Kansas City barbecues Cueto, leaves Giants blue

Last season, Johnny Cueto allowed just one home run in June — 15 all season. A trio of home runs surrendered to the Kansas City Royals Wednesday afternoon helped him eclipse that season mark just 14 days into June.

They weren’t great pitches; blisters weren’t to blame. Cueto made a number of mistakes that cost him, he acknowledge simply through interpreter Erwin Higueros:

“I left three pitches hanging and they beat me.”

It was the second time this season Cueto has allowed three home runs in a game, and the fifth time he has allowed more than one. A second-inning jack from Mike Moustakas and back-to-back dingers out of Jorge Bonifacio and Lorenzo Cain threw the game out of reach for the San Francisco Giants, helping the Royals (30-34) to a 7-2 win.

This story has been updated with quotes and post-game material from the Giants clubhouse at AT&T Park.

With that, the Giants (26-41) have lost their 41st game, finishing 1-4 on this home stand and falling behind the San Diego Padres in the NL West. Only the Philadelphia Phillies (21-42) have a worse winning percentage (.333). Cueto allowed 10 hits and five runs (four off home runs), striking out five and walking three. It just wasn’t his day, manager Bruce Bochy assured:

“It’s more a case of, he’s just off. For him to give up three home runs, that’s just not Johnny.”

Attention spent on the Giants’ starting pitching shouldn’t extend beyond this point, really. This .388 winning percentage doesn’t sit entirely on the rotation — the same one that sits behind only the Washington Nationals (42) in number of quality starts (37). The season-long skid endured by a team sorely lacking in pop comes down to approach with runners in scoring position, said Bochy:

“Way we’re swinging, it’s such a steep climb. Four, five runs shouldn’t be, but that’s where we’re at.”

The Giants had their fair share of chances to distance themselves from another route. Their successes Wednesday amounted only to preventing the team’s 18th game in which they’ve scored one run or fewer. Baby steps.

Jason Hammel (W, 3-6, 5.05 ERA) followed teammate Jason Vargas‘ demolition with a slow dismantling of his own, letting the Giants fall in on themselves whenever a clutch hit was due.

In five innings the Giants threatened with runners in scoring position, but put together a measly 2-for-10 average with runners in scoring position. They went 0-for-4 Tuesday, adding yet another level of frustration to a club that managed 13 runs on Sunday. Finding that ever-elusive “big hit” consistently will ignite a win streak this team assures is inevitable, said Bochy:

“They have to get better quality at bats with runners on. … A shot of adrenaline, just the spirit picks up when a guy gets a hit with a runner on base … That’s gonna be the key for us, is to get those timely hits with runners on.”

This has been the team’s biggest obstacle for a few years now. At least, despite the disastrous start, there are pockets of hope.

Austin Slater, one of just a few reasons to still turn on the game, tallied his seventh RBI with two outs and runners on the corners. He’s now hitting .355 with the Giants. Eduardo Nunez‘s single extended his on on-base streak to 28 games and Joe Panik went 2-for-4 in his return from a thumb sprain.

Buster Posey struck out twice in the game, an odd sight for a reason: he moved to second behind Boston’s Dustin Pedroia (19) for fewest K’s in the MLB (20). Posey’s .352 average ranks second in the National League behind just Ryan Zimmerman (.372).

None of this glues together a win for this team.

The trio of home runs dirtied a few shining moments from Cueto (L, 5-6, 4.57 ERA). He struck out Moustakas, Alcides Escobar and Drew Butera to escape a scoring threat in the fifth. Mostly, it seems he succumbed to a hot Royals team that’s rung up 38 runs in its last five games.

Cueto is already in the middle of some premature trade talks — some early contenders need a rotation guy like him — but expressed a positive mindset:

“I know we aren’t playing good baseball right now, but eventually we’re going to come out of it. … I still think we have a winning streak within us.”

He and his team better hope that streak is following them to Coors Field.

Notes

Madison Bumgarner is ready to face some hitters … in a simulated game in Colorado. No word on what day. … There is also no word in regards to Hunter Strickland‘s appeal hearing. The league said it would have an answer soon.

Up next

The Giants will be in Colorado for a four-game series with the Rockies (41-26) starting Thursday before heading to Atlanta for a four-game series there.


Shayna Rubin is SFBay’s San Francisco Giants beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @ShaynaRubin on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of Giants baseball.