Johnny Cueto has been quite a disappointment for the Royals over the last few weeks after initially impressing upon his acquisition from the Reds. The right-hander had allowed 30 runs over 26.1 innings in a five-start stretch until he rebounded on Friday against Detroit. Cueto has showed no signs of injury, has kept his velocity up, and has even improved his strikeout and walk numbers since being acquired. So what is the cause of the worst-stretch of pitching in his career?
According to Andy McCullough at the Star, at a meeting with Ned Yost last week, Cueto admitted he was uncomfortable with the way catcher Salvador Perez sets up behind the plate.
Part of his trouble, Cueto explained to the team, was he tries to throw exactly toward the catcher’s glove. Perez often set the target high in the zone, intending to lower his mitt with the pitch. But the optics challenged Cueto, which may have led to him spinning a series of cutters and changeups at the waist of opposing hitters in recent weeks. Cueto offered a series of suggestions for Perez. Cueto needed the mitt positioned lower in the zone. He wanted Perez to back up off the plate. And Cueto wanted Perez to set up later than normal. When there were no men on base on Friday, Perez often crouched on one knee, lowering his 6-foot-3, 240-pound frame to meet Cueto’s preferences.
That explanation fits some of the previous analysis that showed Cueto was missing his spots and leaving pitches up in the zone. It is odd, however, that it took this long for Cueto to communicate this to Salvador Perez and the coaching staff. McCullough says the problem was only addressed "after weeks of quiet grumbling" from Cueto on his catcher's setup. Did Cueto not feel comfortable voicing constructive criticism to his new teammates?
"He understood that Salvy’s a three-time All-Star, a three-time Gold Glover," Yost said. "He’s not going to come in and tell him what to do."
Added Grifol, "We’re just learning him. And if that’s one of the things that he needs and wants, then that’s what we’ve got to provide. When guys come over in a trade, you know a little bit about him. But you don’t know the small details."
In any case, it would be nice to believe this is the silver bullet that can get Johnny Cueto back on track. He had much better results on Friday night against Detroit, giving up just two runs over seven innings. The Royals don't necessarily need Cueto to win in October, but it sure would help. Let's hope Cueto and Perez are on the same page now and working together to get the Royals on another post-season run.