The Reds enjoyed a full season of healthy starting pitching on their way to an NL Central crown last season. This year is already a different story, though, as they'll have to do without their Opening Day starter for at least the next 15 days. Cincinnati placed right-hander Johnny Cueto on the disabled list Monday with a strained back muscle he suffered over the weekend.
Coming off a fourth-place finish in the NL Cy Young voting last season, Cueto was off to a good start this year -- 18 strikeouts to just six walks in 17.1 innings to go with a 2.60 early-season ERA -- before straining the muscle in Saturday's game in Pittsburgh. Cueto appeared to grimace while striking out Pedro Alvarez in the 5th inning, and then threw one pitch to Travis Snider before being pulled.
After delivering the pitch to Snider, Cueto appeared to try to stretch out his back. With trainers on the mound, Cueto started grabbing his right triceps, leading some to believe that's where the injury was.
Luckily for the Reds, they have some pitching depth in the minors. Cueto will temporarily be replaced by 26-year-old reliever Justin Freeman on the 25-man roster, giving the Reds an extra bullpen arm for the time being. On Thursday, left-hander Tony Cingrani is expected to be called up from Triple-A Louisville to fill Cueto's spot in the rotation. Cingrani was pulled from his start on Sunday after two innings in anticipation of the move, turning his start into more of a side session to keep him fresh just in case he got the call.
In five innings as a September call-up last year, Cingrani struck out nine batters and only walked two, allowing just one run. To start this season, the 23-year-old has struck out 26 batters in 14.1 innings, walking two batters and only allowing three hits. A third-round pick in 2011 out of Rice, Cingrani was ranked as the Reds' third-best prospect this winter by Baseball America, and was #82 on their list of Top 100 prospects.
The Reds host the Marlins on Thursday night, so another high-strikeout outing for Cingrani is a possibility, to say the least.