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Austin Slater comes through, Johnny Cueto leaves early in worrisome Giants win

Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

The Giants could set out for Miami all smiles, but only if Johnny Cueto is no longer grimacing.

In the final game of a successful, 5-1 opening homestand, they finally got to Reds starter Tyler Mahle, but had bigger concerns with their own starter in a 3-0 win over Cincinnati at Oracle Park, taking their third straight series.

For the Giants (8-4), a loss of Cueto would render the game a Pyrrhic victory. The righty had been rolling through 5 2/3 innings, but his 68th pitch of the afternoon, a strikeout of Nick Castellanos, ended with his signaling to the dugout and quickly exiting the game with trainer Dave Groeschner. The Giants determined it was a tight lat and said the 35-year-old would get examined.

The Giants’ offense did just enough while Cueto was still in to secure him the victory.

Cueto and Mahle were locked in a pitchers’ duel, with the Giants not getting their first baserunner until the fourth (when Mike Yastrzemski walked) and didn’t get their first hit until the fifth (when Donovan Solano blooped a perfectly place single to shallow right).

Brandon Crawford replaced Solano at first after the Reds dropped a pop-up, which brought Austin Slater, Tuesday’s hero, up for an extra-base hit that looked like a carbon copy. Down 0-2 against Mahle, Slater got a middle-of-the-plate fastball that he volleyed into the right-center gap. The Triples Alley shot wound up a double, but Crawford slid in safely anyway.

Slater, who does everything well on a baseball field when healthy, advanced to third on a wild pitch, then took off for home when Curt Casali hit a bouncer to third base. Slater beat the throw home for the Giants’ second run, and the Giants’ bullpen ensured Casali later getting thrown out at home — his foot and the plate were basically magnetically repelled, his cleat popping up right before he touched — did not matter. The Giants tacked on another in the eighth, when another bloop (from Mauricio Dubon) couldn’t be handled by Jonathan India and Evan Longoria scored.

Caleb Baragar relieved Cueto without issue, then Logan Webb — who was taken out of the rotation, but could re-enter if Cueto misses time — threw a clean seventh. Tyler Rogers, making his major league-leading eighth appearance in 12 games a season after he led the league in the category, shut down the Reds again in the eighth before Jake McGee — who allowed his first hit of the year — got his league-leading sixth save of the season.

The pitching did its job, holding the powerful Reds offense to four hits on a day the Giants finished with just six. But the health of Cueto is the biggest question arising from play.

Through shimmies, quick pitches and a dash to first on a bunt on which he sniffed a hit, Cueto entertained the home crowd again. After a rough start in the season’s second game, in Seattle — three innings, three runs — Cueto had thrown 17 innings while allowing one run. He dazzled, with the brunt of the contact he allowed against his old team being fairly weak.

He has a tendency to pitch better in big games, and matchups with his old pals with the Reds qualifies. The Giants hope they’ll see him smiling, and not grimacing, again soon.


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