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Cueto rocked in return from injury as Padres stomp Giants

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Giants manager Gabe Kapler said before Sunday’s game against San DIego that he didn’t expect Johnny Cueto to throw 120 pitches in his first start in nearly a month.

Cueto barely got halfway there before Kapler had to pull him, as the Giants fell 11-1 to the Padres in front of 10,008 on Mother’s Day, losing a bid to sweep the visitors.

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Making his first start since April 14 when he suffered a Grade 1 lat strain, Cueto (L, 2-1, 3.52 ERA) lasted just three innings and was rocked by the heart of the Padres lineup for five runs in 64 pitches. 

This story has been updated with quotes and post-game material from the Giants clubhouse at Oracle Park.

Cueto gave up a pair of long, two-run homers in the second — first a blast into McCovey Cove by Jake Cronenworth, then a shot into the left field bleachers by Fernando Tatis Jr.

In the third inning, Cueto allowed three straight singles to start the inning, and Wil Myers knocked in Manny Machado to give the Padres a 5-0 lead.

But Kapler was still pleased that Cueto looked healthy and that his pitches were lively: 

“Early on, there were some balls that got through. Sometimes that can spiral a little bit and there were some mistakes as well. But we saw a healthy pitcher and we saw a pitcher who had life on his stuff.”

The Padres (19-16) had 16 hits on the day and added on four more runs in the eighth off reliever Jose Alvarez, two of them unearned after a throwing error by the pitcher. Two more scored in the ninth after the Giants (20-14) brought in outfielder Darin Ruf to pitch the inning.

Ruf’s major league mound debut lightened the mood in the dugout a bit, according to Kapler, who said the primary reason behind using a position player on the mound was to save a bullpen arm in a game that was out of hand:

“We had a bit of a short bench at that point. There weren’t a ton of choices. Anytime you can save one inning for a reliever in a game that is really difficult to win, we can do that.” 

Sunday marked Cueto’s first rough outing of the season. He had notched a 1.80 ERA in three starts prior to his injury, as the 35-year-old looks for a rebound season after a rough 2020 when his ERA ballooned to 5.40.

Giants bats managed eight hits, but were 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position and left nine men on base. 

Cueto’s outing was an anomaly for a Giants rotation that entered the day second in the majors in ERA at 2.80. Starters had also kept opponents to three runs or fewer for the previous 10 games.

Cueto was happy that everything felt good after initially being worried about the injury. Via translator Erwin Higueros, Cueto said he regretted leaving a couple of sliders up in the strike zone, especially the pitches to Cronenworth and Tatis:

“Those things happen and I know there’s plenty of baseball left.”

Still, with half of their games against the Padres completed, the Giants are 5-4, with two series wins. They won’t see the Padres again until mid-September, when the NL West picture — which currently has the Giants leading the superpowered Padres and Dodgers — could look vastly different.

Up Next

The Giants welcome the Rangers to Oracle Park for a two-game series, with Alex Wood (3-0, 1.96 ERA) on the mound. He’ll face Texas’ Kyle GIbson (3-0, 2.40 ERA).

Notes

Buster Posey singled in the sixth, extending his hit streak to eight games. … The Giants optioned outfielder Jason Vossler to Triple A Sacramento to make room for Cueto. … The Giants failed to hit a home run Sunday, snapping their streak of a long ball in every game this month.

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