AT&T PARK — There’s no one who disrupts a hitter’s timing quite like Johnny Cueto.
And his secret is all in the hips.
“I think our scouting report is to out-shimmy him,” joked San Diego Padres manager Andy Green before the Dominican twisted, turned and shook his way to his 100th career win as the Giants edged the visitors 1-0 on Tuesday. “If he’s shaking — maybe we’re throwing the shoulders a little bit too.”
Cueto threw a complete-game shutout, racking up 11 strikeouts in the process, and proved he’s the most difficult pitcher to get comfortable against in baseball.
“It’s pretty old school, man,” Matt Kemp said of the Giants No. 2 starter who is the modern day Luis Tiant. “I think a lot of old-school guys used to do stuff like that. Not a lot of people do those different type of herky-jerky type things.”
With four kinds of deliveries and a six-pitch arsenal, hitters just don’t know what to expect when Cueto toes the mound.
The righty has one delivery where he does a little twist of the hips. He has another where he goes for a full-on shimmy. Then there’s a third where he goes for the big shake of the hips and even dips his shoulders. And there’s even a fourth where he feigns like he’s going to wobble before stopping short and uncorking a quick pitch.
Kemp, who owns a healthy .350 average (7-for-20) against Cueto, had no interest in revealing his scouting report on one of the new aces of the National League West.
“You want me to tell you the [trick?]” the two-time All-star said incredulously when asked the secret to his success. “Nah. It’s about division. For me, I’m not going to talk about my approach against him. But he’s a great pitcher. He does mess up a lot of people’s timing.”
Kemp’s skipper was more forthcoming on the game plan versus Cueto.
“[If] we get him into the stretch, he can’t do all that [shimmying],” Green explained. “So, the goal is get someone on base early. It’s easier said than done sometimes against a quality pitcher like him. But if we get guys on base, it kind of takes that element out of it for him. [It] makes it much more difficult for him.”
Green was onto something — as Cueto entered the contest with a .343 opponents’ average with runners on.
But on Tuesday night, it didn’t matter if there was any traffic on the bases. With Cueto varying his deliveries and offerings like a master, one Padre after the other went spinning out of the batter’s box like a top.
“I love watching a game where a pitcher is like an artist out there,” manager Bruce Bochy said.
In the fifth inning, Cueto helped his own cause by dropping a textbook bunt that died in the grass, allowing Brandon Crawford to advance to second. Two batters later, Denard Span crushed a two-out double off the brick wall in right-center field to give Cueto the only support he’d need.
“When we got that run, you could see he kind of smelled it there a little bit,” Bochy said. “And he turned it up a notch and really elevated his game.
Cueto agreed with the assessment.
“After that I was a little bit more aggressive, which you always want after your team scores a run,” Cueto said through the club’s interpreter.
Just like he always knows when to turn and when to twist, Cueto understands when it’s time to ramp up the emotion and when it’s time to rein it in.
“I wasn’t even thinking about the 100 wins,” Cueto said. “I was just taking it like a regular day,”