Giants' Johnny Cueto says healthy right arm is as fresh as 'a baby'

Giants' Johnny Cueto says healthy right arm is as fresh as 'a baby'

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Johnny Cueto will turn 34 on Saturday. At some point this season he should cross the 2,000-inning threshold as a big leaguer, and the Giants pitcher doesn't have to look far for a reminder of all those bullets. His right elbow is stamped with a scar from Tommy John surgery.

Yet as Cueto reported to camp Monday, he was as worry-free as ever. He has spent nearly two full years rehabbing, slimming down and building strength in his elbow and shoulder. The hard work is behind him.

"I feel like the arm is a baby," Cueto said. 

The Giants are hopeful a fresh Cueto looks much like the old Cueto. An All-Star in his first season with the Giants, Cueto saw his numbers drop off in 2017, had Tommy John surgery in 2018 and returned last September for four September starts that were good for peace of mind but not projection. 

It is hard for the Giants to know quite what they'll get from Cueto this year, but there's a chance he's their Opening Day starter. Any sort of return to form would quickly accelerate things for the 2020 club and future rosters. With two years left on his nine-figure deal, Cueto could find himself as one of the better trade chips on the July market. 

He prefers a different path, to lead an unlikely surge from a young team, and that work started Thursday when he got off a bullpen mound for the first time this spring. Manager Gabe Kapler stood nearby and watched the majority of the session. 

"First of all, he's in great shape," Kapler said. "Equally important for me is how well he controls his body and how well he changes up the pace of his delivery, and then he's able to maintain his command, whether it's a quick-pitch or it's a pause at the top of his delivery or just his normal delivery. He's able to control his body well and repeat his release point."

Kapler said he appreciated the pace of Cueto's session, noting the intent of every pitch. That's something the new staff is trying to inject into camp, and the Giants will bring in umpires to call balls and strikes when pitchers go through a second round of bullpens this weekend. 

That will be one of the rare times over the past two years that Cueto has thrown in front of one. He made it back on time last year, but threw just 16 innings, allowing nine runs.

The numbers were never going to matter. What was important to Cueto was that he got back in the big leagues before the end of the 2019 season.

"The first couple of times I felt normal, but again, you still have it in your head the pain you felt before," Cueto said through interpreter Erwin Higueros.

That's all gone this spring. Cueto is under no restrictions, although the Giants don't intend to let any starter go 200 innings this year. It's unclear if that message has been delivered yet to the pitcher himself. Cueto spent the offseason in the Dominican Republic and did not have much contact with the new staff. He indicated that his winter did not include much attention paid to the Madison Bumgarner saga, or other free agency rumors. 

Cueto lives his best life in the offseason, mixing gatherings at his sprawling complex with workouts on the beach and at local parks. One bullpen session he posted on Instagram last month appeared to take place in a clearing in a park.

[RELATED: Why Kapler is so glad Flores is now on his side with Giants]

That's certainly not how this new staff plans things, but Kapler found a lot to like on his first day watching Cueto. He even asked him what kind of beard oil he uses. 

"I'm anxious to find out," Kapler said, smiling. "The sun was beaming on it and it was really reflective. It was awesome."

MLB rumors: League, MLBPA working on plan to start 2020 season in May

MLB rumors: League, MLBPA working on plan to start 2020 season in May

If you're going through withdrawals without baseball, there might be some good news for you.

ESPN's Jeff Passan reported Monday, citing sources, that MLB and the players' association are working on a plan that would eventually lead to the 2020 season starting sometime in May, with all games being played in the Phoenix, Arizona area.

No specific date in May was given, but Passan reported that the plan being worked on has the approval of "high-ranking federal public health officials."

The start of the 2020 season was delayed March 12 due to the global coronavirus pandemic.

According to Passan, players, coaches and essential team personnel would be isolated at hotels in Arizona, and would only allowed to go back and forth between the hotel and the stadiums.

Passan reported, citing sources, that players appear to be skeptical of the idea of separating from their families for four-plus months.

Former A's pitcher Brett Anderson doesn't appear to be a fan of being separated from his family.

As you might expect, this plan is far from a certainty, and Passan reported, citing sources, that some officials believes a June start date for the season is more realistic.

In an interview with KNBR 680 on Friday, Giants CEO Larry Baer said he believes the idea of putting all 30 teams in Arizona might be the best option.

“I think we’ve got to look at the path that presents the best public health option,” Baer said. “Arizona might be a better possibility because you could get 30 teams there in more approximate distancing, meaning that everybody would not be a four or five-hour drive from one ballpark to another.”

It remains to be seen if the league and the players' association can clear all the hurdles to make this happen, but at the very least, it's a glimmer of hope for those craving to watch live baseball again.

Five things you might have forgotten about Tim Lincecum's second no-hitter

Five things you might have forgotten about Tim Lincecum's second no-hitter

Programming note: Watch the re-air of Tim Lincecum's second no-hitter tonight at 8 p.m. PT on NBC Sports Bay Area.

It seems like just about every no-hitter includes that moment that turns a teammate into the game's second star. Gregor Blanco will forever be a big part of Matt Cain's perfect game, and Hunter Pence's diving catch was a memorable moment during Tim Lincecum's first no-hitter. 

But when Lincecum no-hit the Padres again a season later, there was very little drama. Nobody had to dive or leap over the top of the wall. Lincecum cruised, dominating the Padres with an onslaught of sliders -- he threw 40 of them and got 13 outs -- and inducing soft contact all afternoon. He calmly and efficiently put his name back in the record books. 

The second no-hitter in under a year made Lincecum one of just four pitchers since 1961 to pull that off. He joined Roy Halladay, Randy Johnson and Sandy Koufax as the only pitchers with multiple Cy Young Awards and multiple no-hitters, and Lincecum and Koufax are the only two who also have multiple World Series titles, as well.

It was a day that added one last highlight to one of the greatest runs in franchise history. "It was the Tim Lincecum show," Bruce Bochy said on June 25, 2014. "He really was an artist out there."

The show will re-air tonight at 8 p.m. on NBC Sports Bay Area. As you watch, here are five things you might have forgotten about Lincecum's second no-hitter ...

Dual Threat

Lincecum truly was a remarkable athlete, although that rarely showed in other facets of the game. He was a smooth runner but not one of those pitchers that you would ever consider as a pinch-running weapon. And while he would occasionally get in a groove during BP, he never homered in a game and batted just .112 as a big leaguer. 

Lincecum had five multi-hit games, and one happened to come on this day. He singled in the third and again in the seventh, by which point the whole crowd knew what was at stake. When he met with reporters the next day, Lincecum admitted he watched highlights after the game, but not of his pitches.

"I watched the replay of my hits," he said. "I was really pumped about those, to be honest with you. I'm not going to lie and say that I didn't. I watched those quite a bit."

He Threw It With a Stache

One of the funniest parts about Lincecum's Giants career was that he often showed up to FanFest with an all-new look. No joke, reporters and cameramen would scramble to get a good spot in front of Lincecum's podium every February, knowing there was a decent chance you would have to send a photo out via Twitter right away.

One year, I sent out a FanFest photo and a couple hours later saw that it had been picked up by the New York Post. 

The 2014 tweak was one of the best. Lincecum showed up with a mustache, amusing his teammates and fans. 

The caterpillar was still going strong when he pitched his second no-hitter. 

(Sidebar: If you're not using shelter in place to experiment with a sweet stache, you're making a mistake.)

Memorable Defensive Day

This is one day that's missing from those #BusterHugs montages, because Posey played first base that day since it was a day game after a night game. He went 4-for-4 and drove in two of the runs.

That meant Hector Sanchez, 24 at the time, got to guide Lincecum through the day and sit on the podium with him afterwards. 

The final out was recorded by Joe Panik, who was making his fourth career start. 

No Time for Jinxes

Linecum was on second base during a pitching change in the seventh inning and he jogged over to the dugout, fist-bumping reliever Juan Gutierrez and chatting with third base coach Tim Flannery. Lincecum was about the last pitcher who would ever worry about the game's traditions, and he spent the final innings chatting it up with teammates. 

Asked later why he didn't sit by himself like most starters working on a no-hitter, Lincecum said, "It's more awkward when they don't talk to you than when they do." That makes a lot of sense, actually.  

Lincecum was carefree that entire day. At one point, the cameras caught him mimicking his own running style in the dugout:

Timmy Being Timmy

One of the main reasons Lincecum became such a fan favorite was how relatable he was. He would forget that the mic was live during on-field interviews with Amy Gutierrez. He would talk openly about how much he could eat at In-N-Out. There were other indulgences that were well known and fit in with the city he played in. 

So it wasn't much of a surprise when Lincecum smiled when a reporter asked how he would celebrate. 

"I'm going to go to my house and drink a little bit," he said. "Can I say that?"