Johnny Cueto, Mark Melancon get work in against minor leaguers


Johnny Cueto, Mark Melancon get work in against minor leaguers

SCOTTSDALE — Members of the front office flocked to the organization’s minor league facility on Wednesday, and not just because the first day of games allowed a long look at prospects like Heliot Ramos and Jacob Gonzalez. Johnny Cueto and Mark Melancon were there for the day, and you could argue that they’re the two pitchers on staff who are most in need of turning the page from 2017. 

Cueto threw 70 pitches before handing the ball off to Melancon and giving him a fist pound. The closer threw 20 against minor leaguers. You can’t take anything away from stat lines when an All-Star is facing kids who have just started shaving, but both pitchers appeared pleased with the way they threw. While Melancon continues to push past some lingering discomfort, Cueto said he has no worries about his forearm or the blisters that hounded him last season. 

“Thank God, I don’t have any problems right now,” he said. 

Cueto will make one more start down here before taking the ball in Sacramento when the Giants play an exhibition at their affiliate upon returning home. After that, it’s the Dodgers. He said he has plenty of time to get his pitch count up, despite missing the start of camp because of the flu. 

Cueto topped out at 88 mph on Wednesday, but that’s normal for him this time of year. At times he appeared to be playing a light game of catch with Aramis Garcia, focusing on tightening up his changeup and breaking ball. 

“It felt really good out there,” he said. 

Melancon was pitching for the third time this spring. He sat 90-91 mph. 

--- Over on Instagram (pavlovicNBCS) there are a lot of photos and videos from minor league camp, including videos of Ramos and Gonzalez, and a cameo by a certain former Giant who once walked off the Cardinals.

Stratton, Belt lead Giants to 'great team win' over D'backs

Stratton, Belt lead Giants to 'great team win' over D'backs

PHOENIX — Madison Bumgarner walked through the clubhouse Wednesday afternoon with the yellow ends of three pins sticking out of his left hand. It is a gruesome sight he has gotten used to, but that should end Thursday. 

Bumgarner is very confident that the pins, which are stabilizing his fractured metacarpal, will be removed during a doctor’s visit on Thursday. That would begin the next step in the rehab process, and could have Bumgarner back with the Giants by the last week of May. 

It is hard to watch them most nights and see how they will be in contention when their ace gets back. But then there are nights like Wednesday, when Chris Stratton offered a reminder that perhaps this franchise can once again win behind a strong starting staff. 

The 27-year-old allowed one run in seven innings of a 4-3 win over the Diamondbacks, lowering his ERA to 2.22. A night earlier, Johnny Cueto walked off the mound with a 0.45 ERA and 0.65 WHIP.

The final four innings were also a reminder, of course, that it takes much more than a stellar start. The offense is still not clicking, although Brandon Belt’s two-run shot in the 10th proved the difference. The bullpen is showing cracks, but three different relievers kept a crucial runner at third in three straight innings. 

There are plenty of issues for this 7-10 team, but perhaps they can be papered over if the rotation can charge to the finish line behind Bumgarner, Cueto, Stratton, who looks ready to take the next step in his career, and Jeff Samardzija, who returns Friday. In two starts on this trip, Stratton has allowed one run over 14 innings. 

“He’s been pretty spectacular,” Belt said. “The poise he has on the mound, there’s no situation that’s too big for him.”

That includes facing Paul Goldschmidt. Twice, Stratton had one of the best hitters in the National League fooled. He struck him out looking in their first two battles. 

“A 3-2 slider (the first time) and it looked like he was looking for something else,” Stratton said. “The next time we went to the two-seamer in and he wasn’t looking for that as well. He’s a great hitter. You’ve got to mix it up with him.”

Stratton can now apparently do that at will. His four-pitch mix has been overwhelming this season, and he appears here to stay as part of a rotation that could eventually be pretty strong. But there will need to be help from other corners. 

Belt and Evan Longoria provided it Wednesday. Longoria kept up his torrid pace of late, hitting a two-run homer early. After Hunter Strickland blew a lead in the ninth, Belt hit a towering two-run shot in the 10th. It was his 100th as a big leaguer. 

“I totally forgot about it,” he said. “They told me after the game. I guess that’s a pretty good way to get your 100th homer.”

The Giants quickly tracked the ball down and Belt handed it over to his mom, who made the trip from Texas. Then he joined his teammates in the dining room, discussing a night that on several occasions could have continued a downward spiral. 

Tony Watson left the tying run on third with no outs in the eighth. Strickland left the winning run on third with one out in the ninth. Cory Gearrin left them loaded in the 10th. 

“It was a great team win,” Watson said. “Lots of guys did big things. That was a big one for us.”

Giants lineup continues to struggle in shutout loss to D-Backs

Giants lineup continues to struggle in shutout loss to D-Backs

PHOENIX — Major League Baseball spent most of the offseason working on changes to improve pace of play. A few more months like this from the Giants lineup might singlehandedly fix the problem. 

Patrick Corbin needed just two hours, five minutes and 100 pitches to one-hit the Giants. The lone knock in a 1-0 loss at Chase Field was a check-swing, shift-busting, infield single from Brandon Belt with two outs in the eighth. 

The effort, or lack thereof, wasted a gem from Johnny Cueto, who struck out 11 in seven innings but could only watch as Tony Watson gave up the night’s lone run in the bottom of the eighth. Corbin did the rest. 

“You can’t say enough about what Johnny did,” Belt said. “He didn’t let the hitters’ failings affect him. He just went out and did his job and he was really good at it.”

So was Corbin, but these days, it seems like any pitcher facing the Giants will sleep well afterward. They have lost four straight and scored just six runs over that span. Through 16 games, they have failed to score more than two runs on nine different occasions. 

“I just see some guys pressing here,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “They’re trying too hard and you can see it. They’re trying to get things going. The past week, we’ve got to calm down a little bit. You don’t ever stop trying to do your best or compete, but you can go overboard.”

Bochy said he watches his hitters chase pitches in the dirt and sees “tension in their swings.” Asked what he can do, he said the staff is having daily discussions. The Giants made batting practice optional on Sunday to try and clear some heads. They couldn't do the same on the first night in a new ballpark. 

“We’re talking about ways we can help,” he said again. 

Right now, this group needs plenty of it. 

Corbin has taken the leap this year by relying heavily on a slider that Belt said looks like a fastball until it’s too late to adjust. He threw 40 of them Tuesday, getting 12 swinging strikes and five looking. Only one of the nine sliders the Giants put into play found success, and that was somewhat by accident. 

When Belt walked up with two down in the eighth inning of a scoreless game, Joe Panik’s fourth-inning walk represented the lone Giants baserunner. The Diamondbacks shifted, and Belt said he did not automatically eliminate the possibility of bunting. Bochy would have been fine with, no matter what the “unwritten rules” might say. The shift was on and the game was tied. 

“You’re trying to win a ballgame,” he said. 

Belt realized that it would take a perfect bunt to get a hit given the way Corbin falls off the mound, but he essentially did bunt, just without any controversy. He checked his swing and pushed one toward third, beating the throw to first. Belt cracked a huge smile as he walked back to the bag. 

“I hit one earlier (into the shift) and they took it away with a good diving play,” he said. “It just happens sometimes. The shift takes a lot of hits away, but once in a while, it gives one back.”

The Giants could not find another hit, though, and the Diamondbacks pounced on Tony Watson. A walk, sac bunt and single up the middle provided the only run Corbin would need. It was the first run allowed by Watson this season. 

Bochy had pulled Cueto after 97 pitches. He said he probably would have stuck with him a bit longer if he had not been coming off an ankle injury. 

“We talked with Johnny,” he said. “It was the right thing to do.”

That was true for many reasons, including one Bochy probably would rather not think about. There’s no telling how long Cueto would have had to stick around to get any kind of support from the lineup.