Johnny Cueto bolsters Cy Young case with eight scoreless innings

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Reds right-hander Johnny Cueto didn’t make the NL All-Star team, but he might well be the league’s Cy Young Award winner this season.

Cueto threw eight innings of three-hit ball and combined with Aroldis Chapman on a shutout of the Cubs on Sunday, giving him his 15th victory of the season.

Cueto is now tied with the Mets’ R.A. Dickey for the NL lead in wins, and he’s third with a 2.45 ERA, putting him ahead of Dickey at 2.72. The two pitchers ahead of him in ERA, Ryan Vogelsong (2.27) and Jordan Zimmermann (2.35), have 10 and nine victories, respectively, leaving them with an uphill climb if they hope to figure into the Cy Young race.

Cueto doesn’t measure up with others in the dominance stats. He ranks 17th in the NL with 127 strikeouts, and his 1.16 WHIP is 12th. Still, from a performance standpoint, he matches up pretty well with anyone in the league right now. A big reason: he’s given up just eight homers.

Despite being on a pace that would put him well above his career high for innings, Cueto thus far has managed to avoid his typical second-half slump. In each of his previous four major league seasons, he had a higher ERA after the break than before. That still holds true this year, too, but he’s currently 5-1 with a 2.61 ERA in the second half after going 10-5 with a 2.39 ERA in the first.

Jonny Venters is still pitching

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Lefty reliever Jonny Venters was among a handful of players the Rays signed to minor league contracts, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports.

Venters, 32, hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2012 and has logged just 27 2/3 innings in the minors in the meantime due to a continuous battle with his elbow. According to David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Venters has undergone four — four! — Tommy John surgeries.

When he was healthy, Venters was a fearsome late-game option for the Braves. He posted a 1.95 ERA with 93 strikeouts in 83 innings in 2010, and a 1.84 ERA with 96 strikeouts in 88 innings in 2011. His first-half performance in 2011 earned him a spot on the National League All-Star roster.

Venters has spent the last two years in the Rays’ system and he’ll try to make it a third.