BALTIMORE — Johnny Cueto sat down with Royals pitching coach Dave Eiland to watch video a few days ago, examining a monitor with a split screen to show two pitchers.
On the left, there was Cueto, struggling in his last start like a pedestrian stuck on the median, looking uncertain as baserunners trafficked all around him. His mechanics were poor, yes, but his body language was even worse, betraying an absence in confidence. Cueto has a 9.45 ERA in his last four starts.
Then Eiland pointed to the figure on the right side of the split screen and said, "Now look at that guy."
That guy on the right was dealing; he was in total command of his pitches, dominating the hitters and also the game, the moment, the whole field.
That guy was Cueto in a start against Detroit on Aug. 10, when he struck out eight in a four-hit, complete-game shutout.
Cueto starts against the Orioles on Sunday Night Baseball, and he and Eiland have talked about and worked on mechanical issues, and how Cueto, in trying to create something extra with each pitch, has been allowing his left shoulder turn too soon in his delivery; "flying open," is the way Eiland described it Saturday.
This has caused his pitches, most notably his cut fastball, to flatten out. In the bullpen sessions, Cueto has focused on keeping his front shoulder aligned properly and driving toward home plate, like a running back who is trying to hit the hole quickly rather than dancing laterally. "More north and south," Eiland said.
But mostly Eiland sees an accomplished pitcher going through a crisis of confidence, and in his video session with Cueto, he reminded the right-hander that just a few weeks ago, every contending team in baseball was trying to trade for him.