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Johnny Cueto nearing return to San Francisco Giants rotation

ANAHEIM, CA - APRIL 22: Johnny Cueto #47 of the San Francisco Giant pitches in the first inning of the game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Angel Stadium on April 22, 2018 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)
ANAHEIM, CA - APRIL 22: Johnny Cueto #47 of the San Francisco Giant pitches in the first inning of the game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Angel Stadium on April 22, 2018 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images) /
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Despite a recent rough patch for the San Francisco Giants, the impending return of Johnny Cueto is a reason for optimism.

The San Francisco Giants fell to the Washington Nationals on Monday night 4-0, and they are now 3.5 games back in the NL wild-card race. They’ve gone 1-4 in the month of August and 4-6 in their last 10 games.

That’s the bad news. Luckily, there is also some good news.

If the Giants can manage to stay afloat in the wild-card race for the next few weeks, there’s a good chance they’ll be welcoming Johnny Cueto back into the starting rotation for the final month or so of the season.

On Sunday, Cueto made his first rehab start since undergoing Tommy John surgery last July.

He took the ball for the AZL Giants Black team in the Arizona Rookie League and tossed two innings. He recorded five strikeouts and threw 19 of his 21 pitches for strikes. That’s not a typo. In his first chance to shake off the rust of Tommy John surgery, 19 of his 21 pitches were strikes.

It was reasonable to expect the Giants to come back down to earth a bit after posting a 19-6 record in July, and even with their rocky start to August, they are still only 3.5 games back for a playoff spot.

If they can manage to stick around until Cueto returns, it would give the Giants a formidable veteran trio atop the staff, with Madison Bumgarner and Jeff Samardzija both pitching fairly well of late.

Bumgarner was not at his best last time out against the Colorado Rockies. However, he still owns a 3.21 ERA and a 1.05 WHIP in his last seven starts.

Samardzija also turned in a lackluster performance in his most recent start on Monday, allowing three hits and one earned runs, but lasting just four innings due to a high pitch count. Like the team as a whole, he’s coming off a great month of July in which he went 4-1 with a 2.09 ERA.

A healthy Cueto added to the mix could go a long way toward shoring up the rotation for the final month of the season. Expecting him to immediately return to his pre-injury form might be wishful thinking, but he can still make an impact.

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Barring any setbacks, the San Francisco Giants could be adding a pitcher with 125 career wins and a World Series ring to their starting rotation for the final month of the season in the form of Johnny Cueto. Not many teams have a chance to make that type of in-house upgrade for the stretch run.

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