Giants right-hander Johnny Cueto was dominant over five shutout innings Tuesday night, his first start since undergoing Tommy John surgery 13 months ago, allowing only one hit in his long-awaited 2019 debut.
Cueto needed only 11 pitches for a 1-2-3 first inning against the Pirates, getting two groundouts before turning his cap around backward just for fun and pumping his fists at the end of the inning.
“That’s my game, every time I pitch just try to have fun,” he said afterward (via the San Francisco Chronicle).
Cueto’s line: 5.0 IP, 0 ER, 4 K, 1 BB. Kevin Kramer’s third-inning single to center was the only hit allowed by Cueto, who had been scheduled throw 70 pitches and finished with 69.
“That was a special night for Johnny, just so much hard work and coming back from so much,” said Stephen Vogt, who caught Cueto’s comeback start and fueled a 5-4 Giants win with a home run and four RBIs. “Getting to be a small part of that with him was pretty special for me. It’s been a long road for him to come back. He was just so happy today — before the game, during the game, after the game you could just tell he was having fun.”
According to the Chronicle, when Cueto — looking “far fitter and stronger than before he got hurt” — took the field to warm up some 30 minutes before first pitch he drew cheers from the small number of fans in the ballpark.
“Dia De Cueto,” read a sign held by one of his sons. Translation: the Day of Cueto. Indeed.
He received a rousing ovation during pregame introductions.
“Like it was opening day,” said Cueto, 33.
For him, it was opening day. The NL starter in the 2016 All-Star Game, he last pitched in the big leagues on July 28 of last year. He’s in the fourth year of a six-year, $130 million contract he signed before the 2016 season.
“It’s easy when you’re in a situation like Johnny’s, you can be comfortable. You’re set for life but he wants to get back and compete, and compete at the highest level,” manager Bruce Bochy said before the game. “He’s taken such great care of himself and worked hard to get to this point.”
There was a bittersweet footnote to Tuesday night: Cueto returned to the Giants (70-75) on the night team their archrivals, the Dodgers (94-52), clinched their seventh straight NL West title.