In camp on time, Cueto says Giants have what it takes for title run


In camp on time, Cueto says Giants have what it takes for title run

SCOTTSDALE — A steady stream of familiar faces, offseason acquisitions and prized prospects strolled into Scottsdale Stadium on Tuesday morning to take physicals. Few of the men in the room will have a bigger impact on the Giants’ playoff hopes than the man who spent five minutes telling reporters all about the 400 chickens he is raising at his farm. 

Johnny Cueto isn’t just in camp on time this year. He actually arrived early, eager to put a rough 2017 season in his past. A year after Cueto missed much of camp to tend to his ill father, he was one of the first players to actually take the field in Arizona, joining Nick Hundley for a light game of catch in the afternoon. 

Cueto went 8-8 with a 4.52 ERA last season while dealing with arm discomfort and persistent blisters. At the beginning of November, he decided not to opt out of a six-year, $130 million contract he signed in December of 2015. The Giants will have Cueto for at least four more years, and on the first day of his third season, with the help of interpreter Erwin Higueros, he spoke about a wide range of topics.

Were you playing catch up all of last year after missing the spring?
JC: It was a difficult year. I tried to find myself but unfortunately I wasn’t able to do it, but that was last year and this is a new year.

On the decision to not opt out:
JC: I never thought about opting out. My intention was to stay with the Giants, but having a bad year made the decision easy. Even if I would have had a good year, I would have stayed. I like the team, I like my teammates and the training staff is great. That’s part of the reason I wanted to stay.

Did you tell the Giants during the season you were going to stay?
JC: No, I never told them. I guess they were thinking I was going to stay and I stayed because I liked the team.

Your first spring was coming off a World Series and last spring was spent with your dad. What will it be like having a normal spring?
JC: I think it should help. I’m here, I got here early. We’ll get to work and see what happens.

Do you have concerns about the blisters?
JC: No, as of right now I don’t feel anything.

Will you change anything so they don’t return?
JC: No, I’m doing the same right now. 

What was it like facing Andrew McCutchen all those years in the NL Central? (McCutchen is 19-for-66 off Cueto with four homers and 15 strikeouts.)
JC: You have to respect him, you have to be careful with him. He’s a very good hitter. He’s a criminal with the bat.

Do you feel pressure to be better than last year after the big moves the front office made?
JC: That was last year, we lost close to 100 games, but we need to forget about what happened. This year we have a good team and I honestly believe we have a team that can take us to the World Series. 

Did you do anything fun in the offseason?
JC: Just the same thing I do every year. I just ride my horses and feed my chickens.

Down on the Farm: Don't forget about Austin Slater


Down on the Farm: Don't forget about Austin Slater

The Sacramento River Cats are filled with outfield talent. Finding ways to send them to San Francisco is the problem. Mac Williamson is on his way up after hitting .487 with six home runs in 11 games, but going into Friday's game, the Giants are stilling figuring out how to activate him on the roster.

While Williamson's hot start has deservedly grabbed headlines, another outfield option who showed what he can do at the big league level last year, is also peppering the ball all over the yard in Sacramento. 

Austin Slater has only played in eight of the River Cats' 14 games, but has been a force so far, going hitless in just one game. After going 2-for-4 with a double, triple, and two RBI on Thursday, Slater is now batting .433 with a 1.300 OPS. In his eight games played, Slater has 13 hits -- seven of those are doubles and two are triples. 

What Slater brings to the table that other options don't as much as himself, is versatility. Slater has played all three outfield positions in the short going this year and is adding another glove to his repetoire. 

The 25-year-old was a top prospect in high school as a shortstop. He even played seven games at shortstop for the San Jose Giants in 2015 and 96 games at second base between San Jose and the Richmond Flying Squirrels the same year. So far, he is yet to play first base. 

All of the Giants' outfielders in the bigs are simply one dimensional. That's where Slater separates himself. The Giants are an aging team full of veterans. They badly need athleticism and versatility, and Slater can do exactly that for them all while bringing a consistent bat. 

If the Giants could, they would get one of those memory-erasers from Men in Black and wipe away last season. One of the memeories they would keep is Slater's 34 games. Before missing significant time due to a hip injury in July and then re-injurying himself in September, which required sports hernia surgery, Slater slashed .282/.339/.402 with three home runs in his first taste of the majors. 

Bruce Bochy hopes that Mac Williamson's power can give the Giants a needed shot in the arm. There's no denying the team could use Slater's skillset too. The question of when and how that will happen though, will not be easy to answer for Bochy or anybody else. 

Giants look poised to put Mac Williamson in left field Friday

Giants look poised to put Mac Williamson in left field Friday

PHOENIX — After his team was held to fewer than two runs for the 10th time this season, manager Bruce Bochy said Mac Williamson will be in Anaheim on Friday as part of the taxi squad. The Giants need the outfielder to be more of a tow truck. 

This is a lineup that has not gotten in gear in any way, but a red-hot reinforcement is on the way. Williamson was hitting .487 with six homers in 11 games in Triple-A, and while Bochy couldn’t say he’ll be active and in left field against the Angels, it was not hard to read between the lines. Hunter Pence said the thumb he sprained in the home opener continues to give him problems and needs a few days of rest. It seems likely that Williamson will officially be called up Friday, with Pence going on the disabled list. 

“We’ll see what happens tomorrow,” Bochy said. “Mostly he’s coming up because he’s swinging the bat well. We’re hoping he’ll be a shot in the arm and provide some production, and we need some help in that area.”

The futility has the Giants six games out of first after just three weeks of action. The culprit is clear. Johnny Cueto, Chris Stratton and Ty Blach combined to give up three runs over 20 innings in a tough ballpark, but the Giants still dropped two of three. 

They need more than just one offensive fix, but Williamson represents a start. The 27-year-old has never stuck in the majors, but he rebuilt his swing in the offseason while working with Doug Latta, a private instructor in the Los Angeles area who helped Justin Turner became a star. Williamson’s swing has many of the same markers as Turner’s, and he had a huge spring as he continued to work on adjustments. Williamson lowered his hands and added a higher leg kick in hopes of keeping his bat in the zone longer and being shorter and more direct to the ball. 

“In the past I’ve been really active with my shoulders and hands late in the swing instead of just going and attacking the ball,” he said this spring. “I’m trying to just really calm down a lot of that non-essential movement.”

Williamson knew there was not a spot for him on the opening day roster, but hoped to make an impact sooner than later. His torrid start, plus the struggles at the big league level, have made this a daily question. 

“He showed this spring with the adjustments he made that he’s primed,” Bochy said. “He went out and did what we were hoping.”

The key for the Giants now will be to show more faith than they have in the past. Williamson is a .226 hitter in the big leagues, but his 212 at-bats have been scattered across three seasons and plenty of call-ups. It seems he is always one 0 for 3 night away from a demotion, but the Giants would be well served to let him work through any kinks this time. 

The incumbent in left field, Pence, is batting .172. His backups — Gorkys Hernandez and Gregor Blanco — are better fits as defense-first reserves. Pence hurt his thumb while diving in left field during the home opener and said it has never gotten better. An MRI back then showed a sprain. 

“It’s been going in a backwards direction,” he said. 

So have the Giants, but perhaps help is finally on the way.