Giants right-hander Johnny Cueto didn’t hide his displeasure when he felt he was pulled from games too early in 2020. One of the most memorable examples came on Opening Day, when he threw only 63 pitches before being replaced in the fifth inning.
“It’s the first time I experienced that in my career, and I’ve been in baseball for 12 years,” Cueto said at the time.
The Giants were more aggressive in deploying their bullpen in Gabe Kapler’s first season as manager, though that was partly due to the shortened run-up to the 2020 campaign and their desire to minimize third-time-through-the-order penalties for their starters. But the pitching strategy didn’t sit well with Cueto, a two-time All-Star who has prided himself on being a rotation workhorse.
After Opening Day, Kapler sought to better communicate with Cueto, frequently making mound visits to check in with the 35-year-old veteran during his starts. Still, Cueto struggled to consistently command his pitches and finished the season with a 5.40 ERA, the highest mark among qualified starters in the National League.
Kapler said Cueto wasn’t “the healthiest version of himself” in his first full season back from Tommy John surgery, but Cueto reported to Spring Training this week feeling healthy and revitalized.
“I feel really good,” Cueto said in Spanish. “I feel like a kid.”
Now that he’s an extra year removed from his August 2018 surgery, Cueto is hoping he’ll have the opportunity to take on a greater workload for the Giants in 2021. He knows those determinations will ultimately lie in the hands of Kapler and the rest of the coaching staff, though.
“That decision is up to the manager,” Cueto said. “He’s the one who makes those decisions. As a starting pitcher, you always want to pitch deep into games.”
After throwing 63 1/3 innings over 12 starts last year, Cueto had expressed interest in logging additional reps by pitching in winter ball in his native Dominican Republic over the offseason. Cueto said the Giants were initially amenable to the idea, though team management ultimately nixed the plan because they preferred for Cueto to rest his arm over the winter.
“It frustrated me a bit, especially because my fans in the Dominican wanted to see me pitch,” Cueto said. “It didn’t work out how I wanted it to.”
Cueto will be entering the final guaranteed year of the six-year, $130 million contract he signed with the Giants in December 2015, giving him extra motivation to return to form in 2021. Kapler said the coaching staff is encouraging Cueto to throw more changeups this year, which he believes could also help lead to improved results on the mound.
“I think one more year away from his surgery is going to give him the opportunity to be that healthiest version of himself,” Kapler said. “When he was at his healthiest and strongest, that's when we saw the best velocity on his fastball. One thing that we're really anticipating is a little bit higher usage of his changeup. We think that can be a dominant pitch to both righties and lefties.”
Giants beat Solano in arbitration
Solano, 33, captured a Silver Slugger Award after batting .326 with an .828 OPS over 54 games in 2020. He is expected to see plenty of time at second base again in 2021, which will be his final season before free agency.
Solano’s case marked the Giants’ first arbitration hearing since 2004, when newly acquired catcher A.J. Pierzynski beat them and was awarded a $3.5 million salary. The Giants had offered $2.25 million.
Teng among bullpen standouts
Kapler said Jake McGee, Alex Wood, Dominic Leone and Sam Long impressed during their bullpen sessions at Scottsdale Stadium on Thursday. He also spoke highly of right-hander Kai-Wei Teng, a 22-year-old prospect who was acquired from the Twins as part of the Sam Dyson trade in 2019.
“I’ve probably seen seven or eight of his bullpens so far, and they've all been very interesting,” Kapler said. “Like a veteran pitcher. Command at four corners of the strike zone. A cutter that I think is unique with quite a bit of ride. Some glove-side, up-and-away ride. Very consistent with his delivery. Solid secondary weapons as well. I’ve seen a lot of him so far. His conditioning is getting better. It's been fun to watch.”
González added on Minor League deal
The Giants on Thursday announced that they’ve signed left-hander Luis González to a Minor League deal with an invitation to Major League Spring Training. González, 29, spent time in the Phillies and Orioles organizations before heading overseas to Japan, where he pitched for the Chunichi Dragons of Nippon Professional Baseball in 2020. González also logged a 1.80 ERA over five appearances for Estrellas de Oriente of the Dominican Winter League this offseason.