Johnny Cueto returned to the mound Tuesday night after his long rehab from Tommy John surgery, pitching five innings of one-hit ball to set the note for a 5-4 Giants win over Pittsburgh.
Cueto (1-0, 0.00 ERA) began the night in typical Cueto form, retiring the Pirates in order on eleven pitches in the first. Cueto has dominated the Pirates in 30 career starts, posting a record of 20-4 with a 2.19 ERA.
In a season where playoff hopes have come and gone, the San Francisco Giants are embarking on their final stretch of games before the season comes to a close at the end of September.
Last August, Cueto underwent Tommy John Surgery after battling elbow injuries throughout the season. Pitchers who undergo the surgery usually need about a year to recover and rehab, and that was the case for Cueto, who made his 2019 debut Tuesday night against the Pittsburgh Pirates righty, Mitch Keller (L, 1-4, 8.29 ERA).
A struggling Giants offense got off to a hot start in the first. Mauricio Dubon led off with a base hit to right before Brandon Belt lined a double off the right-field wall, putting runners at second and third with nobody out.
With one out in the inning, Stephen Vogt knocked both runners in and gave the Giants a 2-0 lead. Kevin Pillar kept things going with a base hit to left, followed by a Brandon Crawford single, scoring Vogt and giving the Giants a 3-0 lead.
Prior to Tuesday night’s game, Bruce Bochy told reporters that Cueto will only throw about 70 pitches Tuesday night. Cruising through four scoreless innings with a 3-0 lead, Cueto began the fifth inning at 53 pitches on the night. Cruising through yet another dominant inning, Cueto finished the fifth inning at 69 pitches, capping off a phenomenal return to the mound.
After making his return to the mound, and getting the win in the process, Cueto discussed his first outing of the season, and the emotions he felt as he walked off the field.
Following Tuesday night’s victory, Bochy addressed Cueto’s return to the mound, and what he saw out of him tonight.
“You know what, with Johnny, it’s just great to see him back. What a game he threw in his first game back, he had good stuff. You think back, and it would have been nice to have him here all year, but to have him pitching now is big for him and big for us. What a lift he gave us, five great innings, one hit, he really had good stuff and good command of all his pitches. That was Johnny like we know, and for him to go out there and do that in his first outing is pretty impressive.”
In an effort to give Cueto his first win in his first start, the Giants offense added on, because you can never have too many insurance runs. A two-out single from Evan Longoria was followed by a two-run home run to right field off the bat of Vogt, extending the Giants lead to 5-0 in the bottom of the fifth.
Tuesday night was Vogt’s first time every catching Cueto. Post-game, he discussed just how unique Cueto’s delivery is, and what makes him so challenging to face for opposing hitters.
Replacing Cueto in the top of the sixth was righty reliever Kyle Barraclough. Surrendering a leadoff single to Kyle Tucker, who would advance to second on a wild-pitch, Barraclough followed with a walk to Kevin Newman.
With nobody out and runners on first and second, Barraclough was replaced by Andrew Suarez. A single to left by Bryan Reynolds loaded the bases with nobody out. With one out in the inning, Josh Bell, who is second in MLB in RBI’s (114) came to the plate with one out. Suarez escaped the sixth inning jam, getting Bell to ground into a double play, preserving the Giants 5-0 lead.
Suarez came back out to pitch a scoreless seventh, with Sam Coonrod taking over in the top of the eighth inning. With two outs and runners on first and second, Coonrod would not make it through the eighth, replaced by Wandy Peralta.
Former Giant Melky Cabrera came to the plate and knocked in two runs with a double down the right-field line. Bell came up and added to his second-in-MLB RBI total by launching a two-run homer to left (37), putting the Pirates within a run. Shaun Anderson entered the game for the Giants, ending the Pirates threat and preserving a 5-4 lead.
Anderson came back out for the ninth inning, in an effort to save what was now a one-run ballgame. With one out, Anderson walked Jacob Stallings, who was pinch-ran for by Starling Marte. Striking out Kevin Kramer, Anderson followed with a strikeout of Pablo Reyes, capping off the Giants win.
Anderson’s save was the first of his, and not just at the big leagues, but at any level of his career. After the game, he recapped his first save opportunity and discussed that he was eager to get the chance to close out a game in the big leagues.
“Yeah I think anyone who is in the bullpen wants those situations. I was ready for those situations as well, and im happy they gave me the opportunity to do that”. [“How did it feel to close out that game?”] “It’s awesome, closing in the big leagues is a big deal. Words cant describe it, it was a lot of fun.”
- Giants reliever Reyes Moronta underwent surgery today to repair his right labrum and shoulder capsule. Bochy provided an update pregame.
“Yeah they’re either wrapping it up, or it just got finished. I have not heard from Dave [Groeschner] who is down with him in L.A. I don’t have any news to report, but his surgery was this afternoon.”
- In addition to Moronta, Giants closer Will Smith is dealing with back tightness and is not close to returning.
- Throughout his rehab from Tommy John Surgery, Cueto worked hard to get himself into great shape. Bochy was impressed by just how hard Cueto worked on his journey back to the mound.
Bochy said pregame:
“I dont know what hit Johnny, but he’s been more motivated than since i’ve had him. You see the shape he’s gotten himself into, a very determined man to get back on the mound and get back to being the great pitcher that he is. It’s easy when you’re in a situation like Johnny’s to be comfortable. Obviously you’re set for life, but he wants to get back and compete at the highest level, and he’s taken such great care of himself and has worked hard to get to this point.”
- Outfielder Alex Dickerson has been battling an oblique injury. Bochy is hopeful that Dickerson can return soon.
“He’s making progress. He’s going to take some more swings off the tee. He’s still two or three days away i would say, hoping this weekend, I’ll say that. If we can get him out on the field doing some things, taking some swings to the point where he can pinch-hit. If he can take a swing without taking a grimace, I’ll put him in there.”
- Johnny Cueto’s next start has yet to be determined. The Giants will check in on him tomorrow to see how he feels and what level of soreness he may or may not have. He was limited to only 70 pitches Tuesday night, and Bochy said post-game that his workload will increase each start.
“Yeah it can go up a little bit. We’re going to take care of him though. Each start he can increase the pitches, but we’ll check on him tomorrow though, that’s always the case with him. We’ll see how he came out of it, but i’m sure with his adrenaline going, coming back up here, he’s going to have some normal soreness. We’ll check on him, and see if we’re going to give him an extra day.”