GOODYEAR, Ariz. Johnny Cueto, at the baseball tender age of 26, has worked his way to the top of the pitching rotation for the Cincinnati Reds or as Frank Sinatra sang it, "King of the hill, top of the heap, A-No. 1."
If all goes as planned, Cueto will be standing on the mound in Great American Ball Park on Opening Day.
And you can mix in a heaping dose of maturity for Cueto, enough so that he already is mentoring a 21-year-old fellow Dominican pitching prospect named Daniel Corcino.
On Monday morning, with dew still on the grass and the sun barely peeking over the hills beyond the Goodyear Baseball Complex, Cueto was sitting in the dugout watching Corcino start a 10 a.m. 'B' game against the Seattle Mariners.
On Monday afternoon, Cueto was on the mound for the day's 'A' game, making his 2012 spring training debut against the Cleveland Indians two innings, one run, two hits, no walks two strikeouts as the Reds pounded and pummeled the Tribe, 12-7.
Corcino was 11-7 with a 3.42 ERA in 26 starts last season at Class A Dayton and he certainly realizes how to get ahead. He made himself Cueto's shadow, even when the sun isn't shining.
"He is always playing catch with Cueto and follows him around," said manager Dusty Baker. "I call him Cueto Jr. and he is pretty proud of that."
And Cocino knew Cueto was observing his protg during the 'B' game from the dugout..
"He kept yelling at me, 'Low, low. Stay low,'" said Corcino. "I never knew Cueto until I came to camp with the Reds in 2008. He is a very nice guy, helps me a lot. He tells me every day what I did good or bad and tells me what I need to do every day."
Baker watched Corcino work, the first time he saw him pitch in a game.
"Our reports on him are very good," said Baker. "I know he really gets after it, the main thing you have to like. You have to calm him down. He throws the ball 100 miles an hour on every drill. He is first whenever we do our warm-up drills in the morning. He is refreshing, really. I have to tell him, 'Hey, man, don't worry about keeping up with everybody else, just do your thing.'
"He is a smart young man, too," Baker added. "He speaks good English for the small amount of time he has been here."
Cueto, chomping hard on an aromaticd fruity gum after his two innings, smiled broadly when asked about Corcino.
"I really like how he throws," said Cueto. "He looks like me. He has courage. He is starting out the same way I did and I hope soon he can come up here and help us."
Of more importance right now is the health and well-being of Cueto, who was injured last spring and missed the first month of the season.
"Being healthy is so important that I asked God to protect me and let me be healthy for the season, be ready for the start of the season," he said. "I'm working harder, a little extra, a little more than I'm supposed to do. I lost a month of the off-season (some personal things that happened, preventing him from working out)."
Despite giving up a run in the first inning when Cleveland lead-off hitter Michael Brantley tripled after Cueto fell behind 3-and-0, Cueto was enthralled with his day.
"I felt really good, really relaxed," he said. And he followed the advice he was giving Corcino, "Because I concentrated on keeping my pitches low and did it, kept the ball down."
The first three pitches Cueto threw were out of the strike zone and when somebody asked if he was nervous, he laughed heartily and gave an Alfred E. Newman "What, Me Worry?" smile. "Me? Nah. No. Not nervous."
Obviously, an Opening Day pitcher who
is mentoring an upcoming pitcher never admit to nerves.
The Reds' offense was on search and destroy Monday, scoring six runs on five hits and three walks in only 1 13 innings against Indians starter Justin Masterson.
"I made them feel pretty good about themselves," said Masterson.
Of particular note was a two-run single he gave up to Joey Votto in the second inning after he made the mistake of walking light-hitting Paul Janish ahead of him, loading the bases.
Masterson jammed him with a pitch, but Votto shot it through the shortstop hole.
"He is an unbelievable hitter," said Masterson of Votto. "How do you get a hit when you're jammed like that? For him to go get that ball with quik hands this early in camp is amazing."
Meanwhile, center fielder Drew Stubbs, who led baseball last year with 205, now has seven plate appearances this spring and has yet to strike out. Fans also want to see the cheetah-fleet Stubbs bunt more. In the third inning Monday he bunted for a hit.
Catcher Corky Miller put a point-of-emphasis on the game with a two-run homer off Tony Sipp during a four-run sixth inning.