Johnny Cueto bests Cubs for NL-leading 16th win

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Johnny Cueto continued to bolster his case for the National League Cy Young award this afternoon against the Cubs, giving up two runs over eight innings as part of a 5-3 victory in the first game of a doubleheader. Cueto is now the National League’s first 16-game winner. David Price of the Rays got there on Thursday in the American League.

Cueto gave up just three hits while striking out eight, walking one and hitting a batter. The 26-year-old right-hander served up a two-run home run to Alfonso Soriano in the top of the first inning, but he held the Cubs scoreless the rest of the way, including retiring 19 out of the last 20 batters he faced. He’s now second in the National League behind Washington’s Jordan Zimmermann with a 2.44 ERA and owns an excellent 135/37 K/BB ratio over 169 2/3 innings.

Cueto got his help on offense from Todd Frazier, Xavier Paul and Miguel Cairo, who all launched homers off Cubs starter Jeff Samardzija. Frazier later added a sacrifice fly for some insurance in the bottom of the eighth inning. The 26-year-old rookie is on an incredible roll right now, hitting .515 (17-for-33) with four home runs and 11 RBI over his last night games.

Things got a little tense in the ninth inning, as Aroldis Chapman gave up his first run since June 24 on a two-out bloop single to left field by Welington Castillo. However, he was able to bounce back to strike out Joe Mather swinging to strand the tying runs on base and notch his 29th save of the season. The hit by Castillo ended a scoreless streak of 23 consecutive outings for Chapman. The hard-throwing left-hander also had a 33-game scoreless streak earlier this season.

The National League Central-leading Reds will look for their third straight victory tonight when they send the newly-promoted Todd Redmond to the hill against Cubs left-hander Brooks Raley. As Peter Gammons noted earlier this afternoon, this will be the first time that the Reds have used someone other than Cueto, Mat Latos, Bronson Arroyo, Homer Bailey or Mike Leake to start a game this season.

Giants place Hunter Pence on 10-day disabled list with right thumb sprain

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The Giants placed outfielder Hunter Pence on the 10-day disabled list with a right thumb sprain, per an official announcement on Friday. Pence initially sustained the injury during the club’s home opener on April 3, when he dove to intercept a line drive double from Robinson Cano and jammed his thumb. Weeks of playing through the pain hasn’t worked, so he’ll take a breather while the Giants give outfielder Mac Williamson a chance to start in left after getting called up from Triple-A Fresno.

Pence, 35, wouldn’t pin his recent struggles on his injury, but it’s clear that he’s having difficulty finding his footing this year. He slashed a meager .172/.197/.190 through 61 plate appearances in 2018, collecting just one extra-base hit and two walks during the Giants’ dismal 7-11 stretch. While it’s far too early in the season to make any final judgments, it doesn’t look like the veteran outfielder will be replicating the .275+ average, 4.0+ fWAR totals of years past (at least, not anytime soon).

Williamson, meanwhile, has gotten off to a hot start in Triple-A. Prior to his call-up this weekend, the 27-year-old batted an incredible .487/.600/1.026 with six home runs and a 1.626 OPS through his first 50 PA. A hot Triple-A bat doesn’t always survive the transition to the majors, but the Giants will use all the help they can get — especially as they take on the AL West-leading Angels this weekend.