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Cueto's struggles with Royals put firmly in the past

KANSAS CITY -- When the Royals acquired Johnny Cueto from the Reds on July 26, they figured they were getting a surefire ace they could lean on down the stretch and into the postseason.

But it didn't quite work out that way, as the right-hander uncharacteristically struggled, going 4-7 with a 4.76 ERA in 13 starts with Kansas City. To put it into context, Cueto had posted a 2.51 ERA with Cincinnati dating back to 2011, a span of 121 starts and 808 innings. He hadn't even had an ERA above 2.82 in a season during that stretch.

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Cueto started out strong, with a 1.80 ERA in his first four starts with the Royals, before hitting a rough patch, going 0-5 with a 9.57 ERA over his next five outings to suffer a career-long five-game losing streak. Cueto, though, turned it around late in the year with a 3.24 ERA over his final four starts.

So Cueto is trending in the right direction heading into his start against the Astros in Game 2 of the American League Division Series on Friday at 3:30 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1, as the Royals look to even the set. And he's ready to put his struggles behind him.

"I had never gone through something like that before," Cueto said through a translator. "That season is over. This is a new season. And you'll get to see what Johnny Cueto is all about."

Cueto's playoff history is a mixed bag, as he allowed one earned run over five innings in his postseason debut against the Phillies in the 2010 National League Division Series. In '12, he exited after recording just one out against the Giants due to back spasms. And in '13, he struggled against the Pirates in the NL Wild Card Game, giving up four runs in 3 1/3 innings.

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So in three postseason starts, Cueto is 0-2 with a 5.19 ERA. Given Yordano Ventura's strong second half, Cueto got the Game 2 assignment, but he's fine with not being the Game 1 starter.

"The most important thing here is to win games, whether I'm pitching [Game] 1, 2, wherever," Cueto said. "The biggest thing is I need to pitch on regular [rest]."

Royals manager Ned Yost liked what he saw from Cueto late in the regular season, and the manager said he always figured the righty would turn it around given his track record. Cueto was a positive influence on Kansas City's youngsters, especially Ventura, and he started to find some rapport with catcher Salvador Perez, who began to crouch lower behind the plate to help the pitcher hit his target low in the zone.

"There was a little concern that we couldn't figure it out, but it didn't worry us because we all knew we'd get it figured out by the time the playoffs started," Yost said. "And we did. I think Johnny's last four or five starts have been really, really good, and we look forward to having him have another really good one tomorrow night."

Rhett Bollinger is a reporter for Read his blog, Bollinger Beat, follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger and listen to his podcast.
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