ST. LOUIS — Major League teams spend millions on methods they hope will limit arm injuries, and while the Giants don’t claim that one of their go-to moves is a cure, they do believe it helps. Bruce Bochy and Dave Righetti have historically used days off to get extra rest, not extra starts, for their stars, and they’ll do so again next week.
The Giants will keep Albert Suarez in the rotation for at least one more start, Bochy said after Friday’s 5-1 win over the Cardinals. They could have skipped the No. 5 spot twice next week, allowing Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto to face the Red Sox and Bumgarner to come back Sunday night against the Dodgers. Instead, Bochy is opting for extra rest.
“We’re going to keep things in order,” he said. “We’ve been riding these guys pretty hard and we’re in the early part of June.”
Friday’s win showed why moves like this are so important. Cueto has been battling some back discomfort, and he twice looked out of sorts on a night he walked five, three more than his previous season-high. Bochy checked on him after a fifth inning pitch that sent Cueto pacing around the mound. On a grounder back at his feet he barely bent over.
Cueto said he’s fine, and he didn’t use any back tightness as an excuse for the wild night. The rising pitch count numbers, however, show why it’s best to exercise caution two months into the season. Bumgarner entered Friday with an NL-leading 1,279 pitches thrown. By the time his six strong innings were done, Cueto ranked second at 1,273.
“It might serve them well,” Bochy said of the extra rest next week.
Even without his best stuff, Cueto gave up just one unearned run while picking up his ninth win. That showed again why he was so coveted by the Giants. Cueto battled, leaving the bases loaded in the third and keeping all five Cardinals who walked from scoring.
“I felt fine — everything was fine,” he said. “It just wasn’t my day today.”
His teammates, who have come to adore him, noticed. Buster Posey and Brandon Crawford went out to check on Cueto after the grounder that uncharacteristically got by him. Cueto never wavered, and he left with a 2-1 lead.
“That for me is what makes him special,” third baseman Matt Duffy said. “Even when he was off with his command, which I think is his strength, he still can get through six.”
An often shaky bullpen took over from there, with Bochy taking advantage of Bumgarner’s eight innings on Thursday. With a rested bullpen he played matchups into the ninth. That’s when Trevor Rosenthal walked the bases loaded and Denard Span poked a single through the right side for two tack-on runs. Duffy’s squeeze bunt made it 5-1.
The win came a few hours after the Giants announced that Hunter Pence will miss about eight weeks after having surgery to remove a torn tendon just behind his right knee. The Giants will continue to lean on their pitching, but Bochy challenged his hitters to chip in more with Pence out, and on the first night they did. The six opening day starters who take the field Friday all had hits.
“Most of us know we’re underperforming as an offense,” Duffy said. “I don’t think we’re putting pressure on ourselves. We’re trying to make little adjustments. I think it’s getting there.”
--- If you missed it earlier, here’s my recap of May, a healthier time.
--- Told that Posey was trying to bunt for a hit in the eighth, Duffy smiled and paused for quite a while. "He would have had to put it in a pretty good place," he said.