SAN FRANCISCO – The Giants are 40 games back in the NL West for the first time since 1943, but they still have six weeks of baseball to play.
They hope to have Johnny Cueto back for most of it – and the way Bruce Bochy talked about the rehabbing right-hander, the club is assuming they will have Cueto for four more years, too.
Cueto came out of Tuesday’s three-inning rehab start for Triple-A Sacramento with no issues, and Bochy said he hoped the right-hander would require just one more minor league tuneup before he rejoins the rotation.
What does he want to see from Cueto down the stretch?
“Just be a healthy Johnny,” Bochy said. “Just be who he is. We’re not going to grind him out in these games. We just want to get him back on track with his good command, so next year he has a good feeling with where he’s at.”
Cueto hasn’t appeared in a big league game since July 14 because of blisters and a forearm strain, but the Giants hope to have him back in the rotation in September — and beyond that, too.
He can opt out of his contract after the season, and while it would be difficult to imagine him leaving four years and $84 million on the table to take his chances as a free agent, he also knows that pitchers have parlayed less than one month into some major paydays.
In other words: Cueto is likely to stay, but no decision has been made.
“Well, I just assume,” Bochy said. “I stay on the positive side. He’s got the choice, but right now he’s with us and until he’s not, I’m planning on him being with us.”
You could argue that Cueto becoming a free agent, and reducing an $84 million payroll obligation, is the best possible thing that could happen to the Giants as they seek to retool a massively disappointing roster with limited financial flexibility if they want to stay below the luxury tax in 2018.
Then again, a healthy and effective Cueto returning to top form, alongside a healthy Madison Bumgarner, might be the best and most realistic chance the Giants have of becoming legitimate contenders again next season.
You’ll consider the latter scenario if, like Bochy, you stay on the positive side.
Joe Panik came out of his five-inning rehab game for Sacramento with no concussion symptoms. He will play seven innings for San Jose at Visalia on Wednesday, although Bochy made no pronouncements about activating his second baseman for this weekend’s series at Arizona.
As for Brandon Belt, there is no update on his concussion symptoms. And in this case, no news is definitely not good news.
Bochy said he estimated Belt would need three more weeks. But any prediction contains an element of folly. It’s just hard to read at this point.
Hunter Pence is missing his second consecutive game with a tight left hamstring – an injury that sent him to the DL for 20 games earlier this season. Of course, he missed two months because of right hamstring tendon surgery last year.
Pence is under contract to make $18 million next year, and he acknowledged, “I’ll have to figure out a way to manage” these hamstring issues.
The Giants will try to take two of three from the Brew Crew. Denard Span gets a day off. Raise your hand if you predicted the Parker-Gorkys-Moncrief trio in the outfield in spring training.
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