GOODYEAR, Ariz. (AP) — Johnny Cueto stood in front of his locker, surrounded by a semicircle of reporters wondering how the Cincinnati Reds' ace was feeling. Missing from the group: a translator.
Cueto took questions in English and answered as best he could, even though he's not totally comfortable with the language. A few times, he stopped and asked to hear the question again.
"I'm trying," he said.
Trying to be more like an ace in some new ways.
The 28-year-old pitcher is doing interviews in English to become more accessible this spring, something that he considers part of being a leader. He's also changing his delivery to try to avoid the muscle injuries that wiped out his 2012 playoffs and most of last season.
Cueto still has long hair that grabs attention and a dedication to conditioning that his teammates and coaches admire. With outspoken starter Bronson Arroyo moving on to Arizona, Cueto thinks it's time to become more front-and-center in one of the NL's best rotations.
"In Johnny's case, I think he's absolutely latching onto that role of being in a place of more leadership and just trying to be a bigger part of what's going on here," manager Bryan Price said. "You're exposing yourself when you're doing something you're not comfortable doing.
"To say, 'Hey, I want to do this and be proactive' speaks a lot about that maturity and what type of role he wants to fill for our club, especially now that Bronson's gone."
The biggest thing is keeping him healthy.
Cueto emerged as one of the NL's best in 2012, when he won a career-high 19 games. He started the Reds' opening playoff game in San Francisco and pulled a muscle in his right side, forcing him out after only eight pitches.
Last season was more of the same. A strained muscle below his pitching shoulder kept acting up, forcing him onto the disabled list three times. He was finally healthy at the end of the season, but never got fully back into form. Cueto finished 5-2 in 11 starts with a 2.82 ERA.
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