Cueto hustles to support strong mound work

Cueto hustles to support strong mound work

SAN FRANCISCO -- Johnny Cueto's deceptively fast afterburners may have been the key to the Giants' 7-2 win over the Rockies on Thursday night.

Coming to the plate with a one-run lead and two runners on base in the sixth inning, Cueto laid down a picture-perfect sacrifice bunt and sprinted feverishly down the first-base line, forcing an off-balance Nolan Arenado to heave an errant throw to the Rockies' bullpen. Two runs scored thanks to the blunder, and Cueto, who was making his first start since straining his left groin Sept. 20, was standing on second base with a comfortable advantage.

"Just watching him run, he didn't show any effects from the injury," said Giants manager Bruce Bochy. "Couldn't have bunted the ball better."

A half-inning later, Cueto was then back to doing what San Francisco fans have grown accustomed to seeing the right-hander do in his first year in a Giants uniform. Cueto continued to dominate, wrapping up a performance in which he surrendered two runs and struck out 11 in seven efficient innings.

While he allowed two quick runs on three extra-base hits in the first inning, the nine-year veteran was as effective as he's been all season, allowing one Rockies batter to reach second base in the final six frames he pitched.

"The first couple of innings, I wasn't hitting my spots with my pitches but then I told myself I just needed to get concentrated and just do what I do on the mound," Cueto said through interpreter Erwin Higueros.

Cueto notches win No. 18

As Bochy noted, Cueto becoming more effective as the game wore on is simply a facet of his game.

"He has a knack of turning it up a notch," said Bochy. "I thought he got better as the game went, which is his deal, his forte. As the game goes, he gets better."

That statement from Bochy could also be used to describe the way Cueto finished the 2016 regular season. The first-year Giant proved to be the perfect supplement to Madison Bumgarner in San Francisco's rotation down the stretch, allowing no more than two earned runs in his last six outings -- five of which resulted in Giants wins.

"He's everything we thought and more," Bochy said of Cueto, who finished 18-5 with a 2.79 ERA in 32 starts this year. "Some players you know they're good, but when you get a chance to see them firsthand, when they're playing for you, you get to appreciate what they do and the work they put in. Every fifth day you can see how competitive this guy is."

It is uncertain what else Cueto will do for the Giants this year, though. Without any more scheduled starts and without a guarantee that San Francisco will make the postseason, the right-hander may have thrown his final pitch for the season Thursday. Bochy did not say if Cueto could be available out of the bullpen when the Giants face the Dodgers this weekend.

As for Cueto, he'll gladly take the ball if Bochy hands it to him.

Justin Wise is a reporter for MLB.com based in the Bay Area. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.