It's difficult to blame him given Cueto's injury history.
Trying to move closer to securing a third playoff appearance in four years, Cincinnati sends Cueto to the mound in Monday night's series opener with the New York Mets .
Cueto (5-2, 3.02 ERA) missed the start of the 2011 season with arm trouble, then went 19-9 with a 2.78 ERA in 2012 to help the Reds win the NL Central. But after a healthy season, he left Game 1 of the division series against San Francisco after only eight pitches with pulled muscles in his side.
The right-hander was enjoying a solid start to 2013 before straining a lat muscle in a loss to Texas on June 28, forcing him to the DL. He was activated last Monday, and threw five scoreless innings in his 6-1 win over Houston."That's a tremendous shot in the arm for our team," Baker said. "Let's hope that he continues to be well, continues to get better (and) his endurance gets better."
Though Cueto said he felt fine after that outing, Baker is taking a cautious approach, especially with the playoffs right around the corner. Cincinnati (89-67) still is in the mix for a second straight Central crown while leading Washington by five games for a wild-card spot.
"There's not a whole bunch of people that can fill that slot better than Johnny," Baker told the team's official site. "It depends on how he feels, and there's a chance (the final six) games are going to be pretty important."
The Reds have won five of six after taking two of three from Pittsburgh with Sunday's 11-3 win. They're tied atop the wild-card standings with the Pirates, who they face in a three-game series at home to end the regular season.
"You can't overlook the Mets thinking about the Pirates and then the Mets mess you up," Baker said. "They're going to try and beat us, too."
New York (71-84) is coming off a three-game sweep of Philadelphia after Sunday's 4-3 victory. Rookie Juan Lagares had three hits while driving in a run, and shortstop Wilfredo Tovar added an RBI single in the seventh in his major league debut.
Philadelphia committed an error that allowed another run to score on Tovar's hit.
The Mets are seeking their first four-game winning streak since July 7-10 as they send former Red Aaron Harang to the mound Monday.
Harang (0-1, 4.91) went 5-11 with a 5.76 ERA with Seattle before being designated for assignment Aug. 26, though he's shown signs of improvement since signing with New York.
The right-hander gave up three runs and struck out 10 in six innings while suffering a 7-2 loss to Washington on Sept. 12 before giving up four runs and striking out eight in five frames of the Mets' 5-4 comeback win over San Francisco on Wednesday.
Harang, who went 75-80 for the Reds from 2003-10, is 3-0 with a 1.89 ERA in three starts against his former team. He gave up two runs in six innings to beat Cincinnati 4-2 while with the Mariners on July 5.
|New York Mets|
|September 19, 2013||Ruben Tejada||Day-to-Day||Broken right fibula - out for season|
|September 17, 2013||Travis d'Arnaud||Day-to-Day||Left game - sore right shoulder|
|September 14, 2013||Frank Francisco||Day-to-Day||Thumb contusion|
|September 10, 2013||Justin Turner||Day-to-Day||Strained right hamstring|
|September 09, 2013||Scott Rice||60-Day DL||Sports hernia|
|September 02, 2013||Ike Davis||60-Day DL||Strained right oblique|
|September 05, 2013||Brandon Phillips||Day-to-Day||Quadriceps|
|September 05, 2013||Devin Mesoraco||Day-to-Day||Hamstring|
|August 22, 2013||Jonathan Broxton||60-Day DL||Flexor mass strain, right forearm|
|August 21, 2013||Tony Cingrani||15-Day DL||Strained lower back|
|August 21, 2013||Tony Cingrani||15-Day DL||Strained lower back|
|August 21, 2013||Jonathan Broxton||Day-to-Day||Left game - elbow|
CINCINNATI (AP) -- No champagne. No curtain call in front of joyous fans. No celebrating at all, really. The Cincinnati Reds clinched a playoff spot with hardly any notice.
If anything, they were a little bummed out.
Shin-Soo Choo drove in the winning run with a single off the wall in the 10th inning, and the Reds secured their third playoff spot in four years shortly after beating the New York Mets 3-2 on Monday night.
They want a whole lot more than the wild card that's already in hand.
"We're excited, obviously," shortstop Zack Cozart said, looking over a clubhouse where the only visible celebration was the image of Pittsburgh Pirates spraying each other on television. "That's not our goal. We're in the division hunt. We're not happy with a wild card."
The Reds clinched theirs after Choo's drive smacked high off the wall in left-center field. Eight minutes later, the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Washington Nationals 4-3, clinching an NL wild card for Pittsburgh.
The Reds were pulling for first-place St. Louis to lose. Instead, the Cardinals retained their two-game lead over Cincinnati and Pittsburgh in the NL Central.
"I was pulling for the Nationals to win, get a step closer to the Cardinals," manager Dusty Baker said. "We've still got five games to go. A lot of baseball."
The Reds kept pace with St. Louis despite squandering plenty of chances to end it early. They wasted a chance in the ninth, when David Aardsma pitched out of a bases-loaded threat by retiring Todd Frazier on a fly out.
Greg Burke (0-3) gave up a one-out single to Devin Mesoraco in the 10th, and Derrick Robinson singled him to third. Choo followed with his third hit of the game, off left-hander Sean Henn , a drive high off the wall in left-center. Choo headed for the dugout after crossing first base.
Manny Parra (2-3) allowed one hit in the 10th.
It was a notable win for the Reds - their 90th of the season, the third time in the last four years that they have reached the mark under Baker. They haven't had so many 90-win seasons since the Big Red Machine of the 1970s.
Johnny Cueto made a second solid start since coming off the disabled list, an encouraging sign for Cincinnati's postseason plans. The right-hander has been sidelined three times by soreness near his shoulder.
He gave up two runs - one earned - on Lucas Duda 's sacrifice fly and solo homer, which snapped an 0-for-17 slump. In two starts, Cueto has allowed eight hits and one earned run in 12 innings.
Cueto's 99-pitch outing was the most encouraging part of the night for the Reds, who could have their ace back for the playoffs.
"He was excellent," Baker said. "He's getting ready. Each time he goes out, he gets his endurance up."
The Reds got two runs in six innings off Aaron Harang , who made his third start for the Mets. Choo singled home a run in the second and Joey Votto got one of his career-high five walks with the bases loaded.
Harang is 3-0 in four career starts against the Reds, including a 4-2 victory with Seattle on July 5 at Great American Ball Park. The Mariners later released him with a 5-11 record.
The Reds sustained their hopes of another division title by winning another long game - they are 13-9 in extra innings.
Last September, Baker was in a Chicago hospital getting treated for an irregular heartbeat and a mini-stroke when the Reds clinched the NL Central title. They made a video of their spray-away celebration and wished for another when he returned.
It didn't happy. Cueto had to leave the opening game of the playoffs at San Francisco after only eight pitches because of a strained muscle in his right side. With their rotation in flux, the Reds lost the five-game series.
This season, the Reds have stayed in contention despite losing Cueto, setup relievers Sean Marshall and Jonathan Broxton , and cleanup hitter Ryan Ludwick for most of the season. Ludwick tore cartilage in his right shoulder while sliding into a base on opening day and was out for more than three months.
They were six games out on Aug. 9, in danger of falling out of the division's three-team race. They regrouped and have taken the race down to the final week by winning 12 of their last 17.
NOTES: New York's David Wright had his hitting streak ended at eight games. ... Billy Hamilton got in as a pinch-runner in the eighth and stole second, leaving him 13 for 13 in attempts. The Mets called for a pitchout but Frank Francisco threw it over the plate. ... Votto has walked 132 times this season, tying Joe Morgan 's club record from 1975. The five walks also tied a club record. ... RHP Mike Leake (14-6) starts for the Reds on Tuesday against LHP Jonathon Niese (7-8).
Follow Joe Kay on Twitter: http://twitter.com/apjoekay