Johnny Cueto’s Saturday night outing against Milwaukee offered perhaps the clearest picture yet of a guy trying to work around a health issue with less than ideal results after barely dodging season-ending Tommy John surgery in May.
And to add insult to injury, San Francisco’s offense continued to look beaten, in what’s become a weeks-long slump. The Brewers (61-46) leveraged both weaknesses as they handily took victory over the Giants, 7-1 on the back of a gem thrown by Crew right-hander Jhoulys Chacin (W, 10-4, 3.45 ERA).
Cueto (L, 3-2, 3.23 ERA) scraped 90-mph with his fastball only once in four innings, allowing four runs on eight hits. He said getting loose was an issue for him (echoing something Jeff Samardzija said in his truncated return from the disabled list last week), and expressed disappointment with his inability to perform in a way that suggested we might have seen him on the mound for the last time in 2018:
“I feel really bad. I surely wanna try and help the team, I wanna go out there like a warrior and give my best. But I keep telling you guys [and] I keep telling myself that I’m fine, but in reality I’m not, and I just feel sad that I can’t help. It’s very difficult every time I go out there.”
Dr. James Andrews offered a second opinion on Cueto’s elbow in May that suggested his sprain was mild enough to postpone season-ending surgery to repair the ulnar collateral ligament in his throwing arm if he rested and rehabbed it, which he did. But Saturday’s start culminated three less-than-encouraging starts since Cueto returned to the rotation July 5.
The 32-year-old right-hander is likely to miss the rest of 2018 and all or most of 2019 if he undergoes Tommy John surgery now.
Despite the decreased velocity, Cueto pitched through the first inning of Saturday’s game without incident. But the Brewers batted him around in the second. He allowed a one-out Eric Thames double and back-to-back singles from Erik Kratz and Orlando Arcia to get Milwaukee on the board, 1-0.
Chacin then bunted Kratz and Arcia over, and the only reason Cueto got out of the inning with just a 3-0 deficit was that when Christian Yelich roped a fastball to right field, scoring two, he got greedy and made the third out trying to stretch the base hit into a double.
Manager Bruce Bochy acknowledged Saturday was a rough outing for Cueto:
“It’s fair to say he was pitching without his best stuff.”
Cueto allowed one more run in the fourth on some Brewers small-ball reminiscent of Friday night’s loss. The bottom of the Milwaukee order was responsible for the second rally as well, with a single from Thames, a groundout from Kratz, and another single from Arcia to give the Brewers a 4-0 lead.
After four innings and 61 pitches, Bochy had seen enough from Cueto, subbing in long reliever Ty Blach to pitch the fifth:
“You could tell that he got better as he went but … I just talked to him after the fourth and I could sense — we all could see — he was without his best stuff.”
The skipper expressed a hint of worry for Cueto’s health, but didn’t indicate any immediate change or worsening to his starter’s condition:
“We’ll see how he feels tomorrow, we’ll make that call once we see how he’s doing tomorrow, but I gotta be honest — sure there’s concern there for Johnny. We know how good he is and he’s just not quite there, but he just competes so well.”
Cueto said that he feels pain with every single pitch he throws, and it hasn’t much changed since Spring Training:
“I’m going to meet with the doctors tomorrow [and] they’re gonna check my arm and then we’ll go from there and see what decision I make.”
The Brewers beat up on Blach Saturday night too, as he allowed a Yelich homer (15) and three singles giving Milwaukee two more runs. They added their seventh and final run on a stolen base and wild pitch with reliever Ray Black on the mound.
The Giants (52-54) have played with three lineups in as many days; they’ve had meetings; they’ve looked at themselves in the mirror and admitted that they’re better than this; they even skipped batting practice Saturday in an effort to avoid pressing too hard.
But it hasn’t translated to the scoreboard, and Saturday night they were nine outs from being no-hit when they finally mustered a hit on a Nick Hundley leadoff homer (9) in the seventh.
Bochy backed his guys despite this latest dry performance, crediting Chacin and a generous strike zone:
“Chacin’s been tough on us before. He had a late-breaking slider hitting the edges and [the strike zone] was a little liberal, I thought, on the edges there. But he’s tough, he’s having a good year so we’ll keep going.”
The skipper, who earlier in the day described their offensive woes as Groundhog Day-like, said he was open to suggestions:
“This is baseball. You go through these stages where it looks like you can’t do anything wrong, and the bloopers are falling in for you, and you may get a break on the error or something. Well we’re on the other side of that right now and this is the part of the game you have to deal with. It’s not easy, trust me these guys have a lot of pride and for us to lose these tough games and play like we did today—its not easy. It’s not fun to watch, I get it but you gotta keep going and believe that you’re gonna come out of this and it’s gonna get better. I keep saying it’s gonna get better and I know it will. But we just gotta get this thing turned around as soon as we can.”
San Francisco would scatter three more late hits, but Hundley’s would be the only run they put on the board.
The Giants will try to avoid the sweep in Sunday’s finale against the Brewers. First pitch is set for 1:05 p.m. and Andy Suárez (3-6, 3.99 ERA) will face Milwaukee right-hander Junior Guerra (6-6, 3.13 ERA).