Before Johnny Cueto underwent Tommy John surgery last August, one of his favorite meals was steak. His Instagram account was full of photos and videos of sizzling sirloin. But, he knew he’d have to give it up if didn’t want to blow up after going under the knife.
Now, thanks to a fitness regimen, Cueto is in the best shape of his life. “I feel like I’m 19 years old again,” Cueto said on Saturday, through Giants interpreter Erwin Higueros.
After throwing a bullpen at Dodger Stadium before San Francisco’s 1-0 win, Cueto is ready to get back on a big league mound. Just over 13 months after the procedure, he’ll start on Tuesday against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Oracle Park.
“I just want to thank God,” Cueto said. “I feel really good, and I just hope that when Tuesday comes, I’m ready to do my job, and do the job that I always do.”
It’s entirely possible that the Giants could go with a six-man rotation to give Cueto a week between starts to ease him back in. Madison Bumgarner is slated to go on Monday, and then Cueto would be followed by Logan Webb, Jeff Samardzija, Tyler Beede, Dereck Rodriguez and Bumgarner again on Sept. 15 before an off day on what would be Cueto’s turn on Sept. 16. He could then pitch Sept. 17 in Boston and then Sept. 24 against Colorado at home, after another off day on Sept. 23.
Cueto was one of the best pitchers in baseball through the first month of 2018. Through five starts, he was 3-0 with a microscopic 0.84 ERA and 26 strikeouts in 32 innings to just six walks. Then, after two starts in Los Angeles — one against the Angels, the other against the Dodgers — he started to feel pain in his elbow. He was shut down for two months, but when he returned in July, he was far from the two-time All-Star the Giants signed.
In his final four starts, he gave up 16 earned runs in 21 innings with just 12 strikeouts before Dr. James Andrews recommended surgery.
His post-operation regimen included a heavy running program to keep weight off, and he had to surrender his steaks for fish and chicken. From a high of 240 pounds, he’s now down to 219, and his cholesterol is better, too.
“It was mostly the diet,” Cueto said. “A lot of chicken and salmon.”
Having his son Joande with him while he rehabbed in Arizona was a big boost, psychologically, and kept him honest through the process.
He experienced some back tightness — which is why he won’t pitch in Los Angeles during this road trip — but that’s cleared up, and he’s coming back right when he predicted he would a year ago, give or take a week.
“This is a process,” Cueto said. “For me, this is like spring training. I’ve got to make sure I execute my pitches. I’ve got to make sure I do everything and make sure everything is right.”
Once he gets through Tuesday, he may give himself a cheat day.