SAN FRANCISCO — When we last saw Johnny Cueto 25 days ago, he signaled there was a problem with two outs in the sixth inning and departed with a lat strain.
The Giants right hander made it through three innings Sunday against the San Diego Padres at Oracle Park, but it wasn’t the same guy who had been dazzling in his first three starts.
The Padres roughed up Cueto en route to an 11-1 win over the Giants before a Mother’s Day crowd of 10,008, averting a series split.
The Giants (20-14) bid adieu to the Padres (19-16) with a 1 1/2 game lead in the National League West, having won five of nine games from a team they hope to contend with for the rest of the season. They don’t play again until Sept. 13.
Jake Cronenworth and Fernando Tatis Jr. hit tape measure two-run home runs against Cueto in the fourth inning, the fourth for Cronenworth and the ninth for Tatis.
Cueto (2-1) made it through the third, giving up another run, but gave up eight hits and five earned runs in seeing his ERA balloon from 1.80 to 3.52. In his first game since April 14, Cueto threw 64 pitches, 39 strikes, and gave up loud contact throughout.
The good news was Cueto felt better than he pitched and appears healthy enough to get back on track in his next start.
“I felt really good,” Cueto said through interpreter Erwin Higueros. “I was a little worried about the injury but I’m happy everthing was fine.”
Left-hander Ryan Weathers (2-1) was the winning pitcher for San Diego, pitching scoreless ball from the fourth through sixth innings after opener Chris Paddack blanked the Giants through the first three. Emilio Pagan, Drew Pomeranz and Austin Adams finished things off with an inning each in relief.
Giants manager Gabe Kapler was encouraged by the zip on Cueto’s pitches, if not the bottom line.
“We saw a healthy pitcher, we saw a pitcher that had life on his stuff,” Kapler said.
The Padres made it 5-0 against Cueto in the third inning on consecutive singles by Manny Machado, Eric Hosmer and Wil Myers and it could have been worse. Victor Caratini, batting with the bases loaded, hit a line drive to right that narrowly missed being a grand slam before fouling out. Then Paddack, the pitcher hit a sinking liner to center that Steven Duggar caught with a dive to end the inning.
Cronenworth and Tatis roughed up Cueto in the second with tape-measure shots that put the Giants down by four runs.
Myers opened the inning with a slow roller toward third that Evan Longora let roll, hoping it would go foul. Instead, the ball hit the bag for a single.
Cronenworth was next, and he hit a no doubter into McCovey Cove to give the Padres a 2-0 lead. It was the fourth splash hit by a Padres player, with Cronenworth joining Ryan Klesko (2003), Brian Giles (2008) and Yasmani Grandal (2014) at getting one wet on a fly.
More like Jake COVEnworth send tweet pic.twitter.com/oLMrecCxE2
— San Diego Padres (@Padres) May 9, 2021
San Diego wasn’t done.
After Jurickson Profar grounded out, Caratini hit double to left center and after Cueto struck out Paddack, Tatis hit a shot midway up the bleachers measured at 454 feet for another two-run home run and a 4-0 San Diego lead.
454 feet for @tatis_jr on #MothersDay! pic.twitter.com/bskbw5wE5A
— San Diego Padres (@Padres) May 9, 2021
“Just a couple of pitches I left up, the slider I left up for Tatis and the one to Cronenworth,” Cueto said. “There’s a lot of basball left.”
The Padres removed any doubt about the outcome with a four-run eighth inning that included a two-run triple by Trent Grisham off the glove of a diving Mike Tauchman in left field and a run-scoring single from Hosmer.
Pitcher Jose Alvarez could have gotten out of the inning unscathed had he not thrown a potential double play ball by Tatis into center field.
— Trailing by eight runs, outfielder Darin Ruf made his first major league appearance as a pitcher in the top of the ninth inning for the Giants. With velocity ranging from 71 to 77 miles per hour, Ruf gave up two runs on three hits, with a run-scoring double by Jorge Mateo and a sacrifice fly by Ha-Seong Kim.
“Any time you can save one inning for a reliever in a game that is really difficult to win we can do that,” Kapler said. “It’s not any sort of religious philosophy, but it was either use Selman in that game and maybe have a less fresh version of Selman tomorrow, or ask Ruf to go out and play catch and wait for them to hit into outs, which inevitably happens.”
— The Giants didn’t score until Brandon Crawford hit a sacrifice fly in the eighth inning. It brought home Brandon Belt, who walked and then went to third on a double by Evan Longoria against Pomeranz.
— Catcher Buster Posey increased his hitting streak to eight games with a single to right in the sixth inning.
— Relievers Matt Wisler and Jarlin Garcia each delivered two scoreless innings after Cueto departed. Garcia recently came off the injured list (left groin strain) and hadn’t pitched since April 20.
“Super-promising innings for both of them,” Kapler said. “Wisler’s slider was good, his command was good. Jarlin’s stuff was back. We saw the velo, we saw the zip on the fastball. That was kind of a silver lining, a peripheral benefit from a rough game.”