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Maybe Johnny Cueto can finally be an All-Star this year

By Matt Snyder | Baseball Writer

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Reds starting pitcher Johnny Cueto is a legitimate ace and one of baseball's better pitchers. He's been a rookie sensation, an opening day starter, a Cy Young candidate and an ace heading into the playoffs for a two seed. He's off to an incredible start this season and one of the things that comes to mind for me is that he's never been an All-Star.

This is Cueto's seventh season and he's been close several times, too.

In 2009, he had a 2.17 ERA through 13 starts in the middle of June. In his next two starts, however, he effectively ended his All-Star chances by coughing up 10 runs and 15 hits in 10 2/3 innings.

In 2010, Cueto was actually 8-2 by the time the rosters were revealed -- now with lots of extra pitchers, too -- but his 3.56 ERA left something to be desired and he fell short.

In 2011, Cueto headed to the All-Star break with a 5-3 record and a minuscule 1.96 ERA. His 1.00 WHIP was excellent, too, but Cueto wasn't part of the roster. He started the season on the DL, so he only logged 12 starts before the break while most starting pitchers had a handful more. So that one was understandable and not really a snub, but the timing of the injury illustrates further how elusive the All-Star Game has been for Cueto.

He'd be snubbed in 2012, though, this one was hard to figure. At the time the rosters were submitted, Cueto was 12-5 with a 2.23 ERA and 103 strikeouts in 133 1/3 innings. He was left off the roster by former Cardinals manager Tony La Russa and it drew the ire of noted La Russa rival and then-Reds manager Dusty Baker. Baker wasn't alone, either.

Regardless, Cueto would go on to finish fourth in NL Cy Young voting that year and be the Game 1 starter for his playoff team (which dubiously ended with a first-inning injury).

An early-season injury in 2013 meant no All-Star experience for Cueto last season. He'd finish 5-2 with a 2.82 ERA and 1.06 WHIP.

It's funny how things work sometimes, because Cueto's career is lined with long stretches of All-Star caliber pitching, but circumstances -- some his fault, some not -- have prevented him from going in each of his first six seasons. The seventh time may just be the charm, though, because he's out of his mind right now.

Cueto, 28, leads the majors in ERA (1.31), WHIP (0.73), innings pitched (55), hit rate (4.1 hits per nine innings) and complete games (two) right now. He's struck out 60 in those 55 innings, marking the best strikeout rate of his career. Perhaps most impressive is that he's averaging almost eight innings per start and hasn't gone less than seven in any of his seven starts.

Of course, being that it's Cueto, there's a potential landmine here. He's only 3-2, thanks to some poor run support (the Reds have scored zero or one run in three of his starts) and a bullpen implosion (that walk-off Ike Davis grand slam came in a Cueto start). So maybe he'll have to sweat it out despite being one of baseball's best pitchers through the first few days of May. It would be fitting, in a way.

The bottom line is Cueto is an All-Star caliber pitcher and deserves to make a Midsummer Classic at some point. This definitely looks like the year so far.

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