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Opinion: Giants exec Sabean in Sacramento, scotches trade rumors

Giants general manager Brian Sabean, shown here last November, denies his team is interested in acquiring pitcher Johnny Cueto from the Reds.
Giants general manager Brian Sabean, shown here last November, denies his team is interested in acquiring pitcher Johnny Cueto from the Reds. The Associated Press

Baseball spies spotted Giants brass in Chicago recently on a day when the hottest rumor in the National League took the mound at Wrigley Field.

Internet reports had Cincinnati Reds right-hander Johnny Cueto going to the Tigers, Dodgers, Yankees or Red Sox. Naturally, Giants exec Brian Sabean’s presence in the friendly confines when Cueto pitched there June 12 added San Francisco to the speculation. Cueto is having a good year and the Reds are not, so the spin cycle believes Johnny and his paycheck will be moved.

The next day, Wrigleyville observers again spotted Sabean in the house. Again, the Giants’ executive vice president of baseball operations was accompanied by his road dog, senior scouting adviser Lee Elder. This time, their attendance coincided with that of Mike Leake, who was pitching for the Reds against the Cubs. So Leake’s name, of course, was added to the trade-rumor entry box.

This past weekend, Sabean traveled to Sacramento, and he was asked if Cueto or Leake interested him.

“Ridiculous,” Sabean replied in the Raley Field press box. “We’ve got seven starters – eight if you count (Yusmeiro) Petit.”

The past month, Raley Field has provided a therapeutic setting for a couple of those Giants starters recovering from injury, and Sabean’s visit provided him a real-time view of the rehabilitation in progress.

On Saturday night, Matt Cain tested his arm against Reno in front of a packed house. He threw 89 pitches in 62/3 innings, his longest stint in three rehab starts. On the mend from elbow surgery last year, Cain strained his right flexor tendon in spring training. His performance Saturday left him feeling good about a timely return to the Giants.

“I threw a lot of strikes, and I was able to work out my off-speed stuff between my last start and this start, and that was really big for me,” Cain said. As for the elbow, “It’s probably never pain-free ... but it feels better than it has in a long time.”

Is he ready to return to the rotation? “I’ll leave that to the guys up front,” Cain said.

River Cats pitching coach Dwight Bernard thinks Cain is ready.

“If he’s not, I don’t know who would be,” Bernard said after Cain’s outing. “He’s doing everything he needs to do. Next bullpen, he’s going to iron out some of the mistakes he made today. But his off-speed pitches, his slider, changeup, curve ball were all very good today. He’s just got to concentrate a little more in commanding the fastball.”

Up in the box, after shooting down the Cueto-Leake rumors, Sabean was asked to assess some of the River Cats’ talent past and present.

He sounded high on shortstop Ehire Adrianza, who is on another hot streak. Adrianza raised his average to .320 with two hits Saturday. He also made a beautiful diving stop to his left and got the out.

The 25-year-old is a future major leaguer, Sabean said, maybe even with the Giants.

“I was talking with (River Cats manager Bob) Mariano earlier in the day, and he’s impressed with the strides he’s made at home plate,” Sabean said of Adrianza. “He’s a natural in the middle infield. He can play anywhere on the diamond. To be a switch hitter, to be a shortstop first and to be able to play those other positions – it’s a huge feather in his cap. I think at some point this year he’ll be called up, or certainly next year,” in a role to be determined.

Adam Duvall is another River Cat who tore up the Pacific Coast League the first month of the season but has slowed down lately. He leads the league in home runs with 15, but his average slipped to .264 Saturday after a rough night – in front of the wrong guy, Sabean. Duvall went 0 for 4, struck out twice and hit into a double play.

“I think maybe (Matt) Duffy’s performance at the position (third base) Duvall played first and foremost in his minor-league career was probably a blow,” Sabean said. “He needs more consistency with the bat. Not necessarily power-wise, but just a sustained, good approach, hit the ball to all fields, hopefully with some power. I think if you talk to him, or to us, we’re a little disappointed.”

Fans of the transaction wire saw recently that John Bowker has again been dealt out of the Giants’ organization. The Rio Americano High School grad went as to Pittsburgh on June 9 for a player to be named. The Pirates assigned Bowker to their Triple-A club in Indianapolis.

“He was a guy who got enough opportunity to make his mark and for whatever reason it hasn’t turned out that way,” Sabean said of the 31-year-old first baseman who has not played in the major leagues since 2011. “Sometimes it’s about finding a niche. We hope Bowk’s able to do that.”

Can he?

“I’m not sure,” Sabean said. “He’s the type of hitter, per se, that might have a little less power than you need at the corner.”

Sabean settled into his seat as Saturday’s game was about to begin when another hot one poured in off the rumor wire: An ESPN guy had Jeff Samardzija headed for San Francisco in a trade from the White Sox.

All Sabean could do was roll his eyes.

Andy Furillo: 916-321-1141, @andyfurillo