San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Johnny Cueto (47) pitches against the Oakland Athletics at AT&T Park in San Francisco, California, in March 2017. Cueto complained of blisters after this game. (Stan Olszewski/Special to S.F. Examiner)

San Francisco Giants announce that Johnny Cueto will undergo Tommy John surgery

The San Francisco Giants announced today that starter Johnny Cueto will undergo Tommy John surgery on Thursday, ending his 2018 season. Cueto will travel to the Kerlin Jobe clinic in Los Angeles, to be operated on by Dr. Neal ElAttrache.

Cueto began this season by going 3-0 in his first five starts, holding opposing batters to a .150 average and sporting a 0.84 ERA, easily one of the best starts in baseball. In an April 21 start against the Los Angeles Angels of Anahiem, though, he began to feel tenderness in his right elbow. After allowing two runs in six innings against the Los Angeles Dodgers on April 27, he was placed on the disabled list.

When the Giants swung through Atlanta in early May, Cueto saw Dr. James Andrews in Pensacola, Fla., for a second opinion, and Andrews — a noted Tommy John surgeon — said the elbow could heal without surgery.

Since coming back from the 60-day disabled list, though, Cueto hasn’t been the same. He’s gone 0-2 with a 6.86 ERA and has thrown just 21 innings in four starts, with opposing teams hitting .349 against him. The final straw was on July 28, when he allowed four runs on eight hits in four innings in a loss to the Milwaukee Brewers. Every time he threw a pitch, Cueto said, his elbow bothered him just as it did in April.

“It’s very difficult, very hard to get loose,” Cueto said after the game, through an interpreter. “I felt really bad. I surely want to try and help the team. I want to go out there like a warrior and give my best, but I keep telling you guys, and I keep telling myself that I’m fine, but in reality, I’m not. I just feel sad that I can’t help. It’s very difficult every time I go out there.”

Cueto, 32, will almost certainly miss the entire 2019 season (the earliest he could return would be September, 2019), and may not rejoin the Giants until 2020, when he will have two years left on his six-year, $130 million contract. In his first year with San Francisco, Cueto won 18 games and posted a 2.79 ERA, but in 2017, he spent time on the disabled list with blister issues and a forearm strain, making seven fewer starts than in 2016.

The last Giants pitcher to undergo Tommy John was left-hander Will Smith, 29. Smith — who has taken over closer duties in the absence of Hunter Strickland — hurt his ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching elbow during a start against the White Sox last spring training, and needed 13 months to recover. He has a 1.31 ERA in 35 appearances this year.

With Jeff Samardzija and now Cueto out, the Giants will have to rely again on a young arm, with right-hander Chris Stratton likely to rejoin the San Francisco rotation. Stratton, 27, is 8-6 with a 5.14 ERA in 19 games this year, with 18 starts.

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