Cueto nearing milestone in Tommy John rehab

February 14th, 2019
San Francisco Giants pitcher Johnny Cueto works against the Milwaukee Brewers in the first inning of a baseball game Saturday, July 28, 2018, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)Ben Margot/AP

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The road back from Tommy John surgery is often long and tedious, but Giants right-hander has a notable milestone approaching.

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Cueto, who arrived at Scottsdale Stadium on Thursday, said he is scheduled to pick up a ball and begin playing catch next week for the first time since undergoing surgery in August.

"I feel really good," Cueto said in Spanish. "Right now, I feel like I'm ready, but I know that I'm not. At first, it was frustrating to even do things like take a shower, but now I feel like any other pitcher. "

Cueto, 32, spent most of the offseason in his native Dominican Republic, rehabbing at the Giants' baseball academy in Boca Chica. He focused on improving his conditioning and said he lost 20 pounds after incorporating more fish and salad into his diet.

"When you have these types of operations, you tend to gain weight," Cueto said. "I wanted to work hard to come back strong and find a way to help my team."

Cueto is expected to miss most of the regular season, though the Giants are hopeful that he'll be able to return to pitch a few games in September. While Cueto would be pleased with that outcome, he said he doesn't have a particular target date in mind for his return to the Majors.

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"I'd be happy, but they're the experts," Cueto said. "When they tell me I'm ready, I'll head over there to the city."

Cueto said he pitched with discomfort in his right elbow for nearly three years before ultimately succumbing to Tommy John surgery last season. While he continued to pitch well over that span -- he started the 2016 All-Star Game in San Diego -- Cueto said it was difficult to manage the pain.

"It's not easy," Cueto said. "Last year, I started well, but it's a mental pain. It's a pain that felt like someone stuck a knife in your elbow and stabbed you through the bone. I don't even know how I pitched."

For now, Cueto is limited to throwing a plastic ball off a trampoline, though the Giants are looking forward to seeing him make a pain-free return to the mound down the road.

"We'd love to see Johnny start," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "That means we probably are sitting in a pretty good position. But we're not going to do something that doesn't make sense with our medical staff and where he's at, because you get through that and you have another offseason to really heal up. We'll see where he's at when we get to August."