this point, I still want him starting game one of any playoff series over any other Royals starter. At least, I think I do, and I would bet a lot of money that Ned Yost does too.
I also don't think that he's this bad. Not even close. In fact, I think a big chunk of this brutal stretch (29 earned runs in his last five starts or 26.1 innings) is bad luck. Every single thing hit into play against him is somehow a hit. Even pitches outside by two inches are somehow slapped into the opposite field. He's certainly not pitching well, but at some point, his BABIP will stabilize, or at least, one would hope.
Because, seriously, seeing Jeremy Guthrie pitching long relief every five days is not what Royals fans expected when Johnny Cueto was acquired in July.
As far as the rest of the game, it wasn't always a blowout. After falling into an immediate three-run hole, Kansas City clawed back by plating two second-inning runs. Salvador Perez, Alex Rios and Alcides Escobar strung together consecutive two-out base hits to make the score 3-2, but that was all the Royals had going for them on Sunday night. Second inning aside, the team managed just four hits. Only two came after the fourth.
Mike Moustakas saved the Royals from a series sweep with his historic performance yesterday. Other than that two-inning stretch in Saturday's contest, Kansas City had a dismal series in Baltimore. The pitching staff allowed an astonishing 28 runs on 35 hits in the three-game set. The team has lost seven of nine; it is 84-58 on the season.
A four-game series with the Cleveland Indians is next for the Royals, who maintained their 2.5 lead over the Blue Jays for home-field advantage. Edinson Volquez (13-7, 3.49) will oppose Carlos Carrasco (12-10, 3.70). The magic number to clinch the A.L. Central remains at 11.
Johnny Cueto's rotation slot is projected to come up four more times in the regular season. Cueto, Dave Eiland, and Ned Yost have a very limited amount of time to fix the issues before Kansas City enters postseason play. Judging by Cueto's entire career as a dominant pitcher, Royals fans should still be optimistic that he could return to form at any moment.
As long as he can put up four good starts in October, the Johnny Cueto trade will go down as a massive success. But after his recent performances, time and opportunities are running out for "Johnny Beisbol."
Oh yeah: Louis Coleman entered in relief of Cueto in the seventh. He got an out, walked a batter, and abruptly left hurt. He grimaced in pain after delivering the fourth ball of the count. An elbow injury is being speculated, and with Coleman not under contract for next season, it may have been the last time he ever pitches for the Royals. We're all hoping for the best/