Jayson Werth looked for a minute like he might head out to discuss things with Johnny Cueto when the Reds' right-hander hit him in the shoulder with a fastball on Sunday three pitches after he'd started the third inning at bat with some chin music that had the Nats' right fielder spinning violently away to avoid a purpose pitch a little higher and more inside than most hitters probably like it. Werth hadn't liked either of the called strikes in his first at bat in Cincinnati on Sunday. Cueto started Werth off with a slider low in the zone that home plate ump Sam Holbrook called strike one at the knees, and went back to it five pitches later after he'd missed with a 95 mph 1-2 fastball inside and had the Nationals' slugger foul another fastball off.
Werth kicked at the dirt in dramatic fashion after taking the 2-2 slider from Cueto, with the Reds' announcers wondering if he was angry with the call or the fact that he took the pitch twice. The next pitch Werth saw, in his second at bat in the third, was under his chin. Werth took a long look out after that first pitch, took a fastball inside to get up 2-0 before a slider inside was called a strike to make it 2-1. Werth was way out in front off the next fastball from Cueto, fouling it off and he took the next one in the numbers when the Reds' starter hit him in the back of the shoulder.
Werth tossed his bat violently and looked enough like he might do something that Cincinnati backstop Ryan Hanigan decided to escort him on the outfielder's first few steps down the line. The Nationals' stranded Werth at second three outs later, so the Reds' starter's "mistake" didn't cost Cincinnati. Werth's single in the fifth, however, sent Ian Desmond around to third after Desmond's own leadoff hit, and set the Nats' SS up to score on a bloop single by Rick Ankiel that tied the game at 2-2 in the top of the frame.
Werth's final at bat against Cueto came in the seventh. When Werth stepped out as Cueto looked in a little too long while preparing to throw a 1-1 pitch, the Reds' right-hander was noticeably annoyed, shrugging his shoulders and stepping off the mound before throwing a 1-1 change that got a weak grounder back to the mound. Cueto made a soft toss to first, and returned to the mound. Werth stopped for a brief discussion with the home plate ump before hustling off the field. The jawing from the Nats' bench in general and Werth in particular toward the umpire started as he reached the visitor's dugout in Great American Ball Park and the chatter continued through the Rick Ankiel AB that followed with Werth making enough noise that the Cincinnati broadcast team took note of the distraction.
After Ankiel grounded out, Cueto came inside with a 2-0 pitch to Michael Morse that the Nats' outfielder claimed caught his hand. As the slugger started toward first, however, he was called back. The home plate ump, Sam Holbrook said no HBP. Davey Johnson came charging out of the dugout and after the umpires discussed it in a brief conference on the field, they determined that Holbrook's original call would stand. Whatever Davey Johnson said to third base ump Joe West was enough to earn the manager his first ejection.
Cueto finished the day after completing the seventh. The right-hander struck out 11 and allowed nine hits, two walks and two earned runs. Jayson Werth went on to tie the game with an RBI single in the Nats' ninth that momentarily gave Washington a 4-3 lead before Yonder Alonso's HR off Drew Storen in the bottom of the ninth tied it. Werth would finish the game 2 for 6 with an RBI and 2 K's. Both of Werth's hits came after the HBP. Did the Reds' pitcher start something? Is there a rivalry brewing here?
Cueto and Werth aren't the first two members of the teams to have issues. Remember what Cincinnati right-hander Mike Leake told USA Today reporter Bob Nightengale last season? Leake, an '09 1st Round pick by the Reds, played with the Nats' top pick that year, Stephen Strasburg, when both were on a youth team growing up in San Diego, and Leake recalled in the article that Strasburg, "... was overweight, pouty and used to cry." "He did a complete 180," Leake said before praising the changes Strasburg had made over the years, but his initial comments didn't go unnoticed.
In an article last year by Washington Post writer Dave Sheinin, the WaPost writer quoted Strasburg's San Diego State catcher Erik Castro saying Strasburg saw what the Reds' starter said. "'I was the first person to talk to him about it,'" Castro told Mr. Sheinin, "'He got so fired up. He wants to pitch against [Leake]. He said some other things that aren't appropriate to put in a newspaper. But he definitely wants a piece of that kid.'"
The Nats and Reds don't meet again this year, but when they do, if Strasburg's able to return, and everyone's healthy, there will be at least four players with issues heading into the next series between two teams without much history. There are plenty of things to look forward to in the next month of this season as the Nats try out some young pitchers and position players, and now there's something to look forward to in 2012 too.