SAN DIEGO — The weight room in the visiting clubhouse at Petco Park is one of the smallest in the league, and it was overflowing after Wednesday’s 2-1 win over the Padres. There was a right-handed reliever doing crunches over by one wall and a left-handed reliever doing curls in the corner. Out by the lockers, another right-hander found a sliver of space for several sets of pushups.
Such is life for the Giants bullpen right now. After a month where Bruce Bochy’s go-to guys were stretched thin, the relievers have had three consecutive days off. The Giants were off Monday, and on Wednesday, a day after Madison Bumgarner’s complete game, Johnny Cueto tossed one of his own.
“Just sit there and enjoy your time,” a beaming Cueto said, through interpreter Erwin Higueros. “As long as we’re able to throw complete games, (the relievers) can sit and enjoy their time.”
The bullpen certainly did just that. Less than 24 hours after Cory Gearrin was the only one to even warm up, Gearrin and Santiago Casilla were the only relievers who pulled their hoodies off. Cueto was just that dominant, needing only 67 pitches to get through six and 102 to complete the eighth.
Manager Bruce Bochy didn’t think twice. Cueto got the ninth, and he opened it with two strikeouts. A Padres coach had simulated Cueto’s wiggling windup during batting practice, and Cueto went to the move with two strikes on Melvin Upton Jr., hoping to cap the night off in style. The fastball burned the outside corner but Cueto didn’t get the call, and he ended up walking Upton Jr.
Cueto took a peak at the bench, but it wasn’t necessary. Bochy was going to give him one more batter before calling for Casilla, and on his 117th pitch, Cueto got Derek Norris to pop up to catcher Buster Posey.
“Your great starters are great closers, too, and he knows how to finish the game,” Bochy said.
Cueto’s final flurry capped off a seventh straight win for the Giants, who will go for a perfect 7-0 trip on Thursday behind Jeff Samardzija, who has been just as hot as Cueto and Bumgarner. Samardzija has been an innings-eater early on, but he has some work to do to keep up to the No. 2 starter.
Cueto has thrown 66 2/3 innings, second in the big leagues to Clayton Kershaw (70). Bumgarner ranks fifth at 58 2/3 and Samardzija heads into Thursday a tick behind at 56 1/3.
“They’re extraordinary starting pitchers and extraordinary ballplayers,” right fielder Hunter Pence said. “It makes you look really good when the starting pitchers are doing that kind of exceptional work. It’s something not to take lightly.”
Pence made sure Cueto’s gem didn’t go to waste. He was looking for an elevated fastball or something down and off-speed from Drew Pomeranz with two strikes and a runner on in the fourth. He got the fastball at the letters and lofted a two-run homer to deep right. Cueto was given a 2-1 lead he wouldn’t relinquish.
“That was great,” he said. “We’re teammates now. That’s where he likes to hit the ball and it’s good to see him do it for me as opposed to against me.”
Bochy marveled at Pence’s ability to hit a pitch that high and outside over the fence. Later, he nodded in approval as Pence busted it out of the box on a grounder back to the mound and reached when Pomeranz rushed his throw and made an error.
“Most guys would have shut it down,” Bochy said. “That’s how you play the game. He’s unique. I’ve never seen a player quite like him, to be honest.”
The Giants haven’t had many, if any, like Cueto, either. He once again was as relaxed as possible on the mound, mixing firm fastballs with a steady diet of filthy off-speed pitches. Cueto walked off the mound with his 14th career complete game and second against the Padres this season. He has given up three runs over 16 innings during this winning streak, helping the Giants turn it up a notch after a lackluster April.
The bullpen was worked hard over the first month, but thanks to Bumgarner, Cueto and the other three starters, this has been a light stretch. Outside of the dash to the plate during Tuesday's game, the relievers have spent most of their time sitting out beyond the left-field fence, watching dominance. That’s just fine with Bochy.
“It’s great to give them a break,” he said.