Johnny Cueto

Giants' success starts with rotation: 'As much potential as anybody's'

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Giants' success starts with rotation: 'As much potential as anybody's'

SAN FRANCISCO -- The last time the Cubs visited AT&T Park, the Giants gave them a reminder that for all the talent lined up in a dugout, there is always a great equalizer: starting pitching. Matt Moore nearly dragged the Giants back to Chicago, and the Cubs have been open about how terrified they were of facing Johnny Cueto in a winner-take-all game. 

This series provided a similar reminder. The Giants face an overall talent deficit most days, and they are a heavily flawed team, but they can still compete in the National League if they have a strong rotation. A day after Ty Blach held the Cubs down, Madison Bumgarner did the heavy lifting in a 3-1 win.

"That's going to be critical for us to get this rotation back to who we are," manager Bruce Bochy said. "That's our strength and it got away from us this year. That's who we are. It's going to be important that we throw the ball well the next six to seven weeks."

That process has started already. The Giants are 6-3 in August with a 2.85 ERA that would be even shinier if not for Matt Moore's continued struggles. Blach has five consecutive starts of at least seven innings and he has a 3.00 ERA over that span. Since returning from the disabled list, Bumgarner has gone at least 6 1/3 innings in every start except for one where he was pulled early in a blowout so he could return four days later in place of Matt Cain. He has a 2.52 ERA in the second half. 

"I really thought he would come back and be pretty much the same guy we've always seen," Bochy said. "His stuff is the same, his command -- everything is just right there."

Bumgarner was never particularly concerned. During a rehab assignment, he was confident he would return to his old self. The key for the Giants now is to get others to the same point. They will run Matt Moore back out there in hopes of him finding a solution. They believe Jeff Samardzija's peripherals will lead to better hard results. Johnny Cueto is expected back, and expected to be much better.

That is a path to being better. Wednesday's game also showed how narrow it is. Even with Bumgarner's performance, the Giants needed some defensive sloppiness from the Cubs to actually get the late lead. But if you're looking for a reason why the Giants should be competitive next year, here it is.

"I know we've had a couple of rough spots here and there," Bumgarner said, "But this staff has got as much potential as anybody's. The thing about potential is it doesn't do you any good -- you've got to go out and do it, and that's what we're working to do."

What does flexor strain mean for Johnny Cueto's future in San Francisco?

What does flexor strain mean for Johnny Cueto's future in San Francisco?

OAKLAND — The Giants were able to scoop Johnny Cueto up two years ago in part because other teams had concerns about his pitching elbow. Another round of minor discomfort might keep Cueto in San Francisco long term. 

The Giants got good news Tuesday, when a round of tests showed that Cueto has only a minor flexor strain. There is no damage to the ligament, so the Giants have dodged baseball’s most brutal bullet. 

There was no immediate timetable for Cueto’s return, and the Giants figure to give Cueto, who missed a start with the same issue in 2015, plenty of time off. Cueto will take a week to rest and then be reevaluated. He felt the discomfort Monday night while rehabbing from blisters on three fingers. Combine the two issues and the Giants’ record and there’s no reason to rush. It's possible Cueto has thrown his last pitch of the season. 

The bigger question is what this means for Cueto’s future. He can opt out of a six-year, $130 million deal after the World Series, but that now seems extremely unlikely. There won’t be a robust market for a pitcher who will be 32 next February, has a 4.59 ERA, and is coming off a season with two ailments in his throwing arm.

The Giants had hoped to shop Cueto before the deadline but the blisters wrecked that plan. In recent weeks, before the flexor strain, team officials had become more confident that Cueto would not opt out of his deal. This latest round of developments pushes it further in that direction, and the Giants are fine with that. They intend to contend in 2018, and a healthy and effective Cueto is one of the few ways to drastically improve the roster.

Different injury cuts Johnny Cueto's rehab start in San Jose short

Different injury cuts Johnny Cueto's rehab start in San Jose short

OAKLAND -- Johnny Cueto was supposed to throw about 70 pitches in a rehab start Monday night. He was pulled after 34, with a problem much worse than the blisters that have held him back this season. 

Manager Bruce Bochy said Cueto was pulled early because he felt tightness in his right forearm. He will be evaluated by team doctors on Tuesday. Bochy said he did not know if the tightness was similar to the strain that has sidelined Mark Melancon, but any type of forearm discomfort is a red flag.

"I hate to speculate at this point," Bochy said. 

Cueto was making his first appearance since June 14, a start in San Diego that was cut short when three of his fingers started heating up. He was pulled early that night to prevent blisters from forming and he didn't pick up a ball for a week. 

Cueto was adamant that he needed a rehab start before returning to big league action and the Giants agreed. Monday's action in San Jose started in a positive way. Cueto gave up a single but then struck out a pair to get out of the inning. He gave up two hits in three scoreless innings, striking out four and walking one. Bochy said he was throwing well before feeling the discomfort.