It’s not just that Johnny Cueto is back on the mound. It’s not just that his smile looks like it hasn’t left. It’s not just that he’s resembling an ace.
Already, nearing 14 months later, he might even look better than before he had Tommy John surgery.
Bruce Bochy praised “arm strength [that] is even a little bit better” than before the 33-year-old went under the knife after Cueto tossed another five scoreless innings — running his streak to 10 in his brief 2019 season — after the Giants’ 2-1 victory over the Marlins at Oracle Park on Sunday.
“I don’t know if anybody expected him to get off to a start like this,” Bochy said after Cueto allowed three hits and two walks while striking out a pair. “You look at throwing the ball, this is Johnny before the surgery. Four pitches with command.”
It was smooth for three innings against hapless Miami until Cueto ran into trouble in the fourth. Starlin Castro singled before Neil Walker appropriately worked a walk. Cueto was fast approaching his pitch limit, but he got Jorge Alfaro to fly out and struck out Lewis Brinson and Magneuris Sierra on nasty changeups.
It took 31 pitches, but his streak wasn’t affected.
“He made pitches when he had to, and that’s what he’s so good at,” Bochy said.
Cueto made quick work of the fifth inning, needing just six pitches to take care of the side, and pushed Bochy for a sixth. But the manager held firm, finishing Cueto’s afternoon at 71 pitches. They expect that to stretch to 85 next time and perhaps 100 before the season’s done.
Of course, Bochy said he’d like to see Cueto throw 120. For Cueto, the important thing is health; it’s what he kept going back to.
“I’m thankful that my arm is great,” the 12-year veteran said in Spanish through translator Erwin Higueros. “I feel good, and I guess whatever comes after that I gotta keep working on.”