Johnny Cueto came back to the Cincinnati dugout content after having made the second out of the eighth inning. After laying down his first successful sacrifice bunt of the season he was greeted by the smiling faces of Joey Votto, Devin Mesoraco, and others looking to provide congratulatory high fives.
This doesn't sound like a significant moment, especially considering Shin-Soo Choo grounded out in his next at-bat. But the reactions displayed by Dusty Baker, Cueto's teammates and Cueto himself, told me as a Reds fan a small story that goes unnoticed by the casual observer of Reds baseball.
Though yes, Johnny Cueto has been out for five weeks and is just now back in the swing of things (and there was nothing at all to criticize of his performance outside of a sporadic first inning), he has had had limited success with the bat thus far this season. Coming into Friday night's matchup with the Pirates, Cueto had yet to put down a sac bunt. He was 1-11 (now 1-14) and had grounded into 3 double plays. This is strange considering that Cueto, to his credit can lay bunts down effectively. Just last season he tied Elvis Andrus and Juan Pierre to lead the majors with 17 sacrifice bunts (out of 18 attempted).
Two times on the night, Cueto really struggled and ultimately failed to get bunts down. The frustration was evident on the face of Cueto and on that of Dusty Baker. Cueto came back to the dugout after the first attempt and smashed his bat against the dugout railing. In the second at-bat, it was evident how flustered Cueto was at the plate. Baker could be seen making a motion imitating what Cueto had done on the previous bunt attempt. Cueto would strike out yet again, and walked slowly back to the dugout.
It would be in that seventh inning that Cueto would put down a bunt, moving Derrick Robinson and Todd Frazier to second and third respectively. He would come back to the dugout content and greeted by those smiling teammates.
This I think was as telling as anything. Barring that we forget Mat Latos' and Jay Bruce's minor dugout spat a short while back, this is a very unified team. They have each others' backs and want each other to succeed. There is general excitement when someone like Zach Cozart goes through a solid stretch after getting off to a less than stellar start to the 2013 season. When players like Derrick Robinson ride out a 11 pitch at-bat, they are excited for their teammate. And when Johnny Cueto gets down a bunt after struggling with the bat, his teammates are excited for him.
But don't get me wrong. Reds fans really have nothing to worry about when considering Friday's eight inning, six strikeout one-hit allowed performance by Cueto. But it was a few small things from this contest that are intriguing to me as an avid Reds fan.