We've been entertained by Johnny Cueto for a couple months now. Whether he was in a ball pit, wishing himself a happy birthday, or showing off his horse, he's been a personality big enough to bleed through the computer screen. Yeah, we thought. We can get used to this guy if he pitches well.
You're in the minority, though. Most Giants fans aren't following the exploits of every player on Instagram or Twitter. All most of them know is Cueto got a ton of money. Just garbage bags filled with the stuff. He's the biggest free agent signing since redacted and because redacted didn't work out so well, there's an immediate show-me quality that most franchises aren't going to have with their shiny new free agent pitchers.
The first pitch comes. It's an 88-mph cutter. When the ball is put in play on the seventh pitch, with nary a swing or miss, it's hit hard. Only a great play from Joe Panik gets the out. There isn't a swing and miss in the inning. The hitters never look uncomfortable.
Cueto gets in trouble in the second inning. Two balls hit hard, runners on first and third. Then a run scores on a hard-hit double play into a shift. Still no swings and misses.
The spring training stats start trying to squeeze through the little pet door in the back of everyone's brain. There's no way they can fit in that little hole ... right? And when everyone's checking that out, Cueto's second-half stats sneak in through the front door. It's chaos. All we have are bad thoughts.
I wasn't thinking about prancing horses and ball pits anymore. I was thinking about six years. That's a long time.
Now we have a template, though. This start mapped our brains a little bit. The pet door was nailed shut. This is what an excellent Cueto start looks like. It's not all 95-mph fastballs and wild swings. It's not always ballet and technical perfection. There might be rust, and there might be a slow grind to get to the good stuff.
Then he hits his rhythm, though. And you get it. At least, I did. The twists and the quick pitches aren't parlor tricks. It's musical. It's practical. It's art and science, and it's not always going to work. But when it does, it's fun. It's as fun as a grown man taking a selfie in a ball pit.
Everyone's having fun, right?
My favorite at-bat of the night was against Chris Carter, large man and punisher of bad pitches. Cueto used his quick stride to the plate to tie up Jonathan Lucroy in the previous at-bat, but his first pitch to Carter was a changeup using the Luis Tiant twist.
In the .01 seconds before Carter had to decide if he was swinging, he had to process a different timing and release from what he was probably expecting, and he had to process the difference between a fastball and a change. He saw long (delivery) and slow (pitch). It's impressive that he fouled it off, really, but baseball players always impress me.
Baseball players often impress me. (I know that's not fair. Dan Uggla made those kinds of split-second corrections a hundred times in his non-Giants career. But I'm weak and needy.)
After long delivery/slow pitch, Cueto came back with a quick delivery and a fast pitch, 92 with movement. It probably wasn't a strike but the movement and Buster Posey's framing stole one. After a ball and a lunging foul, Cueto did the same quick delivery/fast pitch, this time at 93, and Carter couldn't do anything.
It was Cueto, defined. At least, that's the hope. There's probably a lot more Cueto in the lazy pop-ups and off-balance ground balls, but the Carter at-bat showed a master of craft against a rough-around-the-edges slugger, and it went the way you expected.
It went the way you expected once he found that rhythm, though. I don't know if we're going to get Cueto the ace, Cueto the innings eater, or Cueto the dud, but for a night I saw the plan for the first one of those. Keep them off balance. Put the baseballs in the right place. Limit the pitch count.
And you were so worried.
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It might be my imagination, but Cueto seemed to shake off Posey more than any Giants pitcher I've watched in a long time. Understandably so, of course. They're not familiar with each other, and Cueto has a million things he can do with the ball.
Just imagine when they're finishing each other's sentences, then. That should be a mighty entertaining combination to watch.
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After gushing about the lineup for a full day and change, they didn't do much. They missed a few chances, but they generally looked like a team with a plan. Joe Panik looks like he's going to hit .400. Brandon Crawford looks good for 45 homers and 45 doubles, give or take.
Still, let this be a reminder that the Giants can also win by playing a sound defensive game, too. The additions of Cueto and Samardzija are supposed to round everything out, but even before we know what we're getting there, we can be confident in the defense.
Here's Buster Posey with the swipe tag of the young season so far.
"Man, I would have enjoyed this game so much more if Jonathan Villar decapitated Buster Posey at the plate."
- No one you ever need to listen to.
Here's Hunter Pence adjusting to a tough liner. Panik had the play in the first inning, and Crawford had the not-as-easy-as-it-looks double play in the second. The Giants can catch. They can probably hit. All that's left is the pitching.
The ball over Angel Pagan's head in the bottom of the third probably wasn't catchable. We'll just ... we'll just check in on the transition in a couple weeks or so. I'm still confused for now, and maybe it's because I'm so used to what the rest of the fielders can do.
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The Giants are still on pace for the best record in Major League Baseball history, and I'm still on pace for using this stupid joke in every season I possibly can. No, seriously, welcome back, baseball.