Cueto's 'creative' style puts Dodgers on heels

'I like to invent when I'm on the mound,' Giants starter says

Cueto's 'creative' style puts Dodgers on heels

LOS ANGELES -- Johnny Cueto might be incapable of delivering an ordinary performance, simply because nothing's ordinary about him.

Then there are nights such as Saturday, when Cueto looked extraordinary. He maintained a perfect game for 4 1/3 innings and ultimately lasted 7 1/3 resolute frames as the Giants evened the series against the Dodgers with a 4-3 victory.

Cueto improved to 3-0 while again demonstrating why Giants management saw fit to commit $130 million to him in his six-year contract. He tapped reserves of strength when he needed them, fending off the Dodgers by elevating his velocity. The right-hander recorded all seven of his strikeouts in a 19-batter span from the end of the third inning through the conclusion of his outing.

Speaking through interpreter Erwin Higueros, Cueto related that he felt stronger than usual while warming up and resolved to capitalize on that surge. "I told myself I need to be aggressive today," Cueto said. "I felt more aggressive and I felt a lot better than the other starts."

Cueto yielded three hits, including Yasmani Grandal's double that disrupted his perfect game. Trailing, 4-0, the Dodgers had the tying run at the plate with one out after Kiké Hernandez lined a seventh-inning RBI single. Cueto responded by striking out Joc Pederson and erasing Trayce Thompson on a grounder.

Giants manager Bruce Bochy favorably compared Cueto to the class of elite pitchers who, when they need to, can "turn it up a notch. They have that ability. And he had it tonight."

Partly to amuse himself and largely to abuse the hitters, Cueto mixed in his entertaining array of deliveries: hesitating in releasing the baseball, turning his back to the hitter for an extra beat or two, rocking his shoulders before he strides toward the plate or accelerating his motion.

"I just like to get creative," Cueto said. "I like to invent when I'm on the mound, just to keep the batters off balance."

By muting the Giants' archrival before a sellout Dodger Stadium crowd of 53,409, Cueto dispelled the notion that he's a subpar performer on the road. He gained that reputation last season after Cincinnati traded him to the eventual World Series-champion Kansas City Royals, for whom Cueto turned in a 4.98 ERA in seven road starts. Cueto followed that by allowing eight runs in two innings in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series at Toronto.

"That was last year," Cueto said. "Today is 2016. Something different."

Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Haft-Baked Ideas, follow him on Twitter at @sfgiantsbeat and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.