SCOTTSDALE — As the ink dried on Johnny Cueto’s $130 million deal, the left side of the Giants infield exchanged text messages. Shortstop Brandon Crawford jokingly told third baseman Matt Duffy to keep his eyes up at the hot corner so he wouldn’t be caught off guard by Cueto’s famous wiggle.
“We were just joking around that you’ve got to be ready for the wiggle … but seriously, we actually do,” Crawford said Thursday. “It’s not as much the wiggle as it is the quick pitch.”
Cueto has confounded hitters for years in part because he is one of the most unique pitchers in the game. In addition to his traditional delivery, he at times will mix in an exaggerated turn and the wiggle as he comes to the plate. Then there’s the quick pitch that’s meant to throw off a hitter’s timing but also can be tricky for infielders. Cueto’s new teammates will need some time to adjust this spring, but they don’t anticipate any issues.
“It’s one of those things where if you keep your eyes up, you’ll be fine,” Duffy said.
Jean Machi mixed in a quick pitch when he was a Giant and Santiago Casilla will do it occasionally. Crawford will often shift in the moments before a pitch, gaining a crucial edge once he sees where Buster Posey is set up, and he doesn’t think Cueto will throw that off.
“With the wiggle, I might be ready a little early but I’ll still be ready,” he said. “But I should still be able to shift. He locates, and that’s the big reason why he’s a good pitcher — he puts the ball where he wants.”
The biggest adjustment may be for Posey, and the new battery should work together as early as Friday when Cueto throws his first bullpen session as a Giant. The right-hander, speaking through translator Erwin Higueros, said he’s looking forward to working with Posey. Cueto said the key to handling all his different looks is communication.
“It’s going to take some time,” he said.
It won’t take any time at all, though, for Posey to adjust to Cueto’s preferred part of the zone. Cueto struggled at first when he was dealt from Cincinnati to Kansas City last summer, but he rebounded after Royals catcher Salvador Perez altered his setup behind the plate. Cueto asked Perez to put down a low target, and he thinks Posey will do a good job of setting up down in the zone. Why is he so confident?
“Obviously Buster Posey is smaller than Salvador Perez,” Cueto said. “(Perez) is a big man. He adjusted to me and I adjusted to him.”
The two catchers are separated by two inches and 25 pounds, but eventually Cueto found a comfort zone last fall with one of the league’s biggest catchers. On Thursday, he looked immediately at peace in his new clubhouse.
Cueto’s long dreads had orange tips even before he signed with the Giants, and on his first day in camp he said he was happy to be here and eager to get to work. Asked about nerves, Cueto laughed and pointed out that he pitched in the World Series last year. Asked about the rest of the rotation, he said it’s the most accomplished one he has been a part of. Cueto quickly found a throwing partner, lining up across from Casilla, who also is from the Dominican Republic.
Cueto might have found a riding partner, too. He has 15 horses at his ranch back home and his eyes lit up when it was pointed out that Madison Bumgarner brought some of his horses from North Carolina to Arizona.
“We’ll see if he sells me one,” Cueto said. “Or gives me one for free.”
The 30-year-old smiled and looked up for the next question. He went on to tell reporters he thinks new protective helmets might make some pitchers look like bobbleheads, and he admitted he’s not a big fan of hitting.
“I really don’t like it 100 percent, but I’m back in the National League so I have to do it,” Cueto said.
In that respect, Bruce Bochy doesn’t quite have another Bumgarner on his hands. But the manager likes everything else he knows about his new star. He said he checked with friends around the game and was told that Cueto is a “great teammate,” someone who “has a lot of fun and brings a lot of charisma.”
“He’s a guy we really wanted,” Bochy said.