In Johnny Cueto’s first start with the San Francisco Giants, the right-hander threw seven strong innings against the Milwaukee Brewers on April 5, 2016, allowing one run and striking out out four in a 2-1 road victory.
Cueto earned the win, the first of his 18 that season.
He had an immediate impact with the Giants, making the National League All-Star team and finishing sixth in Cy Young Award voting while helping them reach the playoffs.
Cueto’s impact also has been noticeable since joining the Chicago White Sox in May. He returned to San Francisco this weekend for a three-game series at Oracle Park.
“I felt like I pitched very well there,” Cueto said through an interpreter Wednesday afternoon at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, Calif. “The chemistry we had on that team was good. Teammates were very nice with me.”
Cueto, 36, said being back at the ballpark was an “honor.”
“It was my house for six years,” Cueto said. “The fans have treated me very well there. I like the ballpark. It’s a big ballpark.”
Cueto, who is 2-4 with a 3.33 ERA in nine outings (eight starts) this season, shared handshakes, hugs and laughs with some Giants before batting practice Friday.
He isn’t the only player seeing familiar faces this weekend. Former Sox starter Carlos Rodón is 7-4 with a 2.62 ERA in his first season with the Giants.
“Everybody’s pulling for him,” Sox manager Tony La Russa said of Rodón on Friday.
Rodón, who spent parts of seven seasons with the Sox, and Cueto are not slated to pitch this weekend after both were on the mound Tuesday. Rodón allowed one run in six innings in a 4-3 victory against the Detroit Tigers, and Cueto allowed three runs on seven hits in six innings and earned the victory in an 11-4 win against the Los Angeles Angels.
“It would be fun to have the chance to pitch there,” Cueto said.
Cueto went 39-27 with a 3.81 ERA in 104 appearances (103 starts) for the Giants from 2016-21. He went 7-7 with a 4.08 ERA last season.
The Sox signed Cueto to a minor-league contract on April 8. After four starts at Triple-A Charlotte, Cueto made his Sox debut May 16 against another one of his former teams — the Kansas City Royals. Cueto allowed two hits and struck out seven in six scoreless innings.
It was just the beginning of an impressive season.
“I feel happy with how my season has been going,” Cueto said. “I’ve been able to pitch well, to help the team. And I feel good.”
La Russa said Cueto “could not have been better for us.”
“He’s very smart, he’s got a good memory, he knows how to get through a lineup,” La Russa said Friday. “He’s a worker. Guys like to be around him, and he likes to contribute what he knows.”
Cueto, in his 15th major-league season, has pitched at least six innings in seven of the eight starts.
“We knew it was possible that he had that upside,” Sox general manager Rick Hahn said on June 20. “It was a matter of health. He was going to give us everything that he had at that point. The question was just going to come down to what he had left. So far, he’s been fantastic.”
One of Cueto’s standout performances didn’t come in a start. Scheduled to pitch the June 13 series opener in Detroit, Cueto volunteered to work out of the bullpen the day before when starter Michael Kopech exited after two-thirds of an inning with right knee discomfort.
Cueto entered in the third and pitched five solid innings against the Texas Rangers.
“What he did when Kopech went down for him to essentially, I mean literally get out of the hot tub and wander over and say he was able to go, we don’t do what we did in Detroit (sweep a three-game series) without Johnny Cueto stepping up and eating up those innings,” Hahn said. “Our bullpen leading up to that Detroit series was extremely taxed. And quite candidly, we weren’t sure how we’d get through that game (against the Rangers) only getting two outs from our starter. And Cueto saved the bullpen, saved the staff and set us up for a successful road trip.”
Cueto followed that outing with seven shutout innings against the Astros on June 18 in Houston.
“It’s good (playing behind Cueto) because he likes to pitch fast and he usually gets quick outs,” Sox center fielder Luis Robert said Tuesday.
Asked about his path to the Sox, Cueto said there were a few teams interested in him, “but they weren’t offering a good deal. And they were offering me just a spot for the bullpen.
“I’ve been a starter for my whole career. I have my routine as a starter. I know what I have to do to prepare for the games. Once you know you aren’t able to make it as a starter, then you go to the bullpen. That’s not my case.”
Liam Hendriks expected to return Monday
The Sox closer pitched a simulated game Friday afternoon at Oracle Park and anticipates being reinstated from the injured list Monday.
Hendriks has been on the IL retroactively since June 11 with a right forearm strain.
“Ball came out well (Friday), and that’s all that really matters,” Hendriks said. “The plan is to be active on Monday, right in time for that (Minnesota) Twins series.”
Hendriks has a 2.81 ERA and 16 saves.