AT&T PARK — After scoring just three runs in three games at Coors Field of all places, the San Francisco Giants came home with at least a modicum of hope. They had Johnny Cueto headed to the mound after all.
Coming off the 60-day disabled list, Cueto’s return — especially against a pitcher in Luke Weaver who hadn’t pitched into the seventh since May 22 — was supposed to be a celebration.
It turned into something perfectly awful for the home crowd on Dia De Cueto: Weaver took a perfect game into sixth before Gorkys Hernandez broke it up with a one-out infield single, and scoring just three runs in a three-game series against the Colorado Rockies, the Giants continued their offensive slumber, falling 11-2 to Weaver and the St. Louis Cardinals.
“We’ve got to wake up this offense,” said manager Bruce Bochy, who joked before the game that had he known the Giants would score just three runs against the Rockies, he wouldn’t have made the trip.
A bumpy first by Cueto didn’t help matters. After a leadoff walk to Carpenter, he allowed singles to Tommy Pham and Yadier Molina, then an RBI groundout and a three-run homer by Jedd Gyorko.
“Afuera, afuera,” Cueto said in Spanish, meaning “outside, outside,” when asked about where his 3-0 pitch to Gyorko should have been.
In his career, Cueto has a 4.25 ERA in the first inning, with opponents hitting .271 against him.
“Johnny was OK, in the first inning, you could tell he was feeling for it,” said manager Bruce Bochy. “He got himself in trouble there, but after that, he just got better, and that’s encouraging.”
Cueto allowed five runs and 10 hits in five innings, including the three-run blast in the first to Gyorko and a two-out solo shot in the second to Matt Carpenter.
Through an interpreter, Cueto said he was missing his spots, and wanted to put the ball outside, but Gyorko was aggressive, and Cueto missed.
The Dominican right-hander was game to throw up to about 90 pitches in his first big league start since April 28, but only lasted 76, striking out two and walking two. After the first, though, Cueto settled down.
“Everything was fine, except in the first inning, where I was just trying to be too fine,” Cueto said through his interpreter. “Instead of pitching, I was trying to place the ball in the strike zone. After that, I was like, ‘That’s it, I’ve already allowed too many runs, and I’ve got to settle myself down.’ I think that was the change.”
He allowed six hits and one run — Carpenter’s homer on a cutter — over the next four innings. He touched 92 mph with his fastball, and sat around 89-90, a few ticks below his normal fastball velocity.
“Things happen, I was out almost two months, I’m happy with what I did today, and I just have to continue to work my way back to where I was,” Cueto said through his interpreter.
Cueto was placed on the 10-day disabled list on May 2 with elbow inflammation, and on May 10, was transferred to the 60-day disabled list with what was diagnosed by Dr. James Andrews as a sprained elbow. Before going down with elbow inflammation on May 2, Cueto was 3-0 with a 0.84 ERA in his first five starts.
“He’ll get better,” Bochy said. “He got to a point where I thought he was comfortable out there, and starting to hit his spots, using all his pitches well, so we’ll see how he feels tomorrow.”
Bochy likened Cueto’s first start back to Madison Bumgarner’s first two outings coming off the 60-day disabled list. During those two games, Bumgarner went 0-1 with a 4.76 ERA.
“They’re getting settled in, and you have to be encouraged with the way he just got better as he went,” Bochy said. “Got through the fifth, stuff was pretty good there, so that’s why I think he should feel pretty good about the start. Sure, you’d like to take that first inning away, but that counts, too.”
Weaver, for his part, only allowed two runs on two hits in his eight innings of work, striking out seven. The only offense the Giants were able to muster was a high-arching two-run home run by Alen Hanson in the sixth, after Hernandez broke up the perfect game. It was San Francisco’s first extra-base hit in 23 innings.
“As soon as [Hernandez] chopped it and Jedd [Gyorko] had to dive, I had a feeling there was not going to be a chance to get him,” said Weaver, who came in with a 5.16 ERA. “It would have had to have been an incredible slide, jump up, throw, and I still don’t think he would have gotten him. It wasn’t a big deal. I was pretty upset about the home run.”
That homer, though,came after the Cardinals (45-41) had put the game out of reach. Ty Blach came on in relief of Cueto in the sixth and promptly allowed four more runs on three hard-hit singles, a walk and a two-run fly ball double to left by Gyorko. A two-run seventh-inning home run by Harrison Bader against erstwhile starter Derek Holland put a capper on San Francisco’s homecoming.
Holland went 3 1/3 innings in his first bullpen stint since being bumped from the rotation. He allowed four hits and two earned runs, but struck out seven.
“We wanted to give him some work, and he saved the bullpen,” Bochy said. “I thought overall, it was pretty good work there. Derek had good stuff, and he looked pretty comfortable coming out of the bullpen.”