Cueto fans 10 in seven innings of big-league debut

CINCINNATI (AP) -- While Johnny Cueto blew away batters with a 96 mph fastball, his Cincinnati Reds teammates compared memories about the last time they'd seen anyone so young look so good the first time out.

The consensus: This was something special.

Cueto allowed nothing more than Justin Upton's solo homer in seven innings Thursday, striking out 10 in an overpowering debut while leading the Reds to a 3-2 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks.

In modern baseball history -- since 1900, that is -- no Reds pitcher had fanned 10 batters in his big-league debut.

Special indeed.

"The guys on the bench were saying they haven't seen anything like this in a long time," manager Dusty Baker said. "I guess it's something they've never seen, and there's a lot they still haven't seen from this young man."

To a man, the Diamondbacks have seen enough.

The 22-year-old right-hander threw his fastball right past batters who had never seen it, finishing them off with a hard slider or a swing-teasing changeup. He struck out eight of his first 13 batters.

It reminded Baker of how Fernando Valenzuela became an overnight sensation with the Dodgers in the 1980s.

"He knows what he wants to do," Baker said. "The way he was throwing the ball today has no age."

The only glaring mistake: Upton led off the sixth with a homer. That was the only hit by a team that batted an NL-low .250 last season.

"He was unbelievable two years ago," said Upton, who faced him once in Class A. "He's got great stuff. He pounds the [strike] zone with it. He's just a great pitcher. Obviously he made the team for a reason. He's major league-ready."

Arizona's Alex Romero had a sacrifice fly in the eighth, after reliever David Weathers walked the bases loaded. Francisco Cordero pitched the ninth for his first save since the Reds gave him a $46 million, four-year deal to fix their biggest shortcoming.

Then, Cordero handed Cueto his first big-league keepsake.

"My big thing was to get three people out, get the save and hand the ball to him," Cordero said.

Cueto doesn't speak English comfortably, so former Reds pitcher Mario Soto -- now a scouting assistant and spring training instructor -- provided translation. Most of Cueto's answers were short and to the point, just like his performance.

His feelings when he took the mound for the first time?

"Very confident," Soto said. "Throw seven shutout innings. That's what he had in mind."

Soto, who is also from the Dominican Republic, knew Cueto's performance was going to be big stuff in their homeland.

"I guarantee you, they know," Soto said. "They have a program [on baseball] there at 5 o'clock. If they don't already know, at 5 o'clock everybody's going to know."

No one expected Cueto to be in this position a year ago, when he started at Class A and got on the fast track. He led all Reds minor-leaguers in strikeouts last season and was one of the most impressive pitchers in spring training.

The question was whether he could control his emotions and his best pitch when the pressure was on. In his next-to-last start of spring training, Cueto walked five of the 10 batters he faced.

Pitching in a light, steady rain that turned the 48-degree afternoon raw, Cueto kept his grip. He set the tone by fanning Chris Young on a 96 mph fastball to open the game.

His counterpart had the opposite experience.

Jeff Keppinger homered off left-hander Doug Davis (0-1), who failed to make it through the fourth inning. Just for Davis to be on the mound was an accomplishment in itself.

The 32-year-old Davis was diagnosed with thyroid cancer last week but lobbied hard to make his two scheduled starts leading up to an operation on April 10. He's expected to miss at least a month while he recovers.

Davis needed 29 pitches to get through the first inning, working at his usual, unhurried pace in the steady rain that affected his grip on the ball. He walked six in 3 2/3 innings.

"I had no rhythm out there whatsoever," Davis said. "It was slick sometimes. I'm not making any excuse because you've got to adjust and overcome that kind of thing, but I just didn't feel like any pitch felt the same."

Brandon Phillips doubled home a run in the first inning, and Gold Glove second baseman Orlando Hudson let a grounder skitter under his glove for a run-scoring error. Keppinger hit a solo homer in the second for a 3-0 lead.

Game notes
Hudson made only five errors last season, when he won his third straight Gold Glove. ... According to Elias, Cueto was the first to throw five perfect innings in his debut since Seattle's Ken Cloude retired the first 16 batters he faced on Aug. 9, 1997, against the White Sox. ... The last pitcher to strike out 10 in his big-league debut was Daisuke Matsuzaka, who fanned 10 in seven innings for Boston last season.

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