Cueto encouraged by return to rotation

Veteran allows two runs in first start since July 14

Cueto encouraged by return to rotation

SAN FRANCISCO -- Two rehab Minor League assignments and a forearm tightness scare later, Johnny Cueto was finally atop the mound again on Friday.

The former All-Star pitched 5 1/3 innings in the Giants' 11-6 loss to the Cardinals, allowing two runs and four hits while striking out two batters in his first Major League start since July 14.

Though Cueto departed immediately after hitting 80 pitches -- the Giants' limit for the outing -- he said he felt well enough to continue on, a positive development for San Francisco on a night when the bullpen surrendered nine runs.

"I felt really good," Cueto said through an interpreter. "I could have thrown 100 pitches or 120 but they gave me a limit. So I had to abide by that. … I feel very relieved. It's not the same thing as pitching in the Minor Leagues as the big leagues. But I feel very happy that my teammates backed me up with some runs today."

Giants manager Bruce Bochy was encouraged by what he saw from Cueto, who exited when the Giants were leading, 5-2. Cueto's lone blemish came when St. Louis rookie Harrison Bader blasted a two-run shot for his first Major League homer.

"He threw great, didn't he? I thought," Bochy said. "…I thought he had good stuff. Good command. I thought his velocity was up. He felt great when he came out of the game. That's the good news tonight is how well he threw and how he feels."

Cueto could make roughly five more starts before the regular season ends, when he will have to make a decision on whether to become a free agent and opt-out of the remainder of his contract or play for the Giants. He indicated earlier this week in an interview he will likely bypass the opt-out clause.

On Friday, he said the potential distraction isn't something that's weighing heavily on his mind, though.

"I'm not even thinking about it," Cueto said. "I just want to make sure I go out those last starts and look good and make sure I win games."

Should Cueto show in the coming month that he's moved past the mild flexor strain and blister problems, the Giants will have a better picture of what he might be able to provide to the 2018 club.

Asked what he would like to see from Cueto this month, Bochy said: "Keep him healthy and have him throw the way he did tonight. … He did a nice job."

Jonathan Hawthorne 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.