Giants' Johnny Cueto is nearly flawless in long-awaited return to mound

Giants' Johnny Cueto is nearly flawless in long-awaited return to mound

SAN FRANCISCO -- The final pitch, the 69th of Johnny Cueto's first night back, reminded the Giants of everything they've been missing over the past 13 months. 

There was the brief hesitation at the top of his delivery and an exaggerated turn away from the batter, a bit of flair that's lacking with most of today's pitchers. Then came the pitch, an 81 mph changeup that was right across the heart of the plate but had far too much movement to do anything but miss Kevin Kramer's bat. Finally, there was the whirling fist pump and that familiar smile, a reminder that nobody has more fun on the mound than Johnny Cueto. 

The first night back from Tommy John surgery was a success in every way. Cueto allowed just one hit over five shutout innings, striking out four and showing his old velocity and repertoire. The former staff co-ace got right back in the win column, too. The Giants beat the Pirates, 5-4

“That was Johnny like we know,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “For him to go out there and do this his first outing, that’s pretty impressive.”

There was nothing about Cueto’s start, other than the emotion, to indicate that this was any sort of special occasion. The quick pace was there. Ditto with the command. Cueto hit 93.4 mph and averaged 91.3, the exact same velocity he had in 2017, his last healthy season. 

The next year, the elbow pain became too much, and Cueto underwent reconstructive surgery last August. There were no bumps in the rehab process, and Giants officials have been quietly optimistic all season long that Cueto would return as his old self. With a staff full of young question marks, led by an ace -- Madison Bumgarner -- who will be a free agent, the Giants desperately need Cueto to resume being one of the National League's better right-handers. Tuesday night, then, was extremely encouraging. 

"He was just so happy today -- before the game, during the game, after," catcher Stephen Vogt said. "You could just tell he was having fun. It's nice to be on this side of it. You see the joy he's out there with. He's pitching, he hits his spots. He's an artist. He really is."

Bochy planned to check on Cueto before announcing a next step, but the right-hander will start either Sunday at home or Tuesday in Boston. It will be relatively normal from here on out, although Cueto will still have a pitch count. He was set for 70 on Tuesday and was one pitch away when he threw his final strike. 

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Bochy said that would have been it if Cueto walked Kramer. Cueto smiled later and said he wasn't so sure. 

"I knew I wanted to strike him out," he said through interpreter Erwin Higueros. "If I walked him and Bochy came out, I was going to tell him to give me one last hitter."

It didn't come to that. On this night, there would be no bumps in the road. 

Giants rookies dress up as ‘Reno 911’ cops for flight to Atlanta

Giants rookies dress up as ‘Reno 911’ cops for flight to Atlanta

The Giants' Triple-A affiliate is located in Sacramento, but their rookie dress-up day had a Reno theme.

For the team's flight from Boston to Atlanta on Thursday evening, the veterans made the youngsters don "Reno 911" cop uniforms, complete with the short shorts.

Luckily for us, most of the players embraced the outfit and posted photos on their Instagram Stories.

We'll let the images speak for themselves:

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Based on the image, 12 Giants rookies got in on the fun, and they even used a real cop car as a prop at the airport in Boston.

With 12 "cops" on the flight to Atlanta, you know no shenanigans will happen.

Giants' Madison Bumgarner's road struggles continue ahead of free agency

Giants' Madison Bumgarner's road struggles continue ahead of free agency

The Giants' three-game series at Fenway Park was filled with so much history. 

Between a Yastrzemski reunion and San Francisco skipper Bruce Bochy's 2,000th career managerial win, there was much to be celebrated. That was until Thursday, when Madison Bumgarner took the mound.

Across five frames in the Boston Red Sox' 5-4 win over the Giants, MadBum gave up five runs and nine hits with two walks. He struck out seven, but struggled in the second frame as he approached 200 innings on the season. 

The balls that were hit off of Bumgarner's in his ninth loss of the season weren't hit all that hard. Boston beat him by putting the bat on the ball with singles from Andrew Benintendi, Rafael Devers and Xander Bogaerts, to name a few.

"This has probably been his worst year as far as luck," Bochy told reporters after the game. "I thought he threw better than what the numbers are going to show."

A pattern developed this year for Bumgarner on the road, and it wasn't a pretty one.

Away from Oracle Park this season, the four-time All-Star has a career-high 5.06 ERA with an opposing batting average of .280.

Call it tough luck, but as much as this sounds like a broken record, Bumgarner will be one of the top names in free agency this offseason, and it's no secret home/road splits are taken into account. 

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Bum talked about his outing after the loss, and couldn't explain some of the hits Boston got off him.

"Things don't always go your way," he said. "It's frustrating, you know. I feel really good about the way I threw."