With future up in the air, Hunter Pence making the most of rehab assignment


With future up in the air, Hunter Pence making the most of rehab assignment

SACRAMENTO -- The scene at Raley Field on Saturday afternoon was a bit of a surreal one. After every round of batting practice at the minor league park, Hunter Pence would step a few feet from the cage and chat with Madison Bumgarner. 

Both have helped the Giants to multiple championships. Both are beloved in the city of San Francisco. Both are on rehab assignments. But right now, their situations could not be more different. 

Bumgarner was in Sacramento for the start of what will be a short rehab assignment. Pence is finishing up the second week of a second stint with the River Cats, and it's unclear what the Giants will do. They have six days to make a decision, whether that's calling Pence up, releasing him, or perhaps talking to him about staying in the minors a bit longer.

The third conversation has not been had yet. It probably doesn't matter, anyway. It's clear where Pence would like to be.

"I'm ready to play right now," Pence said. "This is where they want me right now, apparently, and so I'm going to go play as hard as I can where they want me."

There was never any doubt that Pence would do that, and teammates here say he has handled this potentially awkward assignment better than anyone else could. He has been a mentor for younger players, many of whom have come through minor league camp the past two seasons. Pence smiled his way through a pre-game workout Saturday and he has been a regular on the autograph line. He also has not taken this rehab stint for granted.

When Pence and the Giants decided to pause a previous assignment on May 6, he didn't just sit around and wait for his thumb to heal. He flew to Los Angeles for a few days and spent time with Doug Latta, a private instructor who overhauled Justin Turner's swing and has now found success with Mac Williamson.

"I'm very happy with it. I feel a lot better at the plate," Pence said. "I always think you've always got to adjust and improve."

The early results are promising. Pence is 20-for-54 since returning, with three doubles and a grand slam. He is standing more upright, with his hands a bit more relaxed, but the big stride and powerful swing remain. As Pence described it, "it's still me."

"I still haven't mastered it," he said. "I'm still improving every day, but I feel a lot better at the plate each day. Since the adjustment, I have a really good idea of what I want to do and I've felt way better."

Now, it's up to the front office to decide how they feel. There have been no indications that a decision is close, but players at two levels are watching. Mac Williamson is the everyday left fielder in the big leagues, but down here, you'll find plenty who believe Pence at the very least deserves another shot on the roster. Pence won't ruffle any feathers. But he would like another run. That's why he flew down to Los Angeles.

"I want to learn everything I can to be the best player I can to help us win," he said. "The ultimate goal is to win the World Series, and you've got to be the best player you can to do that."

Johnny Cueto dazzles again for Giants, stymies Marlins despite limits

Johnny Cueto dazzles again for Giants, stymies Marlins despite limits

SAN FRANCISCO -- If you're at all surprised by Johnny Cueto's first two starts back from Tommy John surgery, you probably shouldn't be. 

After all, this is a pitcher who had a 0.84 ERA through the end of April last season when he felt constant pain in his elbow and knew that surgery could be in his near future. Cueto found a way to fool hitters back then, and the Giants were always optimistic that he would find his form once he returned. Even by that standard, though, the first two starts have been impressive. 

Cueto threw five more shutout innings Sunday, giving him 10 scoreless frames in his return. He has allowed just four hits, walked three and struck out six. He would have picked up a second win Sunday, but the bullpen temporarily coughed up the lead. The Giants would go on to beat the Marlins 2-1 when Mike Yastrzemski dashed home on a wild pitch in the eighth. 

"I don't know if anybody expected him to get off to a start like this, but you look at how he's throwing the ball and it's Johnny before his surgery," manager Bruce Bochy said. "It's four pitches with command. He commands the ball, cuts it, mixes up his delivery -- and that works."

The Giants needed every scoreless inning, because right now they're out there with a lineup that's providing absolutely no punch. Cueto did his best to make an early Mauricio Dubon homer hold up, and he showed a sense of the moment as his day was coming to a close. 

Cueto had a long fourth inning and was 10 pitches from his predetermined count when he went out for the fifth. The bullpen was humming, but Cueto got through the inning on just six pitches. Then he popped into the dugout and asked Bochy for the sixth. 

"It was like Johnny knew it," Bochy said. "He got some quick outs."

[RELATED: MadBum not thinking about possible final days with Giants]

Bochy joked that he would let Cueto go 120 pitches if possible, but the restraints are still on and will be for the rest of this season. Cueto could get to 80-85 pitches in his next start and said he hopes to be cleared for 100 in his season finale. With the way he's throwing right now, that might be enough to take a shot at a shutout. 

Giants vs. Marlins lineups: Mike Yastrzemski's first start in center field


Giants vs. Marlins lineups: Mike Yastrzemski's first start in center field

Before embarking on their final road trip of the 2019 season, the Giants will host the Miami Marlins in a matinee to close out a three-game series at Oracle Park.

Getting the start for San Francisco is Johnny Cueto, who wowed the crowd at China Basin in his season debut last week, allowing only one hit in five innings with four strikeouts in a Giants win over the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Cueto is 4-2 in 10 career starts against Miami but owns a 5.09 ERA in those outings.

Opposite the Giants ace will be 24-year-old Elieser Hernandez. The right-hander has a 3-5 record in 14 starts this season, with a 5.24 ERA. 

Coverage begins at noon PT with Giants Pregame Live on NBC Sports Bay Area and streaming live in the MyTeams app.

[RELATED: MadBum not thinking about possible final days with Giants]

Here are the lineups for Marlins-Giants:

Miami Marlins (52-96)
SS Miguel Rojas
2B Isan Diaz
3B Starlin Castro
1B Neil Walker
C Jorge Alfaro
RF Lewis Brinson
CF Magneuris Sierra
LF Jon Berti
RHP Elieser Hernandez (3-5, 5.24 ERA)
San Francisco Giants (71-78)
CF Mike Yastrzemski
1B Brandon Belt
3B Evan Longoria
LF Stephen Vogt
SS Brandon Crawford
RF Mike Gerber
LF Joey Rickard
2B Mauricio Dubon
RHP Johnny Cueto (1-0, 0.00 ERA)