Competition in Giants rotation, bullpen heating up as Cueto, Samardzija progress

SAN FRANCISCO–Lefty Andrew Suárez and righty Dereck Rodríguez offer the Giants impressive value for a handful of important reasons.

Both starting pitchers have stepped up and performed admirably in place of injured Giants righties Johnny Cueto (elbow sprain) and Jeff Samardzija (shoulder tightness), helping keep San Francisco afloat in the National League West race.

Suárez and Rodríguez’s skill level, poise and ability to seize the moment have been critical for the Giants, but they also offer value for another reason.

Both pitchers have minor league options.

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As Cueto and Samardzija prepare for their respective returns to the Giants rotation, Suárez and Rodríguez are continuing to compete for the right to remain on the big league club.

Suárez tossed 5 2/3 innings of one-run ball against the Padres Saturday and Rodríguez will take on San Diego Sunday, but neither pitcher is guaranteed to remain in the rotation once July begins.

Cueto made his first rehab start Saturday evening for Triple-A Sacramento, logging 3 2/3 innings of one-hit ball while striking out four hitters on 48 pitches.

Giants skipper Bruce Bochy said Cueto will likely make two more rehab starts, but the club will continue to evaluate his progress and could feel compelled to insert him into the major league rotation after his next outing.

“With what he went through, having to wait so long, just watching his bullpens and throwing to hitters, I was really encouraged with how he through last night,” Bochy said. “I thought he would be a little bit further behind but the breaking ball was really good, the changeup and he really located the fastball well.”

Samardzija will make his third rehab start Tuesday for Triple-A Sacramento and will face the Albuquerque Isotopes and if all goes well, he’ll likely start for the Giants either Sunday in Phoenix against the Diamondbacks or Monday in Denver against the Rockies.

Cueto shouldn’t be far behind, as he’ll likely start for Single-A San Jose Thursday and could be back in the Giants rotation in time to pitch twice before the All-Star break.

Bochy said the Giants will ensure the club keeps its best pitchers on the mound, but hinted players who have minor league options could be the first to lose roster spots when his veteran starters return.

“We do have some flexibility as far as guys having options,” Bochy said. “But if guys are really throwing well, you want to stay away from that, too. We’ll go with our best guys.”

Relievers Pierce Johnson, Ty Blach and Reyes Moronta all have minor league options available, but Blach and Moronta have thrived of late in their respective roles. The Giants will likely consider optioning Johnson back to Triple-A when Samardzija returns, which could inspire Bochy to shift Rodríguez to a relief role for a club that would benefit from another right-handed bullpen presence.

Suárez may also be a candidate to join the bullpen, but the Giants already have three left-handed relievers and the organization has spent the past four seasons grooming him as a starter.

Having a surplus of major league-caliber arms is an excellent problem to have for a club hoping to make a playoff push, and especially a team like the Giants that will monitor Samardzija and Cueto’s health closely upon their returns.

Samardzija struggled from the outset of spring training and battled shoulder issues even after returning from a three-week stint on the disabled list at the start of the season.

Cueto, however, was one of the top pitchers in baseball before an elbow injury landed him on the disabled list at the end of April. The right-hander initially feared he would need Tommy John surgery to repair his elbow, but Dr. James Andrews recommended Cueto rest and attempt to rehab naturally.

The Giants will be cautious with Cueto’s workload once he does return, but Bochy is optimistic he could pair with Madison Bumgarner to form one of baseball’s most potent starting combinations.

“Johnny, when he went down I thought he was the best pitcher in baseball,” Bochy said. “Madison, the way he throws, you’re talking about your 1-2 guys who are really both No. 1s. That’s going to change your rotation.”

Source: FS – All – Interesting – News 2
Competition in Giants rotation, bullpen heating up as Cueto, Samardzija progress