Giants

Now dealing with a second blister, Cueto gives up three homers to Cubs

Now dealing with a second blister, Cueto gives up three homers to Cubs

CHICAGO — Even after losses, Johnny Cueto tends to find a way to flash a smile or two in post-game interviews. He is as competitive as it gets between the lines, but off the field he embraces a relaxed attitude. 

There was none of that Tuesday night at Wrigley. Cueto wore a dour look while describing a 4-1 loss to the Cubs, perhaps because he is a man searching for answers. Cueto was already pitching with a blister for the first time in his career. On Tuesday, he admitted he’s now trying to make the ball dance while dealing with a second blister. 

The first, on his middle finger, popped up at the end of the spring and has bothered Cueto off and on. The second, on his index finger, formed in St. Louis last week. 

“It’s not an excuse,” Cueto said several times. “I was getting hit.”

The Cubs crushed three homers, including a 470-foot bomb from Kyle Schwarber. All three pitches leaked right over the heart of the plate, and Cueto admitted that he can't get that final twist on the ball as he normally does. A tad of his movement is missing, and hitters are taking advantage. 

“It’s just those pitches I left hanging,” Cueto said through interpreter Erwin Higueros. “When you leave pitches hanging or put them right in the middle of the plate, you’re going to pay the price.”

The homers — by Schwarber, Jason Heyward and Anthony Rizzo — represented 60 percent of the hits Cueto gave up. He struck out eight in six innings.

“It’s a little unlike Johnny to make mistakes like that,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “You like to think you could make a mistake and get away with it, but he didn’t tonight. A couple of fastballs he pulled over the heart of the plate and then one cutter.”

Catcher Buster Posey said the Cubs were on Cueto’s heater, so the duo tried to adjust. You can’t pitch without your fastball, though, and Cueto’s isn’t quite as explosive as it was in his first year with the Giants. The velocity is down a couple of ticks, but it’s unclear if that too is related to the blisters. 

What is clear is that Cueto is a different pitcher in his second season in San Francisco. He has a 4.64 ERA and opposing hitters are batting .253 with 11 homers. Through 10 starts last year, Cueto had a 2.83 ERA and was holding hitters to a .229 average. He had allowed just two homers. 

“Gosh, it’s just probably a few more mistakes than he made last year,” Bochy said. “He’s still competing so well and he gives you a chance to win every game.”

Cueto made it through six despite the long-ball issues, but that wasn’t enough against Jon Lester, who would have faced Cueto in Game 5 last October. Lester needed just 99 pitches to carve up the Giants for a complete game. He threw 70 strikes. 

That’s the type of efficient performance the Giants came to expect from Cueto last year. Cueto still expects it from himself, but his fingers aren’t cooperating. Asked if he would take a short stint on the DL to get right, Cueto said he can’t. He needs to keep pitching and have callouses form. Plus, any break without throwing would be a significant blow to a team trying desperately to stay within shouting distance of a playoff spot. 

“Basically, it makes no sense whatsoever,” to take a break, Cueto said.

 

Giants notes: Chris Shaw shakes off confusing call, drives in game-winner

Giants notes: Chris Shaw shakes off confusing call, drives in game-winner

SAN DIEGO — The Giants have had one of the better replay records in baseball since the system was installed, but that doesn’t mean they’re happy with the process. Several calls have baffled manager Bruce Bochy this season, and on Tuesday he couldn’t understand how a fan wasn’t called for interference for getting in the way of left fielder Chris Shaw’s glove.

Shaw went back to the wall and leapt for a Franmil Reyes fly ball. He thought he was about to rob a homer for the first time in his career. Instead, a man in an aqua t-shirt got his hands in the way and pulled the ball into the seats. 

“I just don't understand it. If that’s not interference, I don’t know what is,” Bochy said. “The only thing they tell us is that it came from (the office) in New York. It looked like definite interference to me. I don’t get it.”

Luckily for the Giants, the call didn’t cost them a win. Shaw made sure of that. The homer gave the Padres a one-run lead, but Shaw came up in the eighth with the bases loaded and poked a two-run bloop single into left. He thought he got enough of it for a sacrifice fly. It ended up being a positive that he didn’t hit the ball as hard as he thought, though. Padres left fielder Hunter Renfroe’s dive came up short and the Giants took a 5-4 lead that held up. 

“I was pretty pissed off right there,” Shaw said of the sequence that started with the fan robbing him. “I thought I had a chance to take two runs off the board. Coming up in that position, that’s where you want to be.”

Shaw got his first start against a lefty, but it was right-hander Craig Stammen on the mound in his biggest at-bat. Bochy liked that he put the ball in play.

“Good things happen when you put it in play,” he said. “He didn’t hit it good, but he put it in play.”

For a player plagued by strikeouts his first two weeks in the majors, that was a big moment. Nick Hundley scored easily and Brandon Crawford got an incredible read, nearly running up Hundley’s back as he tagged at third. Third base coach Ron Wotus said he never even had a decision to make. Crawford saw that the ball was going to drop and he was headed home regardless. It gave Shaw a game-winning hit. 

“That’s incredible baserunning,” Shaw said. “Obviously he’s got great instincts.”

--- The main story tonight is on Hunter Pence and his future. 

--- Aramis Garcia has a hit in eight of his nine career games. Before this one, Bochy said Garcia will get a lot of starts at first over the next 10 games with Brandon Belt’s knee ailing. 

--- Will Smith recorded his 14th save, tying Hunter Strickland for the team lead. Smith gave up a double, but this one never seemed in much doubt. That’s what he does, and there seems no doubt he’ll enter next spring as the club’s closer.

After fueling Giants win, Hunter Pence unsure if he'll play in 2019

After fueling Giants win, Hunter Pence unsure if he'll play in 2019

SAN DIEGO — A decade from now, when former Giants gather at AT&T Park to celebrate a dynasty, Hunter Pence may be remembered more for his words off the field than his play on it. As good as he was, as powerful as he was at the plate in his prime, Pence’s enduring legacy will be the speeches he gave in 2012, the motivation he provided over the following years, the ability to grab a microphone and speak from the heart, representing an entire organization in good times and bad. 

Buster Posey was the face of the dynasty. Madison Bumgarner was the best player on the field most of the time. But Pence was the one who would be given the stage when a message needed to be sent to fans. He has rarely been at a loss for words, but on Tuesday night, his voice was quiet when he was presented with a question he seems to have been dreading in recent weeks. 

Will you play next year?

“We’ll see,” Pence said, not offering anything further. 

He has stuck to that message over the final month of a five-year contract signed at the end of the 2013 season. Pence has politely declined requests to talk about his future in baseball, but late in a disappointing year, he has left some in the organization with the belief that he will try to continue his career next season at the age of 36. If he does, he will not get the opportunity to do so in San Francisco. 

The Giants know they need to move on. Get younger, more flexible, more dynamic. Pence, traded from Philadelphia at the deadline in 2012, has 10 games left in orange and black. He made the most of a night in San Diego on Tuesday, driving in three runs and hitting a mammoth homer in a 5-4 win over the Padres. While he did not give any hints about his future afterward, he did seem to acknowledge the nature of his future with the Giants. 

“I’m trying to enjoy and give everything I have every day, but it is pretty special,” he said. “It’s been an incredible time for me being part of the Giants organization for this long and I’ve loved every bit of it. I’m going to continue to do so until it’s officially over.”

The end will come at home, and while the Giants have not made any official plans, you can bet Pence will run out to right field at least once next weekend, trying to make the most of any at-bats he’s given. He talked Tuesday about making adjustments and working to get better. He has had no trouble finding motivation to do so, even if the scoreboard says he’s hitting .215, and even if the two-run shot Tuesday was just his third in 200 at-bats. 

“I’m always motivated,” he said. “I love to play. I love the game. It matters. It matters to all of us.”

This performance certainly mattered to Pence’s teammates. Starter Derek Holland said it was great to see, calling Pence “the perfect teammate.” 

“He definitely deserves a lot more praise than he’s been getting,” Holland said. 

Let’s offer it, then. Pence has still maintained some tremendous physical gifts. At times, his batting practice displays have put him in the lineup. Members of the staff stand behind the cage and watch him go moonshot-for-moonshot with Madison Bumgarner. They wonder if he can run into one in a game. They lean on hope. 

On Tuesday, those hopes were rewarded. Pence’s 437-foot homer gave him two of the five longest bombs of the season for the Giants. It was the second-longest homer of the night in Major League Baseball, and when he smacked a pitch down the right field line two innings later and hustled into second for a double, he had the second-fastest home-to-second time of the night. At 8.08 seconds, Pence nestled in right between speedy Astros outfielder Tony Kemp (8.05) and Rays rookie Joey Wendle (8.08).

Perhaps those are the snapshots that Pence will hold onto this offseason if he goes through grueling workouts. The Giants will remember him for so many other highlights, many in the biggest spots this game has to offer. There’s a reason he still gets standing ovations every time he digs into the batter’s box. There’s a reason his manager smiled when he thought about his right fielder’s big night. 

“Good for him,” Bruce Bochy said. “He’s got a different role and he just keeps working and keeping himself ready. It’s good to see him have some success.”