DENVER — The Giants have two holes in their starting rotation and right-hander Johnny Cueto won’t be filling one anytime soon.
Giants manager Gabe Kapler said Wednesday that Cueto, who is on the injured list with a right elbow strain, will not pick up a baseball and begin a throwing program for at least 10 more days.
The best-case scenario for Cueto might be a return to the roster in the final week of the regular season, but it appears unlikely he’ll have enough time to build up his pitch count and contribute as a starter. If the Giants play deep into October, there’s a possibility Cueto can pitch in the postseason, but there are no guarantees his elbow injury will heal in time for the club’s longest-tenured starting pitcher to rejoin the team.
Kapler said left-hander Alex Wood, who tested positive for COVID-19 on Aug. 30, will be out of quarantine in San Francisco on Thursday and is on track to throw a bullpen session this weekend. With both starters on the injured list, the Giants are planning to have their bullpen cover every inning of Friday’s series opener against the Cubs.
If Cueto has thrown his final pitch in a Giants uniform, it will mark the end of a tenure that began with lofty expectations and finished with disappointment.
Former Giants general manager Bobby Evans made Cueto the highest-paid pitcher in franchise history in December 2015 when he signed the former Reds and Royals starter to a six-year, $130 million contract that surpassed the seven-year, $126 million contract Barry Zito received in December 2006 and the six-year, $127.5 million extension Matt Cain signed after the 2012 season.
Cueto’s deal includes a $22 million team option for the 2022 season, but the Giants will likely pay Cueto a $5 million buyout instead of retaining him.
The Giants’ investment in Cueto paid immediate dividends in 2016 when he posted a 2.79 ERA, started the All-Star Game for the National League and led the majors with five complete games while finishing sixth in Cy Young voting. Cueto was dominant in Game 1 of the 2016 NLDS against the Cubs as he struck out 10 batters over eight innings, but an eighth-inning home run hit by Javier Báez was enough to lead Chicago to a 1-0 victory.
Over the final five years of his contract, Cueto has averaged fewer than 15 starts per season as he pitched just nine games in 2018 before undergoing season-ending Tommy John surgery in August. The surgery kept Cueto out for all but the final three weeks of the 2019 season and has left him searching for the command and control that made him one of the more effective starters in the majors during the first half of his career.
Cueto has shown glimpses of his former self during the 2021 season as he’s posted a 4.09 ERA and recorded three starts of at least seven innings while holding an opponent to one run or fewer, but another elbow injury is now threatening to rob Cueto of the opportunity to help the Giants in the playoffs.
With Cueto out, veteran left-hander Scott Kazmir is a candidate to join the Giants’ rotation and he could be in the mix to start a game as soon as Sunday. Kazmir is not on the 40-man roster, but the Giants may select his contract from Triple-A Sacramento for the second time this year after he threw six innings of two-run ball Tuesday against the Salt Lake City Bees.
Kapler noted that Kazmir did not issue any walks in Tuesday’s outing, which is a sign his command has improved since returning from a stint pitching for Team USA in the Olympics.
The Giants are planning on having Kevin Gausman pitch on regular rest Saturday at Wrigley Field, but San Francisco is considering Kazmir for Sunday’s start because the club may give right-hander Logan Webb an additional day of rest following his ninth consecutive quality start in the club’s 12-3 win over the Rockies on Tuesday.
If Webb does get an extra day between starts, he’ll be lined up to face the Padres on Monday at Oracle Park.