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Johnny Cueto Countdown, Part III

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Tick, tock, tick, tock...the trade deadline is inching closer.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

There are roughly 35 days until MLB's non-waiver trade deadline, and it's no secret that soon-to-be-free-agent is one of the most coveted trade targets likely to be on the market.  With that in mind and the clock a-ticking, we're going to look back at a few of Johnny's best performances as a Red on every day he's scheduled to pitch since we love nostalgia and making you cry.

Cueto will take the mound tonight against Noah Syndergaard & the New York Mets a touch after 7 PM EST.

★★★

When he stepped on the mound against the Florida Marlins on Opening Day in 2012, Johnny Cueto had never thrown 200 innings in a season, had never received a single Cy Young Award vote, and owned a career 4.27 FIP.  He was 41-37 in his career to that point and boasted a 3.83 ERA and 109 ERA+, numbers that were sound and valuable but hardly indicative of a true "ace."

Injuries had also suppressed his durability and helped keep his stat sheet from matching his overall talent level.  He began the 2011 season on the DL and later saw a back issue end his year prematurely, and those dings coupled with a disappointing season by the Cincinnati Reds as a whole took the spotlight off the fact that his 2.31 ERA was the second best in all of baseball among pitchers who threw at least 150 innings.

The Reds sure noticed, though, and decided the young righty had shown enough to warrant his first chance at an Opening Day start the following year.

Cueto's 2012 told an entirely different story than the one of his early career, of course, as he finally paired his pitching mastery with a year filled with solid health, and the results vaulted him into the conversation with the best of the best.  He finished 19-9 with a 2.78 ERA, 148 ERA+, a 4th place finish in the NL Cy Young Award voting, 2 down-ballot NL MVP votes, and never once had an ERA over 2.92 at any point during the season.

His emergence spearheaded the best Reds regular season in recent memory, one that saw Joey Votto smack doubles at a record pace prior to his knee injury, Ryan Ludwick turn back the clock, Todd Frazier give us all the first indication that he could be a major force at the big league level, and ended with a 97 win year and a runaway NL Central title.

All that began with Cueto's masterful Opening Day start opposite the Marlins' Mark Buehrle, who was one of a cast of high-profile stars that had been signed by Miami in an off-season spending spree that many suggested would lead them back to a World Series.  Instead, Cueto took a no-hitter into the 4th, held Jose Reyes, Hanley Ramirez, and Giancarlo Stanton to a combined 1 for 9 with 3 Ks, and finished with a 7 IP, 3 H, 2 BB, 4 K scoreless outing that set the tone for both Cincinnati's success and Miami's demise that season.

Here's Johnny slicing up Marlin eyeballs:

And, for posterity, here's the RR recap.

★★★

With his possible elbow issues, dedicated "rest" periods, and the upcoming All Star break on the docket, there's a real chance there may only be five or six Cueto-Reds starts left.  Here's to hoping Friday's looks as filthy as April 5, 2012's.