SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Even during rehab, perhaps especially during rehab, Johnny Cueto’s Instagram page is must-watch.
Cueto, seemingly on a daily basis, would send a collection of clips showing the conditioning work that helped him drop 20 pounds. That cause was helped by a diet heavy on fish and salads, and Cueto showed those meals off, too. This week there was sadness, as Cueto sent out photos and videos of his beloved horse, Popeye, who died recently, either because of a stomach issue or because he ate a poisonous grasshopper.
Perhaps the most important videos, though, were the ones featuring his van that looks straight out of “Pimp My Ride.” With the music blasting from its many speakers, Cueto would hold the camera up with a big smile on his face.
Tommy John surgery can lead pitchers to the brink of depression, but Cueto kept perspective. He kept his joy, and on Thursday he looked at peace as he sat through his first interview of the spring. The big smile should be there in a week. That’s when Cueto will finally be cleared for a simple game of catch.
“Right now, I feel like I’m ready,” Cueto said. “But I know I’m not.”
This is a tedious process, but Cueto knows what the light at the end of the tunnel represents. He admitted Thursday that he pitched in partial pain for three years before having Tommy John surgery in August — one of those years, 2016, he started the All-Star Game — and at some point late this season, he could be back to 100 percent. The Giants have a soft target of Sept. 1 for Cueto to return to the big leagues, but he said he doesn’t have a goal in mind.
“If that’s the case, I’ll be very happy,” he said through interpreter Erwin Higueros. “Whenever they tell me I’m ready, I’ll be ready.”
There’s a dream scenario where the Giants stay in the race, Cueto sails through a summer of rehab, pitches a few minor league games and gives the big league team a boost in September.
There’s the nightmare scenario where the team falls out early, trades big names at the deadline, and Cueto makes three September starts in a half-empty stadium just to get a head start on 2020.
For now, the Giants aren’t focused on either. Cueto is going day by day, throwing plastic balls off a net and preparing for the day when he can step out on the grass, stand a few feet from a trainer, and toss a baseball a few times. It's coming fast. The rest will be decided over the course of a long season.
“Sure, we’d love to see Johnny start. That would mean we’re probably sitting in a pretty good position,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “But we’re not going to do something that doesn’t make sense with the medical staff and where he’s at. Because you get through that and then you have another offseason to really heal up. We’ll see where he’s at when we get to August.”