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.”