San Francisco Giants: What’s the latest news with Johnny Cueto?

The San Francisco Giants could be seeing the return of top-tier starter Johnny Cueto before the season’s end. But when might he actually be returning?

The San Francisco Giants have surprisingly found themselves in the thick of the National League wild-card race just two months out of the end of the season. And they could be receiving a major reinforcement in the form of talented starter Johnny Cueto.

The Giants catapulted themselves into the playoff picture with an incredible month of July that saw the team finish 19-6 over the 31-day span. And even though the team has faltered a bit as of late, they still sit just 2.5 games back of the second wild-card spot.

With just four wins in their last 10 games, the team could use all the help they could get — especially when it comes to their pitching. San Francisco has given up five or more runs in each of their four games this month and currently hold a team ERA of 6.00 in August.

Fortunately, Cueto appears to be making some solid progress towards a potential return.

Related Story: San Francisco Giants: Breaking down the trade for Scooter Gennett

The two-time All-Star hasn’t pitched in a major-league game since July 28th of last season and has spent the last year rehabbing from Tommy John surgery in August of 2018.

But on Sunday, Cueto took the mound to make his first start since undergoing surgery. Granted, it was with the AZL Giants of the Arizona Rookie League, but it was a start nonetheless.

Cueto tossed two scoreless innings striking out five of the seven batters he faced. He threw just two balls on 21 pitches — both of which came on 0-2 counts.

For a first start back after a near-year-long absence, it’s hard to have imagined it going much better.

Still, the Giants have set an estimated return date of the first week of September and even with his promising initial outing, that does still appear to be the plan. San Francisco would like to see Cueto make four or five rehab appearances first before returning to the majors.

And even then, expect Cueto to be on a significant innings limit. After all, the last thing the Giants want is to push him too hard and reinjure his elbow.

In fact, it’s still uncertain whether Cueto will be pitching out of the bullpen or if he’ll make a handful of starts. If he were to start a few games down the stretch, it could mean great news for a Giants rotation lacking depth.

A possible trio of Madison Bumgarner, Jeff Samardzija, and Cueto could be deadly in September even if the latter can’t pitch past the fifth inning. Even if Cueto is relegated to the bullpen, it would still be a major coup for the Giants.

After trading away much of their bullpen depth at the deadline, the Giants new-look bullpen has run into its fair share of troubles. Cueto could help alleviate the losses of Sam Dyson, Mark Melancon, and Drew Pomeranz if he’s placed in the bullpen.

And if the Giants were to make the postseason, Cueto would likely be pitching out of the bullpen regardless.

Next: San Francisco Giants: Breaking down the new prospects acquired at the deadline

Barring any setbacks, Giants fans could expect to see Cueto back hopefully by early September at the latest. And as long as the Giants are still in the mix, he should be able to help the team make one final playoff push.