After a complete game win against the division-rival Rockies capped a scintillating first half, Johnny Cueto (13-1, 2.47 ERA, 115 K) has been named the starter for the National League in the MLB All-Star Game.
National League coach Terry Collins made it official Monday in a press conference, but Cueto admitted to finding out two days ago that he’d be getting the nod. He said his performance gave him the opportunity to be considered.
“I agree it has a lot to do with my first half. The numbers speak for themselves and I think that’s the reason they chose me to start the game.”
Helping Cueto’s starting chances were injuries to Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers and Noah Syndergaard of the New York Mets. Teammate Madison Bumgarner was named ineligible after pitching the Giants’ last game Sunday evening, a complete game shutout over the Diamondbacks.
The stiff competition is a testament to the quality of pitching in the National League. Cueto is hardly a consolation prize; his 13 wins rank second in Major League Baseball, and his 2.47 ERA ranks third. He also leads the league in innings (131-1/3) and complete games (4).
Terry Collins announced Cueto would be expected to pitch only two innings for this one, an outing that Cueto had no qualms with.
“I train myself to pitch a lot of innings, but I already know coming into tomorrow’s game that I will only pitch two innings … I have in my head just to pitch my two innings and hopefully we win home-field advantage.”
This is Cueto’s second All-Star Game, the first coming with his first team, the Cincinnati Reds. When asked if he would approach this year differently than his first time — or any regular season game — he shook his head no:
“It’s just another game. I have my routine and I’ll be doing it the same as any game.”
Just like all but two of Cueto’s starts this season, there will be a friendly face staring back at him from home plate: teammate Buster Posey (.292, 11 HR, 42 RBI).
Cueto said of his All-Star teammate:
“It means a lot. I’m very happy with him. I am getting used to him and it means a lot to have him behind the plate.”
It will be a unique advantage for Cueto to go out there with the battery he’s gotten used to, even if they’ve only been together for half a season.
“It’ll be nice that we’ve had a half year together at this point and were comfortable with each other. And just get outs. That’s the main thing. Just get outs and he’s really good at doing that.”
Clearly this season, Cueto has found a good fit and his performance has flourished. He just completed arguably the best first half of his career. His best season was in 2014, when he went 20-9 with a 2.25 ERA for the Reds. He led the league in innings and strikeouts, placed second in Cy Young Award voting, and 12th in Most Valuable Player voting.
Two years prior, Cueto ended 2012 in equally hot form, finishing 19-9 with a 2.78 ERA and 170 strikeouts. That season Cueto finished 4th in Cy Young voting and 30th for the MVP.
After a less than stellar stint with Kansas City (13 starts, 4-7, 4.76 ERA), Cueto said coming to AT&T Park and the Giants has helped him find his groove:
“AT&T has been a good park for me and Bruce Bochy is a very good coach. I am glad to be putting it all together for a good team.”
Cueto also gave credit to his teammates, before acknowledging he has put in a lot of individual work to get to where he is:
“I feel really good to have guys like Posey and Bumgarner as my teammates but I think the first half is more a testament to my hard work.”
Fellow All-Star Madison Bumgarner had no surprise over Cueto being named:
“He’s a solid pitcher. He goes out there and throws strikes and gets outs. He’s starting the game because he’s been one of the best this season. It’s just great having a reliable guy like that on my team.”
Asked if there was any extra intimidation from pitching to the best in baseball, Cueto was quick to say no:
“No, there’s no intimidation. They are baseball players just like me. I am excited to pitch to all of them because they are All-Stars, the best of the best, but they are just players.”
Cueto said his hero growing up was Pedro Martinez, who participated in eight All-Star games. At age 30 and in his second Midsummer Classic, it will take a spectacular end to his career to match Martinez’s mark.
Cueto takes the mound against White Sox fireballer Chris Sale (14-3, 3.38 ERA, 123 K) on Tuesday night at 5 p.m.