Johnny Cueto kept the Giants in the playoff race on Thursday. (Emma Chiang/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Johnny Cueto kept the Giants in the playoff race on Thursday. (Emma Chiang/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Johnny Cueto, Zack Greinke meet again

In an alternate baseball universe — not that far from our own — Johnny Cueto and Zack Greinke are also facing off in the opener of this two-game set at AT&T Park.

“They’re similar in the respect that they’re artist-like pitchers — the way they can paint out there with all their pitches,” San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “So, it’s a great matchup.”

The difference is that Greinke is wearing Sedona Red and Sonoran Sand and Cueto is decked out in orange and black.

Before the Arizona Diamondbacks landed Greinke with a shocking six-year, $206.5 million megadeal on Dec. 8, Cueto had been at the top of the organizational wish list.

The D’backs thought so highly of the dreadlocked righty that general manager Dave Stewart went to the Dominican Republic to recruit him personally, according to Nick Piecoro of AZ Central Sports. The problem, as Piecoro reported, was that Cueto said “no” to the club’s six-year, $120 million offer.

Had Cueto said “yes,” Greinke would have never ended up in the desert. There was a good chance he could have signed up to be Madison Bumgarner’s sidekck.

At the time, every outlet from — Fox Sports to ESPN to USA Today — had Greinke choosing between the San Francisco Giants and the Los Angeles Dodgers. He didn’t. And on Dec. 17 the Giants got Cueto on a six-year, $130-million pact.

Tonight marks the third time the Giants have faced Greinke in 2016 and the second time Cueto has. Cueto got the upper hand in the first meeting, striking out nine in the 4-2 win on May 12.

Notes:

Hunter Pence returns to the lineup for the first time since Thursday in Los Angeles.

“We’ll keep an eye on him,” Bochy said of the right fielder, who has been dealing with hamstring tightness. He says he’s good to go. Probably more importantly, the medical staff thinks he’s good to go.”

Bochy admitted that Pence isn’t quite back to 100 percent.

“He’s probably real close, but if he feels anything then we’ll have to adjust,” Bochy said. “I don’t want to have him risk having a setback. That’s the case with anybody who’s been injured.”

Bochy has yet to decide who will start on Friday in Chicago when the team next needs a fifth starter.

“[That’s] TBD or TBA,” Bochy said. “Which one is it?”

Matt Cain and Albert Suarez are the leading candidates, but Ty Blach could also be called up from the Triple-A Sacramento River Cats when rosters expand Sept. 1.

Expect plenty of reinforcements when the Giants arrive at Wrigley Field on Thursday.

“We’ll have quite a few guys joining us in Chicago,” Bochy said.

One of those guys is Joe Nathan, who inked a minor league deal earlier this month.

“The way he’s pitching for us, he wouldn’t be pitching there in Double A [if he wasn’t a possibility],” Bochy said.

The 41-year-old has pitched four scoreless outings for the Richmond Flying Squirrels, but the Giants would need need to find a way to add him to the 40-man roster.

“He’s doing what we were hoping he’d do and that’s throwing the ball well,” Bochy said.Arizona DiamondbacksBruce BochyHunter Pencejoe nathanJohnny Cuetokarl buscheckMatt CainMLBSan FranciscoZack Greinke

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