LOS ANGELES — Hunter Pence walked up to Bruce Bochy before Saturday’s game and asked how his 61st birthday was going. Bochy told him to check back after the game.
Well, the birthday was a good one thanks to Johnny Cueto. The right-hander gave up just three hits and one run in 7 1/3 innings and the Giants held on for a tight 4-3 win over the Dodgers. The Dodgers put the tying run on third with one out in the ninth but Santiago Casilla got out of the jam.
Cueto didn’t allow a baserunner until the fifth, baffling the Dodgers with a wide array of pitches and deliveries. He got some help in putting the first nine Dodgers down, as shortstop Brandon Crawford made a pair of sparkling plays.
Cueto had thrown just 44 pitches the first time through the order, but Yasmani Grandal lined a double to right-center with one down in the fifth. Cueto didn’t seem to notice. He popped a 95 mph fastball while striking out Enrique Hernandez and then got Joc Pederson to ground out weakly.
The Giants scored in the first on two singles and a wild pitch, and they added three runs in the middle innings. Brandon Crawford had an RBI double and Brandon Belt lined an RBI single.
The wheels threatened to fly off for Cueto in the seventh, but he held it together. The Dodgers scored once and put two on with one out, but Cueto broke Pederson down badly on a two-strike slider and then got Trayce Thompson to ground out to short.
Cueto was pulled after 109 pitches, and the game quickly got close. Javier Lopez walked pinch-hitter A.J. Ellis and then gave up a two-run homer to rookie Corey Seager, who hits from the left side.
Starting pitching report: Cueto had a velocity bump, sitting 93-94 and hitting 95 a handful of times. This comes on the heels of Jeff Samardzija hitting 96 at Coors Field. So far, that offseason spending spree is looking very, very good.
Bullpen report: Seager became the first lefty to homer off Lopez since Freddie Freeman on May 12, 2014.
At the plate: The “pitcher batting eighth” experiment has generally pleased Bochy, but he got burned a couple times Saturday. Cueto came up with two on in the fourth and struck out. He came up with two more on in the fifth and struck out, ending the inning.
In the field: Crawford is a former high school football standout, and he showed off those skills while hauling in Thompson’s pop-up to left in the third. Crawford took a perfect route to the ball and made a running two-handed basket catch as he ran full-speed toward Angel Pagan.
Attendance: The Dodgers announced a crowd of 53,409 people who did not go to Coachella.
Up next: A nationally-televised matchup between Samardzija and Kenta Maeda. The Dodgers have yet to see Maeda, a big offseason pickup who is off to a good start.