A latissimus dorsi injury to Johnny Cueto cast a dark cloud over what was an otherwise picturesque day, both figuratively and literally, for the San Francisco Giants.
Cueto felt the muscle tighten up in the top of the sixth inning when he struck out Nick Castellanos, ending his day after just 5 2/3 innings. Nonetheless, the bullpen recorded the final 10 outs with ease to secure a 3-0 win over the Cincinnati Reds, clinch a series victory and wrap up a 5-1 homestand.
“Johnny had been throwing the ball so well,” Kapler said, “so it’s tough to lose him from this game, and ultimately if he has to miss some time, those are shoes that’ll be difficult to fill.”
San Francisco (8-4) had just scored two runs in the bottom of the fifth off Reds starter Tyler Mahle to finally break the stalemate, but after getting Jesse Winker to ground out and striking out Castellanos, Cueto motioned for trainer Dave Groeschner to come to the mound and promptly left.
“He felt it tighten up on the pitch before the strikeout,” Kapler said.
Up until that point, Cueto looked like he could have been in for another complete game bid. After coming up an out short of the complete game in Friday’s home opener, he was cruising through the Reds lineup, scattering three hits and throwing just 68 pitches before leaving.
The first three Cincinnati batters of the game all swung at the first pitch, setting the tone with an approach that the optimist would call aggressive and the critic would call impatient.
Mahle had similar successes for the Reds during his first trip through the lineup, retiring the side in order, but needed 27 pitches to get through the fourth despite striking out three batters and walking one.
“Nobody really remembers an inning where you don’t score runs, but when our hitters are spoiling pitches and those strikeouts are coming on 3-2 counts, we’re able to frustrate them,” Kapler said.
That lengthy inning seemed to open the door for the fifth. Donovan Solano singled for the Giants’ first hit, and Brandon Crawford replaced him at first base after a pop-up that Eugenio Suarez dropped but managed to throw to second to get the force out. Austin Slater, who tripled to right-center in Tuesday’s game, went to the same spot for an RBI double for the game’s first run. He then advanced to third on a passed ball, and, following the advice of third base coach Ron Wotus, the Giants put on the contact play. Slater got a good read on the chopper to short and managed to beat Suarez’s throw home, even with the infield in.
“That moment really stood out,” Kapler said.
With Cueto out of the game, Caleb Baragar needed two pitches to get Joey Votto to ground out to end the sixth. Logan Webb, who had been moved to the bullpen in advance of Alex Wood’s return from injury, pitched a quick seventh. Tyler Rogers, making his eighth appearance in 12 games, issued a leadoff walk to Jonathan India but followed that by getting Tyler Stephenson to bounce into a double play and induced a weak groundout from Nick Senzel.
The Giants added an insurance run against Sal Romano in the bottom of the eighth as Evan Longoria walked, went to second on a balk and scored on a pop-up single by Mauricio Dubon that went in and out of India’s glove. Jake McGee closed the game out with his league-leading sixth save, issuing a two-out walk to Votto but striking out Suarez to end the game.
Cincinnati (7-5) entered the week as the top scoring offense in all of baseball, but managed just nine runs over the three games at Oracle Park and scored just once in the final 16 innings of the series. The Reds never advanced a runner past second base on Wednesday and only saw five three-ball counts, with just one leading to a baserunner.
It was the second shutout of the year for a Giants team that didn’t have a single shutout in the 60-game 2020 season, and both of those shutouts have been called by backup catcher Curt Casali.
“It’s really similar to what Buster brings,” Kapler said of Casali. “It’s experience, it’s savvy, it’s confidence, it’s great relationships with the umpires.”
For a team that struggled to get any success from the catcher position in 2020, with the likes of a young Joey Bart, Tyler Heineman and Chadwick Tromp struggling to call games, Casali has been a welcome addition, both on the field and in the clubhouse.
“As the kids say, we’re vibin’ in there,” Casali joked.