After missing out on WBC, Cueto dominates White Sox

After missing out on WBC, Cueto dominates White Sox

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Johnny Cueto spent the offseason preparing to join the Dominican Republic’s team for the World Baseball Classic, and when his father’s illness kept him out of the early rounds, he spent his first two weeks in Giants camp getting ready to pitch a semifinal game. 

Team USA made sure Cueto wouldn’t get that shot with a knockout win on Saturday, but just in case there was any doubt, Cueto showed Monday that he was physically ready to represent his country. Instead of facing Japan at Dodger Stadium, he dominated the White Sox at Camelback Ranch. Cueto gave up just one hit and one run over five innings, striking out three. 

"What a great job he did mixing it up," manager Bruce Bochy said. "He's on schedule. He came in late, but he's right on schedule."

Cueto bunny-hopped off the mound when his day was done, and he smiled and high-fived fans down the left-field line as he headed to the clubhouse. He said he “feels really good.”

“The plan now is just to continue working the same way I’ve been doing, working on my sinker, my cutter, slider, everything,” he said through interpreter Erwin Higueros. “I’m getting close. As I pitch more and more, I think I’m getting ready.”

Cueto went 18-5 in his first year in San Francisco and posted a 2.79 ERA. While that’s a lofty standard, it wouldn’t be crazy for the Giants to expect even more. Last spring, Cueto slow-played his workouts because he was coming off a World Series run with the Royals. Before his second year in San Francisco, he ramped things up, getting in shape earlier because of the possibility of the WBC. 

“That was the plan,” he said. “I wanted to get ready for the Classic. That’s over, but now I can continue working.”

The work Monday was easy. Cueto retired the first nine hitters he faced before a Peter Bourjos leadoff triple in the fourth. Even that play showed Cueto is in the right frame of mind, as he alertly backed up third and kept a Gordon Beckham relay throw from sailing into the stands. 

While Cueto has pitched just 10 2/3 innings this spring, Bochy believes he’ll be ready to rock for the second game of the season. Monday’s outing backed that up, but it also left onlookers wondering what could have been. How would Cueto have fared against Japan?

“You can never tell, right?” he said. “But I do know I was going to go crazy out there and play with them and pitch the way I’m going to pitch.”

Starting to rev things up, Hunter Pence has big night at plate and in left

Starting to rev things up, Hunter Pence has big night at plate and in left

PEORIA — Jeff Samardzija spent a couple minutes after Thursday’s start talking to reporters about how deep he thinks the Giants lineup can be. It’ll be a hell of a lot deeper if Hunter Pence keeps hitting like this. 

After a slow start to the spring, Pence is charging. He had three hits against the Padres: a triple that bounced off the top of the wall in right-center, a hard single up the middle, and a double to center. The more encouraging plays for the Giants happened in left field. Pence chased down a drive to the line in the third inning, leaving the bases loaded. He opened the fourth by going the other direction and gloving a fly ball to left-center. 

"A good game for Hunter, both ways," manager Bruce Bochy said. "He's getting more comfortable out there. You can see it with the jumps he's getting right now. It takes a little while when you change positions, but I think he's going to be fine out there."

The Giants appear set to have Austin Jackson and Pence atop the lineup against left-handed starters, and that duo could see plenty of time early. Seven of the first nine games are against the Dodgers, who have four lefty starters. 

--- Evan Longoria had a double off the right-center wall on Wednesday after missing a week with a sore ankle. He had a single the same way in his second at-bat Thursday. More than the at-bats, Longoria has impressed with his soft hands and steady arm at third. The ankle looks fine, too. 

“My ankle feels pretty good,” Longoria said. “I don’t think it’s going to be an issue going forward.”

--- It’s been a quiet spring for Andrew McCutchen, but we saw the wheels tonight. McCutchen easily stole second after a two-run single in the fifth. When Evan Longoria bounced one to the left side, shortstop Freddy Galvis tried to go to third for the lead out, but McCutchen beat that throw, too. He got up and put his hands on his hips, as if to say, "Why'd you even try that?"

--- Samardzija allowed three homers in a six-batter span in the third. He allowed three homers in an inning in his previous start, too, but he said he’s not concerned. Samardzija deemed it a sequencing issue. He’s working in a new changeup and threw it in situations he normally wouldn’t; Eric Hosmer took advantage of a floating one, crushing it to deep, deep right for the third homer. 

--- With a runner on, Brandon Belt put down a perfect bunt to foil the shift. Belt does that every spring, particularly against NL West teams, but rarely during the regular season. Maybe this will be the year?

Belt later crushed a homer to deep right. That had to feel good for a number of reasons. Belt is fighting a cold and he learned earlier in the day that his college coach, Augie Garrido, had passed away.

Josh Osich goes back to his roots looking to unleash all the potential


Josh Osich goes back to his roots looking to unleash all the potential

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — For most pitchers, spring training is a time to experiment and add a pitch or two. Josh Osich is using this month to go the other direction. 

Osich spent the offseason watching film of his 2015 season, when he looked like he might one day be the closer in San Francisco, and decided that he needed to get back to his roots. That means the curveball, which he tried so hard to mix in last year, is now far back in the cupboard. The four-seam and two-seam fastballs are once again the focus, with an emphasis on changing eye levels more than he did a year ago. The changeup and cutter will round out his arsenal for the most part. 

Osich’s raw stuff is still as good as just about any lefty reliever in the league, and he hopes to take advantage of that while putting a rough 2017 season in his rearview mirror. He had a 6.23 ERA last season and 1.73 WHIP.

“It’s just one of those learning years,” Osich said. “I tried to live at the bottom of the zone and I was, but I was actually below the zone. So then I would fall behind and need to throw a strike and that’s when guys would hit me.”

Osich, 29, had a 2.20 ERA and 1.12 WHIP during that 2015 season that he keeps going back to. He walked eight batters in 28 2/3 innings, a far cry from the 27 he walked in 43 1/3 last year. While watching the 2015 version of himself, Osich saw that his hands were higher, and that’s something he’s working to replicate. He’s also trying to slow his pace to the plate. So far, the results are nothing but encouraging. Osich allowed one hit and struck out one in a 2 1/3 inning appearance on Wednesday night. Manager Bruce Bochy let him extend himself to keep the good vibes going. 

In six appearances this spring, Osich has allowed just four hits over seven scoreless innings. He has seven strikeouts and one walk. 

“O, it just seems like he’s got confidence,” Bochy said. “He’s kept it simple, he’s not tinkering with different pitches. He’s throwing more strikes, and more than anything he’s just trying to pound the strike zone now with quality strikes. That’s all he has to do. You look at him and he’s hitting 95 with a couple of good off-speed pitches. That works here.”