The San Francisco Giants enter 2020 with a weak starting rotation. Can Johnny Cueto stay healthy and provide stability to the staff?
The man most likely to try to fill that role in 2020 is Johnny Cueto.
Cueto is coming off an injury-shortened 2019 season, but when he was able to take the mound at the end of the year, he showed some promising signs. His first two starts were each five shutout innings, giving hope that he could still be effective in 2020.
Who will start on Opening Day is still a big question that needs to be answered this spring, with Cueto’s main competition being Jeff Samardzija. Regardless of who earns the nod, there is no question that Cueto will need to return to form if the Giants are going to have a respectable rotation.
One point of concern is that Cueto has not pitched for a full season since 2016, his first with the Giants. He was sensational that year, with a 2.79 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, and an 18-5 record to finish sixth in NL Cy Young voting.
However, in 2018 and 2019, he only made 13 starts combined while recovering from Tommy John surgery. With the rotation as weak as it is, Cueto staying healthy is going to be absolutely necessary.
The positive news is that Cueto has been able to have a normal offseason free from rehab. That bodes well for his ability to stay on the field in 2020.
But what can we expect from Cueto even if he is healthy?
Obviously, a 2016-like performance is probably out of the cards, but he can still be a solid starter.
I think if he stays healthy, he can keep his ERA under 4.00 and could maybe even approach 200 innings pitched once again. But that question mark surrounding his health is a sizable one. The 34-year-old is not getting any younger, so the team may even try to limit his innings to a certain extent so as to not overwork him.
In all, Cueto is going to be a big part of a Giants rotation that is likely to be in flux throughout the season. If him and Shark can provide a measure of stability at the top, that could go a long way toward helping the team win more games.