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Key moment in Giants win shows big change Kapler has made originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea
With the bases loaded and the most dangerous New York Met headed to the plate, Giants manager Gabe Kapler walked quickly out to the mound. He was there for just about five seconds, delivering a quick and emphatic message to starter Johnny Cueto. And then Kapler patted Cueto on the chest, turned and hustled back to the dugout.
It was a moment that would be obscured by the rest of a 3-2 win over the Mets, particularly with all of the sloppiness late in the game, but it was one that showed as much as any this season how Kapler has changed from his first year in San Francisco to his second.
While decisions with late-game relievers got most of the attention last year, the biggest gripe voiced by players was Kapler not showing enough trust in veterans. He tended to pull his starters early, sometimes before real signs of trouble, and they weren't thrilled about that.
That has changed in Year 2.
"He told me I had one more hitter," Cueto said afterward through interpreter Erwin Higueros. "I feel that the manager trusts me. He gave me that opportunity to get the out."
Cueto technically didn't get it. After pumping six fastballs to Alonso, he threw a good 3-2 changeup down and away that was rolled over to third, but Kris Bryant's throw to first was wide, with the error tying the game and extending the inning. Cueto hoped to get that batter, too, but Kapler called on Jose Alvarez, who got out of the jam with one pitch.
That sequence looked familiar later in the game, when Taijuan Walker -- who had taken a one-hitter into the seventh -- watched an error and bloop kickstart a Giants rally. As Mets fans booed, manager Luis Rojas came out and pulled Walker at just 74 pitches.
The veteran right-hander didn't at all hide his displeasure.
Taijuan Walker was not thrilled: pic.twitter.com/6S6Cxei0ym
— Alex Pavlovic (@PavlovicNBCS) August 26, 2021
This time, the Giants would strike on just one pitch. Cueto later said he could understand Walker's frustrations. A starting pitcher always wants to go as deep as possible, and there are times when managers will push further than they're maybe comfortable with. Kapler was willing to give Cueto a shot, Rojas was not willing to do the same with his starter.
"If it's me, well, obviously I'm not going to be happy with being taken out of the game, because I want to be in the game," Cueto said.
That was something that he relayed to Kapler last season and again before this one, and Kapler listened. He said repeatedly in the spring that he had learned from his first year with this team and he would show more trust in his starting pitchers, and he has done that. While some struggles in the rotation have shortened starts in the second half, Kapler had a long leash early on.
Cueto was allowed to go 118 pitches and throw 8 2/3 innings in his second start of the season as he chased a shutout. Coming off an injury this time, he didn't have nearly that much rope on Wednesday, but Kapler let him try to get out of his final jam. He promised Cueto last year that he would have conversations before making those decisions, so first he walked out for a chance to look his pitcher in the eye.
"Really what I wanted to make sure was that he had enough in the tank coming off the injury to give us everything he had in that at-bat against Alonso, and he assured me that that was the case," Kapler said. "I knew it was going to be the case, I guess I wanted to hear it from him. We were bumping up against what we perceived to be his pitch count.
"We're never going to have a strict 'We have to get this person out of the game at 65 or 70 pitches' but we're going to try to do our best to be in that neighborhood. Tonight it was right around that mark and he had worked hard. We didn't expect him to be pitching in the sixth or the seventh inning. It was a nice performance. Again, there wasn't much said other than, 'You good? You're going to go get this guy, right?' and he was emphatic that he could go get him and he did."