Johnny Cueto at Spring Training on time, ready to move on from ‘difficult year’

Johnny Cueto knows 2017 fell short of expectations.

The San Francisco Giants’ No. 2 starter battled blisters before the regular season began, leading to his fewest innings pitched since 2013.

He missed Spring Training last season to be with his father who needed help securing medical care, but this year he arrived “early.”

“It was a difficult year,” Cueto told reporters through team interpreter Erwin Higueros. “I tried to find myself but, unfortunately, I wasn’t able to do it. But that was last year, and this is a new year.”

Cueto hasn’t been able to take the mound in Arizona due to a battle with an illness.

“He’s pretty washed out from having this bug. I don’t know if it was the flu or what,” manager Bruce Bochy told reporters. “He just has to get some strength back. We have time. We don’t look at it as a setback, so to speak.”

Cueto, who turns 32 today, said he never considered opting out of his contract with the Giants. His deal includes a player option that made it difficult for the front office to trade him around the trade deadline last season.

“My intention was to stay with the Giants, but having a bad year made the decision easy. Even if I would have had a good year, I would have stayed,” he said. “I like the team, I like my teammates and the training staff is great.”

In the offseason, Cueto did what he said he always does when he gets some downtime: “Just ride my horses and feed my chickens.”

Pablo praises Longo

Former World Series hero and lightning rod for arguments among fans Pablo Sandoval arrived to camp with pitchers and catchers on Wednesday. He’s eager to continue his baseball career after being cut by the Boston Red Sox last season.

Sandoval was effusive of San Francisco’s front office and the moves they made to improve the roster. He heaped praise on Evan Longoria, who will be ahead of him on the depth chart at third base — should he make the team out of camp.

“Tough guy, great hitter, great defensive player,” Sandoval told reporters. “Especially teammate, from what I heard, one of the greatest. He’s a leader in the clubhouse.”

Sandoval wasn’t the only position player to arrive early. Brandon Crawford and Brandon Belt got to Scottsdale on Wednesday, while Hunter Pence and McCutchen landed the day before.

Smith won’t be getting jiggy Opening Day

The Giants badly needed competent relievers last year, and the consensus was they’d get some help in the upcoming season with the return of Will Smith.

The lefty needed Tommy John surgery around this time last year. On Tuesday, Bochy told reporters that Smith is targeting a May 1 return date.

Smith, 26, has a career 3.88 ERA (105 ERA+) and had a breakthrough season in 2016 when the Giants traded Phil Bickford and Andrew Susac for him.

A’s starting rotation battle starts early

The Oakland A’s have a lot of exciting young arms. Kendall Graveman, Jharel Cotton, Sean Manaea, Daniel Mengden, A.J. Puk, Daniel Gossett, Andrew Triggs and Chris Bassitt all hope to claim spots in the starting rotation.

That leaves a good deal of work for manager Bob Melvin, who will have to sort through those options to put the best product on the field.

Another possible contender is someone A’s fans have wanted to get an extended look at since the team sent Josh Reddick and Rich Hill to the Dodgers in 2016: Frankie Montas. He made 23 appearances last season (to pretty poor results) but will be treated as a starter throughout camp. Although he’d have to really impress to crack the major-league roster on Opening Day, the A’s are going to focus on building the 24 year old’s arm strength.

“He’s been a starter before and has the stuff to be a high-end starter,” Melvin told reporters. “We’ll try to build him up some.”

jpalmer@sfexaminer.com

Jacob C. Palmer
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