Cueto dazzles in season debut, Giants beat Pirates 5-4

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Cap on backward, Johnny Cueto punctuated his pitches with confident head shakes and fist pumps.

“Dia De Cueto,” read the sign held by one of his sons.

The Day of Cueto, indeed.

Cueto dazzled over five shutout innings in his long-awaited season debut for San Francisco, showing he can reach top form again 13 months after Tommy John surgery while leading the Giants over the Pittsburgh Pirates 5-4 on Tuesday night.

“Like it was opening day,” he said.

The charismatic right-hander, far fitter and stronger than before he got hurt, allowed one hit, struck out four and walked one. He had been scheduled to throw about 70 pitches and wound up at 69.

Stephen Vogt hit a two-run homer and drove in four runs. His two-run single in the first off rookie Mitch Keller (1-4) staked Cueto to a quick lead and Brandon Crawford added an RBI single as four of the first five batters got hits.

“That was a special night for Johnny, just so much hard work and coming back from so much,” said Vogt, who caught Cueto’s comeback outing. “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.”

Cueto went 1-2-3 in the first on 11 pitches with a strikeout and two groundouts before turning his cap around just for fun and pumping his fists.

He punched his hand into his glove in celebration, chomping his gum all the while.

“That’s my game, every time I pitch just try to have fun,” he said.

Cueto, who pitched his first 7 1/2 seasons with Cincinnati, is 21-4 with a 2.13 ERA over 31 career regular-season starts against the Pirates. He has won nine straight decisions, not including playoffs, facing Pittsburgh since his last loss on May 30, 2012.

Cueto drew cheers from the small number of fans in the ballpark when he took the field to warm up some 30 minutes before first pitch, then received a rousing ovation during pregame introductions.

The 33-year-old Cueto pitched in the big leagues for the first time since July 28 last year. He came back in better shape than before thanks in large part to a healthier diet that included fish and salads.

Cueto won 18 games for San Francisco in 2016 and started the All-Star game that year while dealing with the discomfort he referred to as stabbing pain in the pitching elbow for three years . He’s in the fourth season of a $130 million, six-year 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. He’s taken such great care of himself and worked hard to get to this point,” manager Bruce Bochy said before the game.

Shaun Anderson earned his first save as the Giants won at home for only the sixth time in their last 18 games. Keller had left his start last Tuesday against the Marlins after taking a line drive off the wrist on his pitching hand in the second inning.

UMPIRE INJURED

Plate umpire Paul Emmel was replaced in the top of the sixth by second base umpire Mike Estabrook. Emmel took a pitch from Keller off his right hand.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Pirates: RHP Kyle Crick required season-ending surgery on the index finger of his pitching hand resulting from an injury sustained in a clubhouse altercation with fellow reliever Felipe Vázquez before Monday’s game, and the Pirates held a team meeting Tuesday. “One of those clubhouse altercations. A lot of bickering back and forth. Punches were thrown,” Crick said. “You kind of have to at some point stand up for yourself and start throwing back. It’s one of those deals where it’s unfortunate. It’s two losers in this deal. Nobody can win fighting a teammate. It’s just an unfortunate deal.” Both players were fined an undisclosed amount. Crick underwent a procedure Tuesday to repair the extensor tendon, performed by Dr. Scott Hanson in San Francisco. The club expects him to be ready for games come spring training. “The behavior exhibited by these two players last night is unacceptable, inconsistent with the standards expected of a major league player and will not be tolerated by the organization,” general manager Neal Huntington said. No other details of what happened were provided. … CF Starling Marte was out of the lineup for a second straight game nursing a tender left wrist that he sprained catching a flyball Sunday against St. Louis. Manager Clint Hurdle said he could be available to pinch-run but of batting said, “We’re going to work on the hitting part of it.”

Giants: Closer Will Smith is dealing with back inflammation and it’s unclear when he will pitch again. “We’re trying to get him back to where he’s comfortable throwing off the mound. He’s not quite there yet,” Bochy said. … OF Alex Dickerson missed his seventh straight game with a right oblique injury but the hope is he will return this weekend against Miami. He was scheduled to do more hitting off a tee. “If he can take a swing without making a grimace I’ll put him in there,” Bochy said. … LHP Williams Jerez designated for assignment as the Giants cleared 40-man roster room for Cueto’s return.

UP NEXT

RHP Dario Agrazal (4-4, 4.94 ERA) faces the Giants for the first time pitching opposite RHP Logan Webb (1-1, 6.50), making his fifth major league start.