Johnny Cueto was a surprise signing by the San Francisco Giants in the off-season. After inking Jeff Samardzija to a $90 million contract earlier in the winter, fans weren’t sure what the Giants would do with their other open spot in the rotation.
Would they give the job to Chris Heston, who threw a no hitter last year in a strong 1st half of his rookie season? Would they try to bring back Tim Lincecum or Ryan Vogelsong for one last season? Would they sign a less heralded pitcher to put at the back end of the rotation, hoping for lightning in a bottle? Instead, the Giants did none of those things and signed Cueto for $130 million and placed him right behind ace Madison Bumgarner in the rotation.
The move has paid off early on as the Giants are 3-0 in his starts and his 21 1/3 innings pitched lead the staff. He has pitched at least 7 innings in every start, including his first start against the rival Los Angeles Dodgers where he gave up 5 runs in the first inning and still went another 6 innings.
Beating the Dodgers twice, the second time at Dodger Stadium, is the fastest way to any Giants fan’s heart. But it’s the way he’s won and how he goes about his business that has made him an instant star in the eyes of the fans. He refuses to be conventional on the mound, from quick pitching, to shimmying before he throws, to all sorts of other quirks before he pitches. All of these motions are designed to disrupt the hitters timing and make the batter uncomfortable. It’s been working.
Cueto is a defensive player’s best friend as he seems to hate taking any time between pitches. His insistence to remove his hat the second he is allowed to after an inning ends will catch on real quick at AT&T. I could see the crowd removing their caps at the end of an inning as a tribute to Cueto as he walks back into the dugout.
Ultimately, production is always longer lasting than showmanship and entertainment. But this is a game and this is a fan’s entertainment dollar. Right now, if you asked a fan who they would pay to see pitch, most might still say Madison Bumgarner, not only for his ability on the mound, but to see him swing the lumber at the plate as well.
Cueto, at the moment, has produced more than any other pitcher in the rotation, and if he continues to produce, his pitching alone will become the star of the show at 24 Willie Mays Plaza.