Johnny Cueto flirts with perfect game in win over Dodgers

Johnny Cueto flirts with perfect game in win over Dodgers

LOS ANGELES — Johnny Cueto never broke a sweat Friday night, but that doesn’t mean it was a relaxing night for his manager. 

As Cueto’s pitch count climbed, Bruce Bochy started thinking of the possibility of lifting a starter who had a perfect game going. Cueto was at 86 pitches through six innings, more than he had thrown in any spring training tuneup. That is not, generally, anything remarkable for Johnny Cueto. Under normal circumstances, he would be expected to throw 110 or 120 with ease. 

But these were not normal circumstances. Cueto is coming off a year in which injuries wrecked his season. He got a late start to spring training because of the flu, and this was just the second game of the year. It was a scoreless game and his spot was due up second in the top of the eighth. Bochy was planning to go get him after the seventh, no matter what the scoreboard said. 

“But…“ he added, smiling. “Again, you’re talking to someone who let Timmy throw 140-plus pitches.”

That wouldn’t be needed on this night. Chris Taylor ended the run at history and Cueto was pulled after seven one-hit innings and 97 dazzling pitches. Cueto had everything working. The changeup, slider and cutter. The quick-pitch. The hesitation moves. But what really stood out was his fastball, which sat at 87 mph during a minor league start just a few weeks back but was a darting 93 late in this one. 

The amazing part was that Cueto never had a safety net. Alex Wood was just as good, allowing just an infield single in eight innings before Kenley Jansen entered and the Giants won 1-0 on Joe Panik’s homer. 

“That’s as well-pitched a game as I’ve seen on both sides,” Bochy said. 

The Dodgers likely would tell you they were a bit surprised by the dominance of Wood, who has tinkered with his delivery. Bochy told the truth when asked if he was worried about Cueto after a spring in which he rarely looked ready to dominate. 

“I’m not going to lie, maybe a little bit,” he said. “Johnny was a little bit behind, but again, that’s Johnny. He knows himself and he knows how to be ready. He’s been playing a long time. It wasn’t a strong concern that he’d be ready, but for him to go out there at nearly 100 pitches with that stuff and command, that’s pretty impressive.”

Cueto has said that he won’t feel any extra pressure now that No. 1 starter Madison Bumgarner and No. 3 starter Jeff Samardzija are hurt, but the Giants certainly need more of what they saw Friday. They need an ace, and Cueto looked like the Cueto of old, the one who takes the ball at 7 p.m. and eyes that 27th out. He knew the math as the innings passed. He also knew what he wanted to do.

“I wouldn’t have argued with him,” he said of Bochy’s potential decision. “He’s the manager and he makes the decisions and knows what’s best for the team. But I would have told him that I didn’t want to come out.”

MLB free agency debate: Where will Nathan Eovaldi sign this offseason?

MLB free agency debate: Where will Nathan Eovaldi sign this offseason?

Editor's note: Each day this week, Giants insider Alex Pavlovic and A's reporter Ben Ross will debate where one of the top five free agents might land this offseason. Thursday's free agent to discuss is Nathan Eovaldi, a veteran right-hander with World Series heroics but just decent regular-season numbers.

ALEX: Ben, I'm fascinated by Nathan Eovaldi. He pulled a Yusmeiro Petit, except he did it while throwing 100 mph during a World Series game.

The Madison Bumgarner comparisons -- in terms of doing whatever it takes to help your team get to that final World Series win -- are there, too. In an age of guys babying their arms, it was so impressive to see a starter go out there and just let it all hang out even though he knew he'd hit free agency just a few days later. You hope that his arm is OK, and that someone will reward him for that effort.

BEN: I don’t think any free agent earned himself more money during the playoffs than Eovaldi did. He had a decent regular season (3.81 ERA and 1.13 WHIP), but his postseason was legendary. He earned $2 million in each of the last two seasons but now is looking at around $15 million per year.

I thought the A’s would have interest, but his postseason probably priced them out of contention. I have to think Boston is the front-runner to re-sign him. Where else could he land?

ALEX: I've got some thoughts, but first I want to go back to your team. Have they indicated what their price range is? I agree that Eovaldi probably is out at this point, but was he in range before the postseason? It's amazing what they did with castoffs last year, but they have to get a couple more dependable arms in that rotation at some point.

BEN: Agreed. Even Billy Beane acknowledged that last month. The A’s haven’t indicated a specific price range, but it's not their MO to spend big money on free agents, especially when a lot of their current roster will be getting pay raises next year. To me, Eovaldi would’ve been a realistic target at around $8 million per year, but he's not at $15 million.

ALEX: He could be a fit for the Giants, and he's certainly the type that Farhan Zaidi might have targeted in Los Angeles. But I think others will be more aggressive after Eovaldi's postseason. MLB Trade Rumors listed half the league, practically, as potential fits: Red Sox, Astros, Yankees, Rangers, Braves, Phillies, Nationals, Dodgers, Angels, Giants.

BEN: He has certainly become a hot commodity. I think the Yankees and Astros make a lot of sense, as do the Giants. But ultimately, I think he'll stay in Boston. The Red Sox know how valuable he was to their World Series. What’s your pick?

ALEX: I'm going off the board a bit, to a team that really needs some frontline starting pitching. The Angels -- for four years and $64 million -- are my pick for one of the stars of the postseason.

BEN: Interesting. The Angels definitely make sense with their lack of starting pitching. But I’ll say Eovaldi gets four years, $60 million from the Red Sox.

Editor's note: This week across the NBC Sports Regional Networks, we'll be taking an in-depth look at some of the top free agents in baseball. Thursday is dedicated to free agent pitcher Nathan Eovaldi.
Will the Phillies be in the Eovaldi mix?
How Eovaldi set himself up for big payday
How does Eovaldi fit the White Sox?

Farhan Zaidi says it's 'not absolutely necessary' for Giants to hire GM

Farhan Zaidi says it's 'not absolutely necessary' for Giants to hire GM

Farhan Zaidi knows what makes a great GM in Major League Baseball. He might not be looking at a mirror and asking, "Who in this land is fairest of all?" but it could be close. 

The Giants have their new man in charge with Zaidi as the president of baseball operations, yet as the hot stove heats up, the team still is without a GM. It doesn't sound like they're in a rush, either. 

"That process is on-going," Zaidi said Thursday morning on KNBR. "Obviously, it's tricky getting permission for top front-office talent. We're working on a number of fronts on that. And we want to make sure we find the right person. ... We're taking our time, we're vetting candidates, and again, the permission process isn't always straightforward." 

[PAVLOVIC: Will Giants take shot at Nathan Eovaldi, another risky starting pitcher?]

As the Giants take their time searching for the right candidate, the team might be without a GM for the near future and beyond. Though he's new to the organization, Zaidi is putting his trust in the structure of San Francisco's front office. 

"At the end of the day, it's a position obviously we'd really like fill," Zaidi said. "But there's a very competent, skilled front office in place. So, it's not absolutely necessary if we don't feel like have the right person."

[PAVLOVIC: Manny Machado doesn't fit with Giants even if they clear infield space]

Zaidi spent the past four seasons as Dodgers GM. The team won the NL West all four years and made the World Series twice. While it would be ideal having a pairing of Zaidi in the higher position with a GM working with him, he's the right man to handle duel duties for now.