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.”