GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Johnny Cueto will be the Reds' Opening Day starter, manager Bryan Price announced on Thursday, and now the rest of the season-opening five-man rotation for Cincinnati has fallen into place.
The veteran right-hander will take the mound Monday in the 4:10 p.m. ET opener vs. the Cardinals at Great American Ball Park. After an off-day, Cueto will be followed on Wednesday by left-hander Tony Cingrani. Homer Bailey is slated to start Game 3 against the Cards on Thursday, and Mike Leake will open the first road series of the season on Friday against the Mets in New York.
Alfredo Simon is on tap to start the club's sixth game on Sunday, after Cueto returns Saturday at Citi Field.
"I've spoken with Johnny ahead of time," Price said. "He had a pretty good understanding that if he made it through [Tuesday's] start that he'd be starting Opening Day. So that's our rotation going into it. We hope to have Mat Latos back by mid-April."
Cueto is slated to make his third consecutive Opening Day start for the Reds, all at home. He tossed seven scoreless innings in a 4-0 win over the Marlins in 2012, and he didn't factor in the decision last year in a 3-1 loss to the Angels.
Simon was given the fifth spot almost by default, because of an injury to Brett Marshall against the White Sox on Wednesday. Marshall strained a tendon in his right middle finger, Price said.
"[Marshall will] be getting a second evaluation done," Price said. "He had an MRI after the game. He'll be seeing a hand specialist locally in Phoenix, but it doesn't look like he's going to be having any chance to open the season with us."
Cueto pitched well and deep into a Minor League game on Tuesday. He had been scratched from recent Cactus League starts because of shoulder and back soreness, sending up a real caution flag for Price, the Reds' first-year manager and former pitching coach.
"I talked to him [Wednesday] and told him I wanted him to go out and play some catch to make sure everything was OK," Price said about Cueto. "And he said everything was fine. I didn't want to announce it yet. I wanted a little bit more time to make sure he was OK. So I'm comfortable now being able to make that declaration."
There was good reason for Price to be reticent about naming Cueto.
Three stints on the disabled list with a strained right lat muscle limited Cueto to just 11 starts in 2013. He pitched three games at the end of the season, including a loss to the Pirates in the National League Wild Card Game. But even during this Spring Training, Cueto never seemed to get his footing.
So, the news to Cueto from Price was most welcome.
"Yeah, he was really happy," Price said. "When he's healthy, he's been our No. 1 starter legitimately for the previous four years. The problem last year was he was only able to make 11 starts for us. Keeping him healthy was the key. That's why I was reluctant to name a starting rotation, especially when Latos went down early. Homer and Leake had their issues. And with Johnny's recent history, it was really difficult to make an early decision about who was going to start on Opening Day."
Latos had right elbow surgery in the offseason and then had his left knee scoped after his first bullpen session of the spring. Leake has dealt with an abdominal injury this spring, and Bailey has been dealing with a strained right groin.
The Reds are opening the season with pitchers Latos, Sean Marshall, Jonathan Broxton and very likely Brett Marshall on the disabled list. Leake and Bailey seem to be sound, and Price said he hopes he only has to use Simon for one start. Price is pegging a return for Latos around April 13 or 14.
"I just don't want anyone crossing the street right now," Price said.
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter.