SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — In recent weeks, Johnny Cueto’s famous Instagram account became the best way for many teammates to keep track of the missing right-hander. Cueto pulled a tire on the beach in one video. He jumped over hurdles in a gym. He did rope work in a yard, with prospects looking on.
“It wasn’t like I was in the Dominican sitting down,” Cueto said Saturday, through interpreter Erwin Higueros. “I was working hard.”
The coaching staff saw that through other videos, clips of bullpen sessions that Cueto was throwing at the team’s facility in Boca Chica. He faced hitters during three live batting practice sessions, and when he finally checked into camp on Saturday morning, Cueto said he’s probably a little ahead of where he was this time a year ago.
In his first spring with the Giants, Cueto was coming off a long postseason run with the Royals. He was slow-played. This time around, Cueto accelerated his work to prepare for the World Baseball Classic. But he confirmed Saturday that he will not participate in the first round.
“I feel bad,” Cueto said through interpreter Erwin Higueros. “I wanted to be able to be a part of the first round, but they know why I won’t be there.”
Cueto said he may join the Dominican Republic if his countrymen can advance to the second round, but even that seems like a bit of a long shot. While Cueto feels strong physically, he said he’ll need to take some time to “adjust” to being in big league camp. He had a physical on Saturday and spoke with manager Bruce Bochy, who plans to ease Cueto into camp.
"We're not going to put him in a game right away," Bochy said. "We've got to give him a few days to get acclimated here and then see where he's at."
Bochy kept in touch with Cueto throughout his absence, and the Giants helped him get his father, Domingo, over to Scottsdale. Domingo Cueto was hospitalized for 10 days last month with what was described to Johnny as a pre-stroke. He had kidney problems and wasn’t recognizing people, but Johnny said his father is doing much better.
“As the head of the family, I felt I needed to stay there to make sure nothing worse happened,” he said. “If I reported when I was supposed to report and something did happen to my dad, then it would have been worse to go back (with) the distance.”
Domingo will stay with Johnny as he kicks off what could be his final year with the Giants. His contract, signed in December of 2015, includes an opt-out clause after the second year. Cueto said that’s not on his mind.
“To me, this is just a regular year,” he said.
The Giants hope it’s another long one. They’re counting on Cueto to repeat his outstanding 2016 season, when he went 18-5 with a 2.79 ERA and pitched 219 2/3 innings. Cueto noted that he’s part of a very strong rotation, one that should lead the club back to the postseason. If the Giants get there, Cueto might get another shot at a Cubs team he relished facing last season. He was scheduled to start Game 5 of the NLDS, but the Giants couldn’t put their season on his shoulders.
“I really did want to pitch that fifth game,” Cueto said. “But it didn’t happen. The only thing I can think of now is this new year.”