Johnny Cueto knows what he has to do this postseason.
The Kansas City Royals right-hander, who joined the club via trade this July, is slated to make his World Series debut on Wednesday night, but after a playoff run that has been nothing short of inconsistent, Cueto is well aware of what people expect from him.
He can’t just be good. He has to be perfect. Of course, that’s exactly what Cueto expects from himself every time he steps onto the mound.
A native of the Dominican Republic, Cueto is one of the fiercest competitors on a Royals squad that is collectively chomping at the championship-bit. He knows what’s already happened this postseason. But he also knows what he is capable of.
Here’s what you need to know about Cueto:
1. Cueto Made His MLB Debut With the Cincinnati Reds in 2008
After spending three seasons in the Minor Leagues, including being named the Reds’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year in two straight seasons, Cueto made his MLB debut on April 3, 2008.
He carried a perfect game through five innings and became the first MLB pitcher to throw 10 strikeouts and 0 walks in his debut.
Over the next seven years, Cueto established himself as one of the preeminent pitchers in the entire league, boasting one of his most impressive performances in 2014. He was named an All-Star last season and finished the year as the NL strikeout leader. Just two years before, in 2012, Cueto won 19 games with the Reds and helped lead Cincinnati to an NL Central title.
During his time in Cincinnati, Cueto posted a 3.21 ERA and struck out 1,115 batters in 1,339 innings pitched.
2. He Was Traded to the Kansas City Royals in July, 2015
The Cincinnati Reds surprised a lot of the top minds – not to mention their fans – in the baseball world when the team announced it was trading Cueto to the Kansas City Royals in July.
The Royals sent three prospects to Cincinnati in exchange for the right-handed ace. Cueto explained, with Cincinnati catcher Brayan Pena serving as a translator, how the move affected him:
They do have a great team. I’m excited about my next chapter. I know they play baseball very good. I’m excited because I know it’s going to be good for my career and good for the team.
Cueto will face free agency at the end of this season after previously inking his name on a five-year, $36.2 million contract with the Reds.
3. Cueto Grew Up in the Dominican Republic
Cueto grew up in the small city of San Pedro de Macoris in the Dominican Republic and counts his upbringing there as one of the biggest influences on his entire life. In fact, even now, nearly a decade after he threw his first MLB pitch, Cueto regularly returns home.
In 2009, Cueto was a member of the Dominican Republic national baseball team.
Although Cueto’s father was always present in his life, his mother was the most consistent presence when it came to raising him and his four siblings. Cueto helped his family make ends meet by picking fruits and vegetables for neighbors.
4. He Counts Pedro Martinez as His Biggest Pitching Inspiration
Growing up in the Dominican Republic, Cueto was frequently told that he was too short to be a pitcher. He would never get the chance at a professional career. There was no point in dreaming.
He didn’t listen to any of them. Because, after all, Pedro had done it. Throughout his MLB career, Cueto has been open about how much he looked up to Pedro Martinez while he was growing up and how the former Boston Red Sox star’s success on the mound fueled his own dreams.
Cueto explained his dedication to the star in 2014, telling Cincinnati.com:
I was short and skinny — the scouts from other organizations had rejected me. But Pedro (Martinez) wasn’t big. And Pedro was my idol. He was the only player I liked, the only player I followed. I never watched much TV. But I knew about Pedro. Everything for me growing up was Pedro, Pedro, Pedro. He was my inspiration.
It worked. Cueto modeled his game on Pedro’s and, earlier this year when he signed with the Royals, Kansas City executives likened his game to Martinez.
5. Cueto Is Married & Has Two Children
Although he mostly tries to keep his family life under-the-radar, Cueto and his wife Jennifer Ruiz have been together for years. Last year, after an impressive performance with the Cincinnati Reds, Jennifer was on-hand when Cueto was honored with a parade in his hometown of Santo Domingo.
According to Dario Libre, both Jennifer and Cueto’s mother, María Cristina Ortiz, were heavily involved in the planning and organizing of the parade.
Cueto and Jennifer are parents to two children, a son and daughter, Linda. The standout pitcher is a big-time figure in both of his children’s lives and he regularly posts updates of his the family on his Instagram page.