Johnny Cueto hadn’t thrown any triple-shimmies in yet, but other than that, the whole package was on full display Wednesday afternoon
Cueto was working quickly, keeping the National League’s highest-scoring offense out of sync, and seemingly having more fun than anyone else on the field. In his first plate appearance, he seemed fully uninterested in thinking about reaching base with two outs, nobody on and Reds right-hander Tyler Mahle cruising, so he waved harmlessly at two pitches and then headed back to the dugout.
The next time up, the Giants had a runner on first and a chance to move him over, and when Cueto put down a perfect bunt he took off like a sprinter coming out of the blocks, reaching 28.6 feet per second on his way down the line. He was out, but it was still the fifth-fastest sprint by any Giant this season, and it brought the Oracle Park crowd to its feet.
Cueto once again looked headed for the ninth inning, but on his 67th pitch, he felt something in the lat muscle in his upper back. The next pitch was 93.5 mph and struck out Nicholas Castellanos, but Cueto immediately grimaced and waved his hand in front of his neck. He was done.
The Giants would go on to win 3-0, capping an exciting 5-1 homestand, but the injury put a damper on the celebration. Cueto was having tests on his lat after the game and manager Gabe Kapler was unsure of his status as the Giants head east of Coors Field for the first time since 2019.
“It’s tough to lose him from this game, and ultimately if he has to miss some time those are shoes that are going to be difficult to fill,” Kapler said.
Cueto, 35, has turned back the clock in his 14th big league season, posting a 1.80 ERA through three starts and 20 innings. He had allowed just three hits over 5 2/3 innings before the lat flared up. In the dugout and on the field, there were visions of another afternoon where Cueto was standing out on the mound in the ninth, but maybe not behind the plate. Catcher Curt Casali said it seemed Cueto was “fighting a little something” early on and had to grind this one out.
“It felt like he was doing fine and he might have maybe tweaked something compensating for another part of his body,” Casali said. “You never want to see that, especially when he’s cruising like that. Hopefully, he doesn’t have to miss a start, and if he does hopefully it’s not too, too long.”
The Giants have an easy move to make if Cueto has to miss his next start against the Phillies. Logan Webb was moved to the bullpen on Wednesday morning when Alex Wood reclaimed his rotation spot, but Webb threw just one inning Wednesday in what could end up being just a more intense between-starts bullpen session.
That Webb even threw one inning was a reminder that, while the Giants are off to a great start, they’re sitting on a potential ticking time bomb. It’s clear that not much of the bullpen has earned the trust to pitch in close games, so Kapler once again turned to a familiar and very effective formula.
Tyler Rogers pitched the eighth and recorded his MLB-leading fifth hold. Jake McGee gave up his first hit of the season an inning later, but easily locked down his MLB-leading sixth save. They are the only two MLB pitchers who have appeared in eight games this season, a concerning pace. Kapler said he walked up the dugout steps with McGee and joked that the only way to get him a day off was for the team to be off, but he knows this isn’t sustainable.
“I think it’s a really important consideration,” he said. “We need to try and win every single baseball game and sometimes that means pushing guys past their comfort levels, but we definitely have to be cognizant of workloads.”
The Giant felt safe in pushing their two best relievers Wednesday given what was at stake. Rogers and McGee locked up a third consecutive series victory and pushed the Giants to 8-4. Through two weeks, they are running right alongside the Dodgers and Padres, the two superpowers in the National League, and they have a chance to keep making their mark. The road trip — Miami and Philadelphia — is not particularly daunting, and they come home to two more series against the Marlins and Rockies.
“Getting off to a good start in the big leagues is hard to do and I think it’s really, really important that we ride out this momentum that we have to create some separation and stay above .500 and have a winning ball club,” Casali said. “As the kids say, we’re vibin’ in there … that doesn’t make me sound too old, right?”