Now dealing with a second blister, Cueto gives up three homers to Cubs

Now dealing with a second blister, Cueto gives up three homers to Cubs

CHICAGO — Even after losses, Johnny Cueto tends to find a way to flash a smile or two in post-game interviews. He is as competitive as it gets between the lines, but off the field he embraces a relaxed attitude. 

There was none of that Tuesday night at Wrigley. Cueto wore a dour look while describing a 4-1 loss to the Cubs, perhaps because he is a man searching for answers. Cueto was already pitching with a blister for the first time in his career. On Tuesday, he admitted he’s now trying to make the ball dance while dealing with a second blister. 

The first, on his middle finger, popped up at the end of the spring and has bothered Cueto off and on. The second, on his index finger, formed in St. Louis last week. 

“It’s not an excuse,” Cueto said several times. “I was getting hit.”

The Cubs crushed three homers, including a 470-foot bomb from Kyle Schwarber. All three pitches leaked right over the heart of the plate, and Cueto admitted that he can't get that final twist on the ball as he normally does. A tad of his movement is missing, and hitters are taking advantage. 

“It’s just those pitches I left hanging,” Cueto said through interpreter Erwin Higueros. “When you leave pitches hanging or put them right in the middle of the plate, you’re going to pay the price.”

The homers — by Schwarber, Jason Heyward and Anthony Rizzo — represented 60 percent of the hits Cueto gave up. He struck out eight in six innings.

“It’s a little unlike Johnny to make mistakes like that,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “You like to think you could make a mistake and get away with it, but he didn’t tonight. A couple of fastballs he pulled over the heart of the plate and then one cutter.”

Catcher Buster Posey said the Cubs were on Cueto’s heater, so the duo tried to adjust. You can’t pitch without your fastball, though, and Cueto’s isn’t quite as explosive as it was in his first year with the Giants. The velocity is down a couple of ticks, but it’s unclear if that too is related to the blisters. 

What is clear is that Cueto is a different pitcher in his second season in San Francisco. He has a 4.64 ERA and opposing hitters are batting .253 with 11 homers. Through 10 starts last year, Cueto had a 2.83 ERA and was holding hitters to a .229 average. He had allowed just two homers. 

“Gosh, it’s just probably a few more mistakes than he made last year,” Bochy said. “He’s still competing so well and he gives you a chance to win every game.”

Cueto made it through six despite the long-ball issues, but that wasn’t enough against Jon Lester, who would have faced Cueto in Game 5 last October. Lester needed just 99 pitches to carve up the Giants for a complete game. He threw 70 strikes. 

That’s the type of efficient performance the Giants came to expect from Cueto last year. Cueto still expects it from himself, but his fingers aren’t cooperating. Asked if he would take a short stint on the DL to get right, Cueto said he can’t. He needs to keep pitching and have callouses form. Plus, any break without throwing would be a significant blow to a team trying desperately to stay within shouting distance of a playoff spot. 

“Basically, it makes no sense whatsoever,” to take a break, Cueto said.

 

A familiar story: Kershaw brings an end to Giants' winning streak

A familiar story: Kershaw brings an end to Giants' winning streak

SAN FRANCISCO — Johnny Cueto and Yasmani Grandal started jawing at each other at the end of the top of the third inning Wednesday, and as they do, the benches cleared. As coaches tried to calm the two and players glared at the other side, Clayton Kershaw burst from the visiting dugout. He did not join the fray.

Kershaw pounded his fist into his glove as he crossed onto the grass. He split the crowds and went straight to the mound, where he started warming up as players filed off the field. He wasn’t here to argue. He was here to end a winning streak.

The Giants, winners of five straight, ran into a familiar buzzsaw. There’s nothing you can do when Kershaw is on his game, and with Cueto off his, this one was over early. Kershaw threw seven shutout innings in a 6-1 Dodgers win. He lowered his career ERA against the Giants to 1.62.

“I think pretty good might be an understatement,” catcher Buster Posey said of Kershaw's day. 

The Giants had three hits — all singles — before Eduardo Nuñez took old friend Sergio Romo deep in the ninth. This one was over long before that. Given the way Kershaw pitched, it was just about decided when Grandal smoked a two-run double in the first. 

Cueto gave up a single and double with one out. He got Cody Bellinger swinging with a good changeup and he went down in the zone again with two strikes on Grandal. As Buster Posey spread his legs out and got ready to block a scud, Grandal found a way to turn on the slider and knock it off the wall.

“It was a good pitch,” Cueto said. “Grandal beat me on that one. I didn’t think he was going to be able to hit that ball.”

The two were in the middle of most of Wednesday’s drama. When Grandal came up in the third, a fastball flew up and in for a run-scoring wild pitch. Cueto said the ball slipped, but the two exchanged words after Grandal’s flyout.  

“I explained that the pitch slipped,” Cueto said through interpreter Erwin Higueros. “I told him I wasn’t trying to throw at his head. I told him that if I’m going to hit him, I’ll do it low.”

The two spoke during Cueto’s first at-bat, and all was fine. They were sorry for the misunderstanding, Cueto said. There was one other aspect of the incident where there was no misunderstanding for Cueto. Asked if he might have been annoyed with the Dodgers for stealing signs, he paused. 

“What I’ll say is not to use that as an excuse, but they were relaying signs (from second),” he said. 

To do that, you need a runner on second, and the Giants never made Kershaw sweat. The win was his 20th over the Giants. 

“He was right on today,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “Very tough. We had mostly right-handed bats out there but he had great stuff. We couldn’t put any pressure on him.”

The Giants have gotten used to these games. It was a bit easier to take because of what happened on the rest of the homestand. The Giants went 5-2, taking series from the Reds and Dodgers. They’re 17-25, which is nowhere near good, but they finally feel headed in the right direction. 

“We’ve got to be happy with it,” Posey said. “Obviously we would have liked to win today, but you have to be happy going into the off day.”

Instant Replay: Arroyo, Morse go deep, Giants walk off on Dodgers

Instant Replay: Arroyo, Morse go deep, Giants walk off on Dodgers

BOX SCORE

SAN FRANCISCO — Michael Morse hoped to bring a little levity to a battered clubhouse Wednesday. On his first day as a Giant since the 2014 World Series, he ended up bringing the most thrilling win of the season. 

Morse’s pinch-hit homer in the eighth shook AT&T Park and tied the game. His good friend Hunter Pence won it with a sacrifice fly in the 10th, giving the Giants a 4-3 win over the Dodgers. 

The 10th-inning rally started with Gorkys Hernandez’s single off Ross Stripling. Hernandez stole second and Conor Gillaspie drew a walk, and both runners were safe when Adrian Gonzalez went to third on Nick Hundley’s bunt. Pence flied out to deep left on the 10th pitch of his at-bat. The Giants had been 0-13 when trailing after seven. Morse  helped change all that.

Morse’s homer came an inning after Christian Arroyo’s first career homer. The newcomers saved a night that started with nothing but failure. 

The Giants entered with four games this month where they failed to put a runner on the first time through the order. Lefty Alex Wood stayed with the theme. Brandon Belt finally touched first with a one-out walk in the fourth but it wasn’t until the sixth that a Giant — Drew Stubbs — picked up a hit.

By that time, the Dodgers led 3-0. Johnny Cueto worked around some early trouble but Corey Seager got to him in the sixth. The young shortstop led off with a mammoth blast on a 3-2 pitch that landed a couple dozen rows up in left-center. The homer was tracked at 462 feet per Statcast, tied for the longest in the Majors this season.

The Dodgers went up 2-0 when Chase Utley blooped a single to left with the bases loaded. Utley was 1-for-31 at the time. Andrew Toles beat out a grounder to bring home a third run. 

The Giants looked dead in the water, but Wood — the Dodgers’ swingman — was pulled after 77 pitches and old friend Sergio Romo immediately opened the door. Buster Posey hit a one-out single and Arroyo lined a slider just over the fence in left-center.

Morse’s first at-bat as a Giant in three years sent an even bigger charge through the park. He got a 97 mph fastball from Pedro Baez with two strikes and blasted it to left. Morse held his arm up right away and screamed as he rounded first.

Starting pitching report: Cueto was charged with three runs on seven hits and two walks. He’ll finish April with a 5.10 ERA and 1.40 WHIP. After holding opposing hitters to a .238 average last year, he’s getting hit at a .271 clip this season. 

Bullpen report: Steven Okert did a great job of settling the place down, throwing a scoreless inning before Arroyo’s homer and retiring two more immediately after. 

At the plate: The 21-year-old Arroyo calmly clapped his hands once as he rounded first. He was pushed out of the dugout for a curtain call as the park roared. Most impressive of all, his mom, Kimberly, didn’t drop a single nacho as she celebrated in the stands.

In the field: Stubbs made a diving catch to open the seventh and Gorkys Hernandez followed with a nifty sliding catch at the wall.

Attendance: The Giants announced a crowd of 41,572 human beings. Thursday will be the 500th consecutive (announced) sellout.

Up next: Matt Moore (1-3, 5.87 ERA) will try to turn his month around. The Dodgers will trot out young lefty Julio Urias, who spent three weeks in the minors to control his innings count.