Originally posted on Fox Sports Ohio  |  Last updated 10/7/12
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By MICHAEL MARTINEZ FOXSPORTSWEST.COM SAN FRANCISCO There is no way to prepare for these kinds of circumstances. They just happen, and you react. Cincinnati Reds manager Dusty Baker rushed to the pitcher's mound Monday night when it became painfully clear his starter was hurting. But in the back of his mind, he was already juggling the possibilities. Good managers usually make the right moves. After starter Johnny Cueto succumbed to back spasms in the first inning of Saturday night's Game 1 of the National League Division Series, Baker relied on his bullpen and his scheduled Game 3 starter, Mat Latos, to pull his team through the opener against the San Francisco Giants. The Reds' 5-2 win at AT&T Park wasn't without a measure of angst, but Baker's pitching choices came through, and so did his offense, guaranteeing Cincinnati a split of the first two road games in the best-of-five series. It could have easily gone wrong. Cueto, Cincinnati's 19-game winner, came out of the bullpen throwing in the mid-90s. He blew away Giants lead-off hitter Angel Pagan on fastballs, then went to 0-1 on Marco Scutaro. But on his eighth pitch of the night, he winced, walked off the mound in pain and waved toward the dugout. There are few alternatives in that kind of situation. Baker knew that Latos had a relatively easy bullpen session in the afternoon. He also knew he could call on right-hander Sam LeCure to get him out of the first and perhaps pitch the second. "We wanted to go with Sam first and hopefully get a couple (of innings) out of him and give Latos time to get ready mentally," Baker said. "We also give him plenty of time to get ready in the bullpen." The hastily prepared plan worked. LeCure got the second and third outs of the first inning and pitched a scoreless second. Then Latos worked four innings, yielding only a bases-empty home run to Buster Posey in the sixth, and closer Aroldis Chapman survived a shaky ninth to close out the game. Baker isn't sure if Cueto will be able to come back and perhaps even take Latos' Game 3 spot on Tuesday, but it's clearly on the table. "I saw Johnny after the game and he said he was better, whatever that means," Baker said. "Johnny is usually pretty honest with us. That gives us a glimmer of hope he might be back. I can't say for sure, but you know how back spasms are." They're unpredictable to say the least. Cueto said he has never been bothered by such an injury in the past, and he claimed he was throwing well in the bullpen up until his final warmup pitches. "It was only on the last two throws that I felt a sharp pain on my right side," he said through a translator. He told pitching coach Bryan Price about it, but it wasn't much of a concern, not the way he was throwing his fastball. "He felt it was a cramp and that it had subsided," Baker said. "Then to see him throw the lights out of the ball that's the best he's thrown, 94, 95. We felt maybe it's better. Then he threw that one pitch." There was speculation Cueto might have hurt himself when Pagan called time and stepped out of the batter's box just as Cueto was getting ready to release the ball. He held up, looking a bit perturbed. But Baker said it did not affect his pitcher. In most circumstances, a team might feel a letdown losing its starter. But the Reds jumped on Giants starter Matt Cain when second baseman Brandon Phillips hit a two-run homer in the third and right fielder Jay Bruce led off the fourth with another home run. Giants manager Bruce Bochy said both shots were a result of offspeed pitches that Cain left up in the strike zone. "He was missing his spots a little bit," Bochy said. That's sometimes all it takes. Miss here and there, and good teams will jump on them. The Reds had a 3-0 lead after the fifth, and Cain, their most reliable starter this season, was lifted for a pinch hitter in the bottom of the inning. There were little things, too, that counted. In the eighth inning, for instance, after Phillips led off with a single, Joey Votto hit a one-out bouncer to second that could have resulted in a double play. But Phillips held up just enough to avoid being tagged out by Scutaro, even bending backward, and the Giants got only one out on the play. "I just tried to wait as long as possible to let Joey try to get to first base," Phillips said. "He reached out for me, I fell down and he didn't tag me. It kept the inning open. We didn't score any runs that inning, but I think it gave us a little bit of energy." Enough to add two runs in the ninth, which they needed when Chapman was struck by a fit of wildness, walking two batters, loading the bases and allowing a run to score on a wild pitch. But Posey, representing the tying run, struck out on a fastball to end the game. "This is one game," Bochy said. "Sure, you hate to lose it, but we've got one game left here. There's a lot of baseball left." The Reds are surely hoping there's a lot of baseball left for Cueto. Only time will tell.
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