SAN FRANCISCO -- With their ace out, the Cincinnati Reds are going to have to do some shuffling.
Johnny Cueto lasted only eight pitches before leaving Game 1 on Saturday because of back spasms.
The Reds list his status as day-to-day. The same could be said for their pitching plans.
Both manager Dusty Baker and Cueto himself left the door open for the right-hander to return for Game 3 on Tuesday in Cincinnati.
But neither was in a rush to make a decision.
"I would say 'yes,' but I have to see how I feel tomorrow,'' Cueto said after Cincinnati's 5-2 victory.
Mat Latos, who had been scheduled as the Game 3 starter, made his first major league relief appearance not long after Cueto's stunning exit. He surrendered a homer to Buster Posey but gave up no other runs over four innings (and 57 pitches).
The Reds used five relievers in all, which was not the scenario Baker envisioned when he selected his Cy Young candidate to open the National League Division Series at AT&T Park.
Cueto recorded just one out, striking out leadoff hitter Angel Pagan. But while delivering a strike to the next hitter, Marco Scutaro, the right-hander grimaced in pain.
After a short discussion with Baker and the training staff, Cueto surrendered and headed for the dugout. Out at his second base position, Brandon Phillips couldn't believe his eyes.
"I was like, 'Oh, man. We're done. Why? Why?'' Phillips said.
As it turns out, there were early warning signs. Cueto explained later that during the last two throws of his bullpen session he felt "a sharp pain on my right side." He alerted a team trainer and pitching coach Bryan Pryce, who began preparing for a Plan B.
The Reds turned mostly to Latos (14-4 during the regular season), but only after using Sam LeClure for the next 1 2/3 innings.
"We wanted to give Latos time to get ready mentally,'' Baker said of using LeClure first. "As starting pitcher, you usually have a day or two to get yourself ready mentally."
That first inning looked like a potentially devastating blow. Cueto, 26, went 19-9 with a 2.78 ERA during the regular season and ranked among the N.L. leaders in wins (third), ERA (third), innings pitched (fifth) and fewest walks per nine innings (ninth).
But the patchwork effort by bullpen saved the Reds' day. The hitters rallied around their injured starter, too.
"We were out there talking and we said: 'Let's win this for Johnny,''' said Phillips, who was 3 for 5 with a homer and 3 RBI. "It sucks to see an ace go down like that. All you can really do is just go out there and battle."
Cueto's departure was a bizarre development for a Reds starting staff that was among the most reliable of the modern era. The Reds used only five starters through their first 120 games, making way for a sixth only when Todd Redmond started the second game of a doubleheader on Aug. 18.
Now, the question is whether Cueto will get another shot in this series.
"He said he's better and Johnny is usually pretty honest with us,'' Baker said. "That gives us a glimmer of hope that he might be back. I can't say for sure, but you know how back spasms are."
According to ESPN Stats & Information, Cueto becomes the third starter to leave a postseason game after just one-third of an inning. The others are the Atlanta Braves' John Thomson in the 2004 NLDS and the Washington Senators' Curly Ogden the 1924 World Series.