SAN FRANCISCO — Johnny Cueto looked like himself.
And that’s all the San Francisco Giants could hope for on Tuesday night.
Cueto needed 69 pitches to throw shutout innings of one-hit ball against the Pittsburgh Pirates in an outstanding 2019 season debut.
After undergoing Tommy John surgery to repair a torn UCL in his pitching elbow, the right-hander returned to the mound at Oracle Park for the first time since July 28, 2018.
“It’s been awhile,” manager Bruce Bochy said before the game.
Cueto racked up four strikeouts and only allowed two baserunners against Pittsburgh, both of which reached in the third inning. The only batter who recorded a hit against Cueto, Kevin Kramer, was the last hitter he faced as Cueto won an eight-pitch battle by striking out Kramer on 3-2 changeup to close out the top of the fifth.
Cueto made six rehab starts over the last five weeks and was on pace to pitch in the majors for the first time this year at Dodger Stadium over the weekend. A bout with back tightness forced Cueto and the Giants to take a cautious approach and push his debut back, but after a solid bullpen in Los Angeles, the Giants targeted Tuesday’s game against the Pirates as Cueto’s return.
Cueto said over the weekend that he lost nearly 20 pounds during his rehab process as he worked himself into better shape. The dedication Cueto showed throughout his recovery process made quite an impression on his manager.
“You see the shape he’s gotten himself into,” Bochy said. “He’s just a very determined man to get back on the mound and get back to being the great pitcher that he is.”
Cueto received a standing ovation from the crowd at Oracle Park after an 11-pitch first inning in which he retired all three batters he faced. It didn’t take long for Cueto to look like his old self as the veteran pitcher was determined to keep hitters off balance with various windups and deliveries.
“He’s got an entertainment aspect to his game,” Bochy said pregame. “That’s who he is. He likes to entertain. He’s got great focus, too. What’s incredible with all of the twists and turns and quick pitches is his remarkable control.”
Cueto’s fastball velocity maxed out at 93.4 miles per hour and he showed an ability to command all four of his pitches for strikes on Tuesday.
The Giants were eager to see Cueto regain form as the 33-year-old has two years and more than $40 million remaining on his contract after this season.