CINCINNATI - As the Opening Day starter and de facto ace of the Reds pitching staff, Johnny Cueto is expected to have outings such as Thursday's, when he threw seven shutout innings in Cincinnati's 4-0 season-opening win over Miami at Great American Ballpark.
The thing about Cueto's stellar outing that most pleased Reds manager Dusty Baker, though, was the 26-year-old right-hander's maturity.
"He knows what he wants to do, he has a great idea," Baker said of Cueto, who allowed just three hits and two walks while striking out four in his seven innings. "The young man has matured big-time before our eyes. He doesn't fight Johnny Cueto anymore. Before, his own worst enemy was himself."
Jay Bruce, who drove in half the Reds' runs with a first-inning sacrifice fly and a 442-foot home run to straightaway center leading off the bottom of the eighth, echoed Baker's sentiments.
"You guys have seen Johnny Cueto mature over the past couple of years," Bruce said. "Johnny's pitching now. He really knows what he wants to do. He's taking control of the game and focuses on outs instead of strikeouts."
Ryan Ludwick, who made his Reds debut as the starter in left field, faced Cueto before as a member of the Cardinals, Padres and Pirates. He said he likes being on Cueto's side now.
"Before you pretty much looked heater, when he was younger he tried to strike everyone out," Ludwick said. "He's pitching now.
"Johnny's our No. 1 guy, he's supposed to do that. Not to put more added pressure on him, but that's what he does. I've faced him from the opposing side, he's got great stuff."
Baker pulled Cueto after seven innings, turning the final six outs over to the bullpen. Flame-throwing Cuban left-hander Aroldis Chapman struck out two of the three batters he faced in the ninth, and 6-foot-7 southpaw Sean Marshall, making his Reds debut after coming over from the Cubs, did the same in the ninth.
"[Cueto] was at 95 [pitches] at that point, that was enough," Baker said. "We had a fresh bullpen, Chapman did an outstanding job and Marshall closed out the game. [Cueto] did everything we wanted and needed."
Reach Nick Scala at 304-348-7947 or nsc...@wvgazette.com.