MILWAUKEE -- Johnny Cueto uses an interpreter during group interviews, but he didn’t need one when asked if he felt any pressure during his first start since signing a $130 million deal.
Cueto smiled. He shook his head and whispered, “No.” After the full question was relayed to him by interpreter Erwin Higueros, Cueto reiterated that this was nothing out of the ordinary. “No, no,” he said in Spanish. “Why should I feel any type of pressure? It’s just another game.”
That attitude will serve Cueto just as well as the array of pitches he threw in a 2-1 win over the Brewers. The Giants found out the hard way with Barry Zito that it can be tough to live up to a massive deal, but Cueto doesn’t appear to feel the weight. In a big spot Tuesday, Cueto looked as if he was pitching on a back field in Scottsdale.
The game was tied at one in the third, with a runner on for dangerous outfielder Ryan Braun. Cueto threw him a devastating changeup, and Braun — who has faced Cueto 47 times — could only smile back toward the mound after waving over the top of it. Cueto laughed and nodded back in Braun’s direction.
“The good pitchers find a way to slow the game down,” manager Bruce Bochy said, “Which Johnny does a great job of.”
Cueto actually worked at a fast pace, and the Giants needed just two hours and 29 minutes to go to 2-0. There was little wasted energy as he churned through the Brewers, alternating strikeouts with groundouts and towering pop-ups. Cueto works quickly and keeps his infielders on their feet, and Brandon Crawford and Buster Posey rewarded him by getting a bang-bang out at the plate in the third.
“It’s a lot harder to hit off him than it is to play defense behind him,” Crawford said. “It kind of keeps us on our toes. There’s no real lag between pitches. He gets back up there and gets to his next pitch.”
Cueto went at the Brewers with a purpose, the same way he attacked his first spring with the Giants. The team held him out of his first scheduled start and then sent him to the minors in March to get stretched out. Bochy said that outing against young prospects helped Cueto find his rhythm, and it has carried over.
“He has a great tempo,” Bochy said. “He gets the ball and goes, even with men on base. He’s fun to watch. The guy has four pitches with command, and great game awareness.”
Bochy twice noted Cueto’s awareness. He is deceptively fast and beat the Brewers to first four times for outs. Cueto also busted it down the line after topping a ball in front of the plate in his first at-bat. It reminded Bochy of Santiago Casilla’s famed sprint in Denver that led to a hamstring injury and a DL stint. Bochy admitted he was nervous when Cueto took off.
“I think he smelled a hit,” he said, smiling.
Cueto offered a different explanation.
“I feel better when I sweat,” he said.
On a cold night, Cueto got lathered up early and then settled in. He retired 13 of the final 15 he faced, giving up six hits in seven innings. The lone run came in the second, and Cueto walked none while striking out four the rest of the way. In his final two at-bats, Cueto didn’t make it halfway to first after hitting a grounder.
“Like I said, he’s got really good game awareness,” Bochy said. “He knew that on the next two he didn’t have a chance (at a hit).”
Cueto had already worked up his sweat, and thanks to Crawford’s homer, a brief fourth-inning rally, and two dominant innings from Sergio Romo and Santiago Casilla, Cueto became the first Dominican-born pitcher to win a start for the Giants since Sergio Valdez in 1995. In many ways, this win was more important than Monday’s blowout.
The Giants know they can batter pitchers who are off, but Jimmy Nelson was capable of matching Cueto. A year ago the Giants went 19-28 in one-run games. Outside of Madison Bumgarner starts, they weren’t built to win the majority pitcher’s duels. That’s why Cueto is here, along with Jeff Samardzija. So far, so good.
“These are the type of games I think we’re going to be involved with quite a bit, particularly in our division,” Bochy said.
The tight ones -- especially in September -- are pressure-packed, but that won’t matter one bit to Cueto. Pressure? No. No.