PHILADELPHIA – The blisters on Johnny Cueto’s right hand have been nagging him all season. One on his middle finger, another on the pad of his pointer.
The layman can tolerate a blister, live with it, get through the day without too much pain. But if you’re Cueto, and your job is to repeatedly hurl a baseball at speeds exceeding 95 mph, a blister can be a curse, or, as the American Journal of Orthopedics puts it, “a major performance disruption.”
Cueto, winless against the Philadelphia Phillies since 2010, pitched well through six innings, but in the top of the seventh he gave up a pair of singles to Maikel Franco and Andrew Knapp, prompting manager Bruce Bochy to pull the right-hander.
“He had gone far enough,” said Bochy after the Giants’ 5-3 loss.
Reliever Hunter Strickland entered the game and on his first pitch surrendered an RBI single to Freddy Galvis, giving the Phils a 2-1 lead. Currently appealing his suspension following last week’s dust-up with the Washington Nationals’ Bryce Harper, Strickland faltered against the next two hitters he faced, resulting in a bases-loaded double from Odubel Herrera that brought home three runs and stretched the Phillies’ lead to four.
“Strick was getting too much of the plate with some of his pitches and they took advantage of it,” Bochy said. “But you’ve got to give it to them. They had some pretty good at-bats in that inning, got some hits.”
Phillies’ starting pitcher Ben Lively, making his major league debut on Saturday, held the Giants to one run on four hits after a night in which they exploded for a season-high 10 runs.
“We couldn’t figure their kid out,” Bochy said with a frown. “He had a little different arm angle, a little different delivery. Not quite a sidearm, but somewhere in between. His four-seamer stayed up and had some rising life to it.”
The Giants’ offense didn’t get things going until the ninth. Brandon Belt led off with a double to right field and then scored a run thanks to Brandon Crawford’s single up the middle. After Orlando Calixte finessed his third hit as a Giant, pinch-hitter Aaron Hill singled off reliever Hector Neris, driving home Crawford and cutting the Phils’ lead to two. But it just wasn’t enough.
“You keep fighting for nine, and they did that,” said Bochy. “But we’d like to finish the deal, find a way to win on a more consistent basis. Our offense didn’t wake up until it was too late.”
Despite fanning nine, Cueto was credited with the loss, dropping his record to 5-5.
“If you look at the game overall,” said Bochy, “Johnny threw well. He pitched a great game. A big inning got us is all.”
Cueto says that the blisters are almost gone, and that the more he pitches the better he feels.
But one has to wonder. As he dusts the rubber with a sweep of his cleat, shaking out both arms and puffing his chest before a pitch, is he thinking about those tiny pustules on the tips of his fingers?