By Ben Leonard
When you sign a $120 million dollar contract, you’re going to be scrutinized. Even though you’ve earned it, it’s hard to convince the public you have. It’s understandable — it’s a lot of money.
In his first game under the microscope, Johnny Cueto made a great first impression on Giants fans in his first outing, going seven strong innings to lead the Giants to a 2-1 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers.
In his first start with the Giants, Cueto flummoxed the Brewers with deception, his hallmark, along with a little flair and dare I say, attitude. Yes, Goose Gossage, it’s okay to have fun. He mixed up his motion, winding up and turning his back to the hitter one pitch, and quick-pitching the next, keeping hitters guessing. It certainly worked — he struck out four and gave up just six hits, walking none, giving up just the one run on a double play in the second.
One of those strikeouts had even Brewers’ star outfielder Ryan Braun marveling. With the count full, Cueto delivered a filthy changeup that had Braun well out in front, and all he could do was smile and shake his head in wonder.
For the Giants, that’s exactly what they thought Cueto would do game in and game out when they inked him to that six-year deal. It’s obviously a little early to judge the deal’s success, but Cueto is certainly an upgrade over who the Giants rolled out last season as their number two starter — Tim Hudson, anyone?
Cueto adds depth and star power to the rotation, joining Madison Bumgarner, new addition Jeff Samardzija, Jake Peavy, and Matt Cain. He even hustles off the mound — he probably had the training staff shaking their heads when he tried desperately to leg out a ground ball for a hit in his first at-bat.
The rest of the Giants’ offense ground just as hard as Cueto did, but were able to squeak out just seven hits and two runs, somewhat stymied by Brewers’ starter Jimmy Nelson, who matched Cueto’s seven-inning effort, but just didn’t do enough to beat him.
Nelson surrendered a towering home run to Brandon Crawford in the third, and gave up the decisive second run when Matt Duffy grounded into a double play with the bases loaded in the fourth, driving in Joe Panik. Not quite the explosion they worked on Monday, but a win is a win.
On Wednesday, the Giants will roll out their other sparkling new arm, Samardzija, for his Giants’ debut. Samardizja will face similarly high expectations after signing a five-year, $90 million contract this offseason. He’ll take on Taylor Jungmann, who went 9-8 with a 3.77 ERA last season for Milwaukee.