Rewind: Hurting Pence clinches strange shutout for Cueto


Rewind: Hurting Pence clinches strange shutout for Cueto

SAN FRANCISCO — Hunter Pence stepped into the cage during batting practice, put down a bunt, and then took two light swings. He felt pain in his right hamstring, and he shook his head at coaches and walked toward the clubhouse to get more treatment.

Five hours later, Pence talked his way onto the field and walked off the Padres in one of the strangest ways possible.

Pence drove in the only run Monday night and clinched a shutout for Johnny Cueto when he hit a towering two-out pop-up in the bottom of the ninth that dropped in front of charging right fielder Matt Kemp and kicked away far enough for Brandon Belt to race home from first.

“That was definitely a bloop,” Pence said. “It was a well-place hit for the time.”

Pence flashed a wide smile as he eased into second base. The dugout exploded. Cueto, who was looking at a brutal no-decision, tumbled over the rail to celebrate his third complete game in three starts against the Padres this season.

“It was euphoria,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “To get Johnny the win after that effort, that’s what they were all happy about. What a game he threw.”

It’s rare that a starting pitcher isn’t on the field at the end of his own complete game, but Cueto didn’t mind. His teammates were thrilled they were able to reward a newcomer who has given the Giants an absolute ace in the No. 2 slot in the rotation. Cueto is the first Giant to win seven of his first 10 starts since Jason Schmidt in 2004. He’s the first since Atlee Hammaker in 1983 to threw three complete games against one opponent. He gave the Giants back-to-back 1-0 wins for the first time in 36 years.

Pence, his right leg wrapped in ice, listed off a series of positives when asked about Cueto: Spirited, competitive, fun, has a good attitude, knowledgable.

“His results have been remarkable, as advertised,” Pence said. 

Long before his mad dash home, Belt found himself standing at first and remembering how much he used to hate facing Cueto when he was in Cincinnati. 

“It’s fun playing behind him,” he said. “It’s fun watching him do what he does.”

[RECAP: Instant Replay: Giants walk off in Cueto's two-hit shutout]

The Padres are still stuck on the other side, and in three matchups this season they’ve been completely overmatched. Cueto threw a shutout at AT&T Park on April 26 and allowed just one run on four hits last week at Petco Park. On Monday he gave up just two hits and saved his best pitch for the biggest moment. With two on and two down in the eighth, Cueto threw a perfect 3-2 fastball on the inside corner to freeze Yangervis Solarte. He then breezed through the ninth.

Cueto pitched the ninth with Belt in left field, the result of Angel Pagan coming up lame while running to first in the bottom of the eighth. Pagan, who twice has missed time with a left hamstring strain, will have an MRI on Monday and Bochy indicated he could be placed on the DL this time. 

“There is some concern,” Bochy said.

When Pagan couldn’t go back out for the ninth, Belt was called back to the dugout and told to shift over. He has played a lot of outfield in past years but this season has been a rock at first, so he was scrambling for a moment. Javier Lopez, a Gold Glover in batting practice, raced back to the clubhouse to grab his outfield glove and get it to Belt.

The Giants were short in part because of Pence's injury, but he spent the evening keeping his hamstring warm and tracking pitches in the cage. Pence saw that a left-hander was entering for the Padres and Bochy was sending three straight lefties to the plate. He approached Bochy.

“Hey, I’m good to go,” Pence told his manager.

Bochy had watched Pence walk out of the cage during batting practice. He wanted to be cautious.

“I really wasn’t planning on using him, to be honest,” Bochy said. “He was pretty adamant that he felt better and could give us swings. I didn’t want to use (backup catcher Trevor) Brown and I had Bum ready. (Pence) assured us he could get swings off.”

Given the green light, Pence hustled back to the small room behind the dugout and watched Brad Hand from there. He felt he could get a better scouting report off the television. In the meantime, the Padres, who generally have shifted Giants hitters well, made a scouting mistake. Kemp moved into a no-doubles defense as Pence walked up to the plate, with the Padres apparently oblivious to the fact that Pence was hurt and had not taken full swings all day.

Pence popped up to shallow right and Kemp couldn’t make up all that ground. His infielders did him no favors, and as the ball kicked away, Belt sped for home.

“Right in front of third base I saw Roberto (Kelly) slinging the arm so I went on,” Belt said. “I guess there’s always a chance. You think there’s always a chance, that’s why you go. You know, you see so many balls like that and you think it’s routine. 

“But you never know.”

MLB rumors: Former Giants GM Bobby Evans interviewed for Astros job

MLB rumors: Former Giants GM Bobby Evans interviewed for Astros job

A little over a year after he was fired, former Giants general manager Bobby Evans could land on his feet.

Evans interviewed for the open Astros general manager position, The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal reported Saturday, citing sources.

Evans spent four seasons as the general manager of the Giants before being reassigned within the organization at the end of the 2018 season. Including the 2019 season, Evans has spent the last 26 seasons in San Francisco.

The Astros are in need of a new GM and manager after Jeff Luhnow and AJ Hinch were fired in the fallout from the sign-stealing scandal that has rocked baseball in recent weeks.

The Astros are tainted at the moment, but Evans would be inheriting a roster that still possesses the talent to compete for a World Series, with or without trash cans.

While serving as assistant general manager for the Giants, Evans helped lead to the team to World Series titles in 2010, 2012 and 2014. But his tenure as GM wasn't as successful. A lot of the moves Evans made, including the signings of Mark Melancon, Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija and Denard Span, didn't lead to the desired results.

[RELATED: Evans' dismissal hard on Giants players]

With Farhan Zaidi and Scott Harris at the helm of the Giants, it makes sense for Evans to consider outside opportunities, even if the Astros are the blackeye of baseball.

Both Evans and the Astros need second chances, so this could be the perfect marriage if the two sides can come to an agreement.

Giants Mailbag: Could young starting pitchers be headed for bullpen?

Giants Mailbag: Could young starting pitchers be headed for bullpen?

While the Bay Area focused on the 49ers this week, the Giants had their eyes on a different patch of grass. They're currently holding their developmental camp in Scottsdale, giving prospects an early chance to impress before the real fun starts next month:

We're two weeks from FanFest, and a few days after that, the players will actually take the field under new manager Gabe Kapler for the first time. Baseball season is coming fast, so let's run through another round of Giants questions (from my Instagram followers) as we wait for pitchers and catchers to report ... 

"In all seriousness Alex -- why should I watch/spend money on the Giants in 2020?" -- erniepomin

Well, first of all, we have a new state-of-the-art set that'll allow us to do a lot of cool things on the pre-game show next season, so that's a start. Plus, Kruk and Kuip! Come on, that's all you need. 

As for the team, I've long said that I'll never tell people how to spend their money when it comes to the Giants. It can get expensive, so if you'd prefer to sit out a couple years, you have every right to do so. But, I do think this season is going to be more interesting than the past couple. 

I happen to think "youth breaking through" is an intriguing storyline, so shortstop Mauricio Dubon and pitchers Tyler Beede and Logan Webb could provide plenty of reasons to watch early on. Catcher Joey Bart will be up at some point this year, and there's a chance that somebody like outfielder Jaylin Davis or infielder Chris Shaw finally puts it together.

Every Johnny Cueto start has the chance to provide plenty of entertainment regardless of the team's record.

Regardless of your feelings about Gabe Kapler, I do think it'll be interesting watching a different manager pull the levers for the first time in over a decade. If you're tuning in expecting to watch a win, you'll be disappointed more often than not. But if you try and view this as the start of something, I think you'll have a lot more fun in 2020. 

Are the Giants one of the rumored teams to have made a multi-year offer to Ozuna?" -- mgmatter17

I never once heard of any interest in Marcell Ozuna this offseason, and the fit wasn't really there. He's a good player, but not a game-changer, the type you re-arrange all your (rebuild) plans for. And if he was looking to re-establish his value as a power hitter, Oracle Park is a terrible place to play. 

"Is Sean Hjelle going to be one of the main focuses for at least early spring training?" -- aedinbratton18

Hjelle, the organization's top pitching prospect, is always going to be a focus purely because of his height. You can bet that early in camp someone will tweet out a photo of him dwarfing his fellow pitchers. 

But seriously, he will get plenty of attention for what he's capable of. He spent limited time in San Jose so we haven't really seen much of him, and it's going to be fascinating to see what his mechanics look like in early bullpen sessions. Hopefully, he's able to get into a game or two before getting sent to minor league camp. 

"Who will be the Giants' ace now that Bum is gone?" -- dianebertocchinoonan

Cueto has done it before, but he is coming back from Tommy John and there's a decent chance he gets traded before the end of his deal. Long term, this is a hell of a question.

Beede and Webb have the stuff to get there eventually and Hjelle is their top pitching prospect, but the organization is pretty thin on high-end starting pitching. I don't think you can look at anyone the Giants have right now and think, "He's going to start on Opening Day in 2022."

"If Beede or Webb don't make the rotation, do you think they'd let them pitch out of the bullpen?" -- _juanvillaseno_

This is a question we'll legitimately be asking in a couple weeks, because Cueto, Jeff Samardzija, Drew Smyly and Kevin Gausman have the inside track on four spots. Either one of these young guys could be a good bullpen piece, but the Giants aren't ready to go there. 

They really made a commitment last year to giving Beede a shot in the rotation, even when he had some brutal starts, and he showed what he's capable of at times. The Giants are going to give him every opportunity to make the rotation his long-term home. As for Webb, there's been enough "innings limit" talk this offseason that it seems likely he starts the year in the minors, but he's definitely still a starter. 

[RELATED: Giants sign veteran Drew Smyly]

The caveat here is that I do think the Giants will try some new things this year, using semi-regular openers and potentially "piggybacking" guys, allowing them to go 3-4 innings at a time. That might lead to some "relief" appearances for young starters. 

"Why will Logan Webb have an innings limit this season?" -- tyler.j.burton

Webb threw 104 2/3 innings in 2018 but was limited to 103 across all levels last season because of the suspension. Ideally, he would have gotten around 130-140 last year, but that wasn't possible, so the Giants will hold him back a bit this season so he's not jumping from 103 to 160-170. 

Remember, he just turned 23. His health is a priority right now, even if that costs him some time in the Majors. 

"Will ticket prices drop this season with the current state of the team?" -- rioscristian15

I'm not sure of exact rates -- the Giants usually talk about that side of the business at their media day in March. I will say, it's pretty easy to find a cheap ticket to a game on the secondary market during the season. A lot of fans told me they were getting in for like $6 the last couple of seasons. Take advantage of the lack of interest while you can. 

"Which core veteran player is most likely to have a good bounce-back year?" -- shockmaan

I know the staff is really excited about working with Brandon Belt and there's a belief that Buster Posey will be much more productive after a normal offseason. I don't know which veteran is most likely to bounce back, but I will say I'm most curious to see what kind of season Brandon Crawford turns in. 

He's 33 now, but he's athletic enough that the age shouldn't be an issue yet, and he's not far removed from All-Star caliber play. Crawford hit .292./.363/.462 in the first half of 2018 and basically carried the lineup for weeks at a time. There are newcomers to the organization who have looked back at that stretch to see what the difference was, because it really wasn't that long ago. 

"Any way to find out if they are adding anything crazy to the menu like a 25-inch corndog?" -- takem84

The Giants traditionally unveil new menu items and giveaways at their media day. Last year, I asked my bosses if a cameraman could follow me around as I ate every single thing at the stadium and they somehow said yes. That ultimately led to me standing in the heat at SunTrust Park eating a burger covered in chicken tenders, nacho cheese and tater tots. Life comes at you fast. 

"Favorite restaurant to hit up during spring training?" -- uscgabe

The lock of the spring is that every Giants beat writer and a dozen team employees will be at ChopShop after the first team workout on February 12. That's the go-to for lunch, and The Mission is the place you have to hit up for dinner. I also try to visit Rudy's BBQ a couple of times because it's a Texas treasure that has somehow found its way to Arizona.

(Full disclosure: There's a Chick-fil-A outside half the Cactus League ballparks and a Shake Shack in the Scottsdale mall, so spring training is peak "This place doesn't exist in San Francisco so I might as well go here 17 times while I'm in Scottsdale" season.)