Thursday night was supposed to be a cotillion of sorts for Johnny Cueto, who was making his second debut of the season after extended time on the disabled list.
In the end, the only coming out party worth attending was that of Derek Holland as he made his first appearance in relief and racked up seven strikeouts in 3-1/3 innings.
The other 6-2/3 innings were all about the Cardinals (45-41), on both sides of the ball. St. Louis racked up 11 runs while righty Luke Weaver (W, 5-7, 4.92 ERA) perfected the Giants (45-44) through the first 5-1/3 innings on just 65 pitches before allowing a single and a homer to account for San Francisco’s only two runs. Weaver pitched eight strong innings serving up San Francisco it’s fourth-straight loss by a margin of 11-2.
Ahead of Thursday’s game Bruce Bochy joked about the team’s three-game sweep in Denver:
“If you told me going in there that we would score three runs in that series I wouldn’t have showed up.”
Perhaps he would’ve felt the same way about the team’s first home game after their Rocky Mountain beating, too, if he’d known his pitchers would allow 11 runs on three homers while his offense snoozed.
Bochy was adamant that they need to do better:
“When you don’t hit, especially when you got a perfect game [going] against you, you look flat. Especially when you’re pitching is off that day. We gotta wake up this offense. It’s gotta get going. You get a couple hits and a couple runs—that’s not gonna work.”
Of his No. 2 starter’s early struggles in his second debut of the season the skipper added:
“The first inning, that’s a big inning for Johnny, that’s kind of been his history. … You could tell he was feeling for it, [he] got himself in trouble there, but after that it just got better [and] that’s encouraging. He bumped 92 there, so [his] stuff picked up, command picked up.”
Cueto’s much-anticipated homecoming was indeed rocky in the first inning. He allowed a walk and two singles before getting the first out on a grounder right back to him that scored Matt Carpenter. He then threw three straight easy takes for balls to Jedd Gyorko before teeing up an 89-mile-per-hour fastball in Gyorko’s happy-zone. The Cardinals third baseman got all of it, roping it over the right field wall for a three-run homer (7).
Of his first major league inning in two months Cueto (L, 3-1, 1.95 ERA) said through translator Erwin Higueros:
“I was trying to be too fine. Instead of pitching I was just trying to place the ball in the strike zone. After that I was like, ‘Ok that’s it, I already allowed too many runs,’ and I kind of settled myself down.”
Cueto did mostly settle down after the first, though the inning cost him 18 pitches and he allowed the four runs on four hits before finding his zone. To put this into context, in his five outings over 32 innings before going on the shelf in late April Cueto allowed just 16 hits and three runs — total.
The last run on his record came in the second inning on solo homer from Carpenter (16) off an 85-mph cutter right down the middle.
Cueto said he lost some command during Carpenter’s at-bat:
“I was missing my spots. I just wanted to put it outside, but he was very aggressive and I missed a little bit.”
After that mistake to Carpenter it was smooth sailing for three innings. Bochy opted to pull him at 72 pitches, despite his leash having originally been set for closer to 90.
He topped out at 92-miles-per-hour today, though most of his pitches hovered around 89-91-miles-per-hour.
Neither he nor Bochy is worried about the dip in velocity.
“I was out almost two months. I’m happy with what I did today I just have to continue working my way back to where I was….It’s not easy, but I just have to keep my head up and just continue working.”
Designated long-man Ty Blach pitched the sixth and added to the Giants scoreboard woes allowing four more runs on four hits making it 9-0 before Bochy pulled the plug to bring in the Giants newest bullpen addition.
Holland promptly struck out Yairo Muñoz on three pitches, displaying a sharpness the Giants hadn’t seen the entire game.
Of the veteran starter’s first day on the job, Bochy said:
“He saved the bullpen. I thought overall it was pretty good work out there by Derek. [He] had good stuff and he looked pretty comfortable coming out of the bullpen.”
Holland pitched through the remainder of the game allowing a couple of runs on a Harrison Bader homer (6) in the seventh, but otherwise offering up an excellent performance.
The newest Giants bullpen arm offered the lone bright spot of the evening as San Francisco carried its troubling three-game sweep at the hands of the Rockies in Colorado into game one of a 10-game homestand.
Pitcher Roberto Gómez was released ahead of Thursday’s game to make room on the 40-man roster for Cueto. … The Giants have yet to announce the moves they plan to make to open up a slot for Jeff Samardzija‘s Saturday return after an extended rehab from right shoulder issues. Ahead of Thursday’s game, Bochy implied that it will involve a move to the bullpen for someone in the rotation:
“We haven’t made a call yet, but somebody else will probably help us out in the bullpen. It’s always a workable situation, I mean, [Ty] Blach, he went Opening Day here for us and [now] he’s helping out for us in the bullpen. It’s all about everybody wanting the same thing and helping out in different ways.”
A likely candidate for the transition to the pen is Chris Stratton (8-6, 4.93 ERA), who has struggled in recent starts despite strong performances as recently as a few weeks ago. This solves the problem when it comes to making space in the rotation, but the Giants will still have to make a cut to accommodate Samardzija on the 25 and 40-man rosters, and it remains to be seen how they will deal with that.