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Samardzija, Cueto to return for weekend series

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San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Johnny Cueto (47) walks off the field after the end of the sixth inning as the Seattle Mariners face the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park in San Francisco, Calif., on Wednesday, April 4, 2018.

Long-lost Giants starting pitchers Johnny Cueto (3-0, 0.84 ERA) and Jeff Samardzija (1-4, 6.56 ERA) are set to return for the weekend series against the St. Louis Cardinals after significant stints on the disabled list.

These joyful homecomings do not come without consequence. In Denver Tuesday, Manager Bruce Bochy announced that Derek Holland (5-7, 4.36) will be the first casualty of this sticky situation.

Cueto’s shelving came May 1 after a near-miss with season-ending Tommy John surgery landed him on the 60-day DL. Samardzija was placed on the 10-day DL May 30 resulting from nebulous issues with his right shoulder, officially termed “right shoulder tightness.”

If Cueto returns to the form with which he started the 2018 season, he could be a huge windfall for the Giants. Samardzija has never seemed fully “right” this year, starting the season on the DL with a right pectoral strain and rushing back only to struggle mightily. But if he too can work his way back to circa 2017 form, he could be an equally huge boon for the team.

Holland has done an admirable job of bridging the gap in the Giants’ time of need. As a non-roster invitee to Spring Training, he gave them 17 starts in which the team went 9-8. He started the season in an uphill battle, but like the rest of the rotation, things came together for him in June, when he went 2-1 with a 2.70 ERA in five starts. 

The Giants hope the southpaw can bridge a different gap. Cueto will have a leash of 85 pitches in at least his first start, and they plan to use Holland as the fallback guy. 

The bullpen will greatly benefit from a long man like Holland, given Samardzija’s rehab struggles with longevity. Furthermore, the tenuous state of Cueto’s UCL (the ulnar collateral ligament surgeons repair in Tommy John surgery) may require more rest as the season progresses to avoid aggravating the ligament, which leaves the door open for Holland spot starts down the road.

According to Andy Baggarly of the Athletic, Bochy said Holland took the re-assignment of duties with good grace in his meeting with the veteran hurler:

“He wants to do everything he can to help the club. He’s ready for anything. He’s got a great attitude about it.”

Holland’s demotion represents the first of two Band-Aids the Giants need to rip off as they make way for their Nos. 2 and 3 starters this week. Rookie Dereck Rodríguez (3-2, 3.16) keeps his job for now, but the team has yet to name the second starter who will lose his spot. 

The rotation for the weekend against the Cards will go Cueto on Thursday, Rodríguez, Samardzija, and Madison Bumgarner for his expected start Sunday. 

As such, Chris Stratton (8-6, 4.93 ERA) and Andrew Suárez (3-4, 4.18 ERA) remain on the chopping block. But Suárez has the upper hand as he’s been consistently better with each start. Stratton, meanwhile, has foundered in his last two starts. His last chance to make a statement came Tuesday in Colorado, and he allowed eight runs on 11 hits and two homers over 5-2/3 innings. 

Prior to another start against Colorado last week, Stratton hadn’t allowed more than three runs in six starts. If the Giants didn’t have this “good” problem prompted by surprising pitching depth, Stratton’s performance would probably not warrant a demotion. But the competition is such that he’s not likely to make the cut.

No matter who takes the fall, these tough decisions being made by the Giants brass represent a level of pitching depth that will go along way toward fueling a run for a winnable West.

On Deck

Suárez will get a final shot to prove himself in a series-capper against the Rox and lefty Tyler Anderson (5-3, 4.23 ERA) Wednesday at 5:10 p.m. PDT. The Giants then head home for an 11-day, 10-game homestand going into the All-Star break. 


Julie Parker is SFBay’s San Francisco Giants beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @InsideThePark3r on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of Giants baseball.

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