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Giants rotation in odd spot with Cueto going back on IL

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Johnny Cueto

SAN FRANCISCO -- It was no surprise when the Giants had two new players at Oracle Park on Wednesday as rosters expanded to 28, but when Caleb Baragar joined Thairo Estrada and John Brebbia on the field, it was clear they were dealing with another issue. 

Johnny Cueto is the one going on the IL this time. For the second time, the Giants are sidelining Cueto to try and let an elbow strain heal.

Cueto missed 13 games with a similar diagnosis in August and manager Gabe Kapler said he has felt soreness over the last week or so. With the Giants in a stretch of 16 games in 16 days, Cueto tried to pitch through it and help soak up innings. 

"Johnny is comfortable posting when he's not at his best," Kapler said.

That was clear Tuesday, when Cueto took the ball a day after getting fluids to get over flu-like symptoms. But his velocity was down and the Brewers knocked him out after 3 2/3 innings in a game Milwaukee went on to win 6-2. 

Kapler said he's hopeful that Cueto's absence is similar to his last one, but he added that the Giants want to get Cueto as close to 100 percent as possible, so this might take a bit more time. In the meantime, that leaves the rotation in an odd spot. 

They already are without Alex Wood, who tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday and is still feeling pretty strong symptoms. It's unclear when Wood will even be able to resume physical activity, and Kapler said that for now the Giants are likely to go with bullpen games in two of their five rotation spots. They're actually very well set up to do it.

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Brebbia and Baragar joined the mix a day after Jose Quintana, who threw 3 1/3 sharp innings in his debut. Most of the current bullpen, including those three, can go multiple innings. That will be the template going forward, and it's one that can work. 

The Dodgers have had one bullpen game in just about every turn in recent months and at times have had two spots filled by relievers. The Rays, who are tied with the Giants for the best record in baseball, don't even seem to have a rotation most of the time.

"It's something we've seen good teams do," Kapler said.

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