San Francisco Giants pitcher Johnny Cueto celebrates after inducing a double play against the Los Angeles Angels at Angel Stadium on April 22, 2018. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

San Francisco Giants: Johnny Cueto’s rehab start goes well, Hanson to play third

AT&T PARK — Through Johnny Cueto’s first five starts this season, San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy thought the right-hander looked like the best pitcher in baseball. Cueto sported a 3-0 record and 0.84 ERA.

Cueto, though, felt pain in his elbow following his April 28 outing against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Bochy believed surgery would be necessary. With Madison Bumgarner already out with a broken hand at that point, a long-term injury to Cueto would threaten to unravel the season.

Now, however, it’s clear Cueto’s elbow sprain wasn’t as serious as it initially appeared. He won’t go under the knife. His first rehab start on Saturday with Triple-A Sacramento went well — he went 3.2 innings, struck out four and allowed one hit. And instead of an unraveling season, the Giants remain in the NL West race as they approach the All-Star break.

“With what he went through having to wait so long and just watching his bullpens and throwing to hitters, I was really encouraged how he threw last night,” Bochy said. “I thought he would be a little further behind, but the breaking ball was really good … and he really located the fastball.”

With a couple more rehab outings, Cueto will be ready to rejoin the Giants. Jeff Samardzija, also injured, should return soon too. Bochy is optimistic that’ll make his staff more formidable in the second half of the season.

The Giants already returned Bumgarner, who earned his first win of the season Thursday, tossing eight scoreless innings against the San Diego Padres.

Despite Bumgarner and Cueto’s injury issues over the past two seasons, Bochy believes they’re still one of the top tandems when healthy.

“I have two number one guys,” Bochy said. “Madison the way he throws, really they’re both number ones. That’s going to change your rotation.”

San Francisco will have some difficult decisions to make regarding whom to send down or move to the bullpen when it gets its top-line hurlers back. Andrew Suarez, Chris Stratton, Derek Holland and Dereck Rodriguez have all pitched well this past week. Rodriguez, a rookie, will start Sunday against the Padres.

Bochy said the team has started thinking about what to do when it has a pitching surplus, but he acknowledged there’s not yet a clear answer.

*****

Alen Hanson will play third base for the fifth time this year. He’s more comfortable at second, but took ground balls at third before Sunday’s game. Bochy said he has a lot of faith in the utility player and wants to keep him in the lineup as often as he can.

Hanson is hitting .299 and has a triple and stolen base in the series against the Padres.

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