SCOTTSDALE — Pitching in a camp game at the Giants’ minor league facility isn't an assignment most veterans look forward to. The field off Hayden Road is as hot as it gets in Arizona, with little shade to be found. It can be hard for pitchers to get a feel for their stuff while facing 19- and 20-year-olds who are eager to add a hit off an All-Star to their resume.
Pitching in a camp game can make for a long day, but someone forgot to tell that to Johnny Cueto.
The right-hander faced a team full of Giants farmhands on Sunday afternoon, in part to avoid giving a preview to the NL West rival Rockies, and in part to regulate his workload. Cueto had a smile on his face throughout much out of the outing, mixing in some of his trademark quirks.
Cueto pitched six innings, and in his final frame he had a bit of fun with A-ball outfielder Seth Harrison. Cueto opened up with a quick-pitch, then doubled down by shimmying on the mound as he delivered the next pitch. Harrison got the last laugh, ending the at-bat with a double to left. Cueto blew an inside fastball past the next hitter, flashed a big smile, and signaled that his day was done after 74 pitches.
“I was having fun, but at the same time I was working,” Cueto said through translator Erwin Higueros. “But that’s how I pitch. I like to have fun.”
He’ll have a lot more fun if he’s successful, and on Sunday Cueto showed positive signs. He pitched six innings, allowing six hits and one earned run while holding his velocity on a 92-degree day. Cueto struck out four and picked off two runners (he laughed on the mound after the second one). He even threw in an at-bat, and he got buzzed by a young prospect as he squared to bunt.
Cueto said he feels good physically, and everything is locking in on the mound. His only concern Sunday was the fact that he’s leaving too many pitches up in the zone, and he expects to fix that before facing the Brewers the first week of April.
“When they turn the lights on and the season starts, everything will be different,” he said.
GAME RECAP: Clayton Blackburn started in place of Cueto and gave up two earned on six hits in four innings. Blackburn, who hit .296 last year with a homer, added an RBI double. From what coaches have said, Blackburn might be the best non-Bumgarner hitter in the rotation when he gets called up. Blackburn will be optioned to minor league camp so he can start to pitch every five days. "I talked to him today," manager Bruce Bochy said. "He did a lot of good work this spring ... he's got a lot to be proud of. He carried over what he did last year -- that was impressive, particularly in the (Pacific Coast League). He can pitch. He's got a good idea of what he can do, and he's got savvy. He's got stuff -- he was at 91 today. He's got four pitches he can command."
Matt Duffy twice scorched balls the opposite way for base hits. That’s the approach that makes it so easy to declare that his rookie season wasn’t fluky at all … Brandon Belt was 4 for 4 and hit a homer halfway up the batter’s eye in center. I have never seen him make an out at Salt River Fields … Grant Green hit his first homer of the spring ... Nobody has looked better this spring than Hunter Strickland, who sat 97-99 in a clean ninth ... Daniel Carbonell and Angel Villalona hit back-to-back for the Double-A lineup in Cueto's game. That had to be a brutal moment for all the team execs on hand.