Johnny Cueto

Cueto, Hundley go into offseason with different decisions to make

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USATSI

Cueto, Hundley go into offseason with different decisions to make

SAN FRANCISCO — Johnny Cueto smiled Sunday afternoon when asked about his future. Will he be a Giant next year?

“I don’t know. Maybe,” he said. “I’m sure I will.”

That’s been a good bet for several months, and Sunday did nothing to change the math. Cueto gave up 12 hits and four runs over five innings of his final start, and he finished the season with a 4.52 ERA and 1.45 WHIP. It was by just about any measure the worst season of Cueto’s career, and it included constant battles with blisters as well as a flexor tendon scare. 

After a season like that, it’s just about impossible to imagine a 31-year-old pitcher opting out of the final four years and $84 million of his deal. That money won’t be waiting on the market. So, why didn’t Cueto inform the Giants of his decision before leaving town? Perhaps it’s because he’s hoping he still has some leverage. 

Cueto said his agent, Bryce Dixon, would talk to general manager Bobby Evans. The Giants believe he would like to negotiate in some respect, whether that’s adding something to the deal or perhaps discussing the 2022 club option that costs $22 million. A team source said Sunday that the front office is not inclined to change any of the language of Cueto’s current deal. They want him to make a decision based on the deal he signed, and push comes to shove, you can bet Cueto will be back.

“Of course I would like to be back,” he said through interpreter Erwin Higueros. “I feel like we have a winning team.”

Nick Hundley feels the same way, and he’ll have a different type of decision to make. The veteran signed a $2 million deal in January to back up Buster Posey and ended up playing in 101 games. He hit nine homers and 23 doubles, earned praise from the pitching staff, and won the Willie Mac Award. 

“I love it here,” Hundley said. “I love these guys. Playing with these guys has been a pleasure every day. It’s a wonderful place to live and play, and the opportunity to win the World Series here is as great as in any place in the league. If everything works out, I’d love to be back.”

Hundley, 34, said the decision will be one made by his family. He has young kids and said he wants them to be comfortable. Asked about playing time and the possibility that he would get offered a starting job elsewhere, Hundley said he’ll deal with that decision when the time comes. 

“There are a lot of factors that go into it,” he said. “There are a lot of unknowns.”

Johnny Cueto slowed Hunter Pence down, but the Rockies couldn't

Johnny Cueto slowed Hunter Pence down, but the Rockies couldn't

SAN FRANCISCO — Hunter Pence walked into the dugout 30 minutes before Tuesday’s game, slid his bat into the rack, and smiled. 

“I’m hitting leadoff tonight,” he said, noting that it’s a spot for speedsters. 

On this night, it was a spot that was slowed down. Pence kept the bat steady on a couple of big swings that led the Giants to a 4-3 win. He accompanied that with a home run jog that was one of the comedic highlights in a season sorely lacking them. 

Pence’s fifth-inning blast to dead center was the go-ahead shot at the time, and Pence made his usual quick trip around first and second. When he approached third, he was confronted by a strange sight. Johnny Cueto, who had singled, turned and held his hand up. The two hit the bag a few feet apart, and Cueto practically walked home. He took 13 seconds to go the final 90 feet, and Pence — once nicknamed Full Throttle by his manager — had no choice but to follow in a power-walk of his own. 

“I was like, ‘I’m not the starting pitcher.’ They expend a lot of energy — every pitch is like a sprint,” Pence said. “You’ve got to take it easy if they tell you to take it easy.”

Pence has 218 career homers. He said this was the slowest jog of his career, and that’s exactly what Cueto wanted. 

“Obviously I was very happy when he hit the home run, and I just kept telling him to go ahead and slow down and enjoy the homer, because you're always running so fast,” Cueto said through interpreter Erwin Higueros. 

The home run power-walk was a funny moment, but it was also instructive. Pence brings the same energy and enjoyable attitude every day. In Cueto, his neighbor in the clubhouse, he has found a similar player. He said he’s hopeful that Cueto returns next season — as is expected — and noted that it’s a positive trait to have fun in this kind of season. 

“That’s imperative and it’s extremely important to keep that passion,” Pence said. “It’s not just about the standings. We love competing.”

Cueto showed his own fire by getting a lead into the seventh despite a soaring early pitch count. When Hunter Strickland coughed it up in the eighth, the Giants bounced right back. Pence ended the night with a sacrifice fly to center with the bases loaded. That capped a big night for him, one that left him smiling from start to finish. 

“It’s always a good time when you’re hitting a homer,” he said. 

Perhaps that’s why Cueto forced him to soak it all in.

Series of Giants mistakes allows Dodgers to overcome 'Tommy-ball'

Series of Giants mistakes allows Dodgers to overcome 'Tommy-ball'

SAN FRANCISCO — In three plate appearances against the best pitcher in the world, Kelby Tomlinson had a homer, single and walk. He also made a spectacular play up the middle that ranks as one of his best as a big leaguer. 

“It was a little bit of Tommy-ball tonight,” manager Bruce Bochy said. 

Tomlinson was not able to fully enjoy his night. The Giants weren’t able to celebrate him, either. Tomlinson’s game also included one of several defensive mistakes the Giants made behind Johnny Cueto, and they never recovered. Clayton Kershaw got the first 18 outs and Kenley Jansen got the final four as the Dodgers edged the Giants 5-3, ending their 11-game losing streak. 

The Dodgers officially clinched a postseason spot after two weeks of confusion. The Giants officially became the first MLB team to 90 losses. 

Three plays stood out as the Giants fell behind 4-1. Hunter Pence drifted toward a pop-up to shallow right and watched as it dropped behind Joe Panik. That misplay cost Cueto 10 grueling pitches on a night when he felt like his old self. An inning later, Austin Slater whiffed on Kershaw’s liner to left that turned into a double. Tomlinson tried to get Kershaw at third on an ensuing grounder, but his throw was wide. Kershaw would come around to score, and the Dodgers would tack on two more. 

The sequence taught two lessons … 

First of all, the official scorekeeping rules are dumb. Neither ball to the outfield was ruled an error, and despite getting what should have been four outs in the fourth, Cueto was charged with four earned runs. 

The second lesson: “You’re going against one of the elite pitchers in the game,” Bochy said. “With somebody as good as Kershaw, you’ve got to play your best ball, and we didn’t do that.”

The Giants rarely have this season. The 90-loss year is their first since 2008 and it has included so many nights like this one. There was plenty of good, but the bad moments outweighed the highlights. Tomlinson was left shaking his head after what could have been a career night. 

“I really wanted to get that one,” he said of the missed out at third. “I tried to make a play and it didn’t work out. It makes it tough when you look back at the end of the game.”

The Dodgers are in such a tailspin that they didn’t even realize they had clinched a postseason spot until after their postgame handshake line. MLB’s computers did more work during the game and realized that their previously stated tiebreaker scenarios were off. 

“We’re in the postseason?” Dave Roberts asked Dodgers reporters. 

The Giants have known for months that they won't be. They are playing spoiler, and they missed an opportunity to add a little more pain to a brutal September for their rivals. A clear single to right and two infield singles to the mound loaded the bases against Jansen in the ninth, but Buster Posey swung through a cutter right down the heart of the plate and Nick Hundley struck out for the 10th time in 10 career at-bats against Jansen.