PHOENIX -- The Giants pay Johnny Cueto a lot of money to pitch winning baseball games. And he does just that, winning Tuesday night for the 19th time since signing a six-year, $130 million free-agent contract prior to the 2016 season.
Cueto's bat and baserunning are a usually hidden dividend, but both were on prominent display as the Giants avenged Sunday's Opening Day loss to the D-backs with an 8-4 victory at Chase Field.
"That's got to be up there as one of his great games offensively," manager Bruce Bochy said. "What a great job he did."
Cueto drew back on a bunt and chopped a base hit by first baseman Paul Goldschmidt into right field as San Francisco scored twice in the second inning on a Gorkys Hernandez single.
Bochy said that was Cueto's decision.
"I saw [Goldschmidt] very close to me," Cueto said through his interpreter, Erwin Higueros. "I said to myself, 'You know what? I'm just going to swing away.'"
Again, as the Giants sent 10 men to the plate in a five-run fifth, Cueto hit a shot off the glove of shortstop Chris Owings that was called an error, but easily could have been another hit. When Hernandez doubled in two more runs, it was Cueto who motored all the way around from first standing up for San Francisco's seventh run.
"I took off running on my own, very hard," said Cueto, who noted he barely touched the plate with the heel of his baseball shoe. "Then when I got to back to the dugout, [Eduardo] Nunez told me to slow down. 'It's just the second game of the season.' It was just my instinct that took over."
And by the way, Cueto tossed five innings, allowing four runs on six hits with two walks and five strikeouts. He tossed 94 pitches. Goldschmidt and Jake Lamb hit two of them out for their first homers of the young season.
The Cueto signing so far may be one of the best in Major League history when it comes to free-agent starting pitchers. Hall of Famer Greg Maddux by the Braves and Roger Clemens by the Blue Jays top the list.
Starters have a tendency to break down during the course of long-term deals. Yankees left-hander CC Sabathia is a good example. He's had serious elbow and knee problems and has had to reinvent himself as a starter with a diminished fastball. Sabathia pitched five shutout innings and was the winner as the Yanks defeated the Rays, 5-0, on Tuesday night.
"I know. Most of them don't [work out], but this one certainly has," Bochy said. "Johnny's been everything and more than what we expected. Not only the talent, but the person. He's just a great teammate and a lot of fun to have around. He's funny. He's entertaining in the clubhouse. Plus, he's real competitor."
Cueto has an elastic arm and has never had a really serious injury. The Dominican right-hander throws a dancing four-seam fastball, and not necessarily at maximum effort. Yet, his delivery is deceptive, and since 2015, hitters swing and miss almost a quarter of the time at that particular pitch.
According to Statcast™, hitters have swung and missed against Cueto's four-seamer 23 percent of the time. And when he finishes an at-bat with that particular pitch, opponents have amassed just a .269 slugging percentage vs. Cueto, who's second to Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman at .219. And that's with a minimum of 1,000 four-seamers thrown.
It accounts for much of Cueto's effectiveness and why during his first year with the Giants he was 18-5 with a 2.79 ERA, a 1.09 WHIP and 8.1 strikeouts per nine innings, 198 overall.
Bochy said it's not just the four-seamer, but Cueto mixes that up with a two-seamer, changeup and curveball.
"He's a strike-thrower. He has four pitches he can throw over at any time," Bochy said. "He has so many variations on his delivery. He has movement on the fastball. He's one of the elite pitchers in the game."
And on Tuesday, Cueto was that elite pitcher, plus.