Blach dazzles, Belt matches Posey as Giants continue to roll

Blach dazzles, Belt matches Posey as Giants continue to roll

SAN FRANCISCO — Last season’s trade deadline killed the occasional and entertaining "Tortoise Race" between Joe Panik and Matt Duffy, but a couple of middle-of-the-order bats have brought back a supercharged version for a surging team. 

Brandon Belt scored both runs in Tuesday’s 2-1 win over the Dodgers, the first coming on a solo shot to the arcade. Belt’s eighth blast of the season continued an odd run for a lineup lacking power the first six weeks of the season. For nine consecutive games, either Belt or Buster Posey has gone deep. It started last Monday in New York:

May 8: Posey HR
May 9: Posey HR
May 10: Posey HR
May 11: Belt HR
May 12: Posey HR
May 13: Belt HR
May 14: Belt HR
May 15: Posey HR
May 16: Belt HR

Posey helped push Belt along the bases in the sixth, when he singled, took second on a wild pitch, third on a grounder, and home on a Brandon Crawford single. Ty Blach did the rest. The young left-hander continued his mastery of the Dodgers, throwing seven strong innings to pick up the first win out of the No. 1 spot in the rotation. Madison Bumgarner and Blach had suffered from a lack of run support through eight starts, but it didn’t matter with the way Blach pitched Tuesday. 

“He really had a good tempo, he was throwing strikes, attacking hitters,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “He has just a great way about him. He’s poised and focused. He’s unflappable. He just keeps coming at you.”

Blach didn’t buckle in a couple of tight spots. The biggest was the fourth, when Justin Turner singled with one out and cruised into third on a double from Enrique Hernandez. Austin Barnes followed with a bouncer that got just past Blach and headed toward second, where Christian Arroyo was making his first big league start. Arroyo fired a surprising strike home, nabbing Turner, who had gotten a late start off third. 

“Oh, that was awesome,” Blach said. “When the ball got past me my heart sank, like, ‘Shoot!’ You always try to keep the runner at third. That was awesome.”

Arroyo made a couple of standout plays, Eduardo Nuñez started a highlight double play, and Belt dug more throws out of the dirt. It was another clean night defensively, and that allowed Blach to be efficient, continuing a trend. 

Since Johnny Cueto threw 119 pitches on Friday, Bochy has leaned heavily on his starters. Matt Moore threw 120 on Saturday, Jeff Samardzija threw 114 Sunday, and Matt Cain stretched it to 112 on Monday. Blach tossed a career-high 109 pitches. 

“I didn’t make a conscious effort to push them to that limit as much as how they’re pitching will dictate how far they go,” Bochy said. “I think that’s gotten a little contagious.”

Blach said he was trying to keep up with the others, and Bochy is willing to let them stretch it out. While he never sat down and decided that he would rely more on his rotation, he did note that closer Mark Melancon remains out until Friday. 

“That forces your hand,” he said. “I think it maybe got contagious on my part, that hey, I’m sticking with these guys.”

It continues to work. Tuesday’s win was the fifth straight, giving the Giants their longest winning streak since last June. 

Starting to rev things up, Hunter Pence has big night at plate and in left

Starting to rev things up, Hunter Pence has big night at plate and in left

PEORIA — Jeff Samardzija spent a couple minutes after Thursday’s start talking to reporters about how deep he thinks the Giants lineup can be. It’ll be a hell of a lot deeper if Hunter Pence keeps hitting like this. 

After a slow start to the spring, Pence is charging. He had three hits against the Padres: a triple that bounced off the top of the wall in right-center, a hard single up the middle, and a double to center. The more encouraging plays for the Giants happened in left field. Pence chased down a drive to the line in the third inning, leaving the bases loaded. He opened the fourth by going the other direction and gloving a fly ball to left-center. 

"A good game for Hunter, both ways," manager Bruce Bochy said. "He's getting more comfortable out there. You can see it with the jumps he's getting right now. It takes a little while when you change positions, but I think he's going to be fine out there."

The Giants appear set to have Austin Jackson and Pence atop the lineup against left-handed starters, and that duo could see plenty of time early. Seven of the first nine games are against the Dodgers, who have four lefty starters. 

--- Evan Longoria had a double off the right-center wall on Wednesday after missing a week with a sore ankle. He had a single the same way in his second at-bat Thursday. More than the at-bats, Longoria has impressed with his soft hands and steady arm at third. The ankle looks fine, too. 

“My ankle feels pretty good,” Longoria said. “I don’t think it’s going to be an issue going forward.”

--- It’s been a quiet spring for Andrew McCutchen, but we saw the wheels tonight. McCutchen easily stole second after a two-run single in the fifth. When Evan Longoria bounced one to the left side, shortstop Freddy Galvis tried to go to third for the lead out, but McCutchen beat that throw, too. He got up and put his hands on his hips, as if to say, "Why'd you even try that?"

--- Samardzija allowed three homers in a six-batter span in the third. He allowed three homers in an inning in his previous start, too, but he said he’s not concerned. Samardzija deemed it a sequencing issue. He’s working in a new changeup and threw it in situations he normally wouldn’t; Eric Hosmer took advantage of a floating one, crushing it to deep, deep right for the third homer. 

--- With a runner on, Brandon Belt put down a perfect bunt to foil the shift. Belt does that every spring, particularly against NL West teams, but rarely during the regular season. Maybe this will be the year?

Belt later crushed a homer to deep right. That had to feel good for a number of reasons. Belt is fighting a cold and he learned earlier in the day that his college coach, Augie Garrido, had passed away.

Josh Osich goes back to his roots looking to unleash all the potential


Josh Osich goes back to his roots looking to unleash all the potential

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — For most pitchers, spring training is a time to experiment and add a pitch or two. Josh Osich is using this month to go the other direction. 

Osich spent the offseason watching film of his 2015 season, when he looked like he might one day be the closer in San Francisco, and decided that he needed to get back to his roots. That means the curveball, which he tried so hard to mix in last year, is now far back in the cupboard. The four-seam and two-seam fastballs are once again the focus, with an emphasis on changing eye levels more than he did a year ago. The changeup and cutter will round out his arsenal for the most part. 

Osich’s raw stuff is still as good as just about any lefty reliever in the league, and he hopes to take advantage of that while putting a rough 2017 season in his rearview mirror. He had a 6.23 ERA last season and 1.73 WHIP.

“It’s just one of those learning years,” Osich said. “I tried to live at the bottom of the zone and I was, but I was actually below the zone. So then I would fall behind and need to throw a strike and that’s when guys would hit me.”

Osich, 29, had a 2.20 ERA and 1.12 WHIP during that 2015 season that he keeps going back to. He walked eight batters in 28 2/3 innings, a far cry from the 27 he walked in 43 1/3 last year. While watching the 2015 version of himself, Osich saw that his hands were higher, and that’s something he’s working to replicate. He’s also trying to slow his pace to the plate. So far, the results are nothing but encouraging. Osich allowed one hit and struck out one in a 2 1/3 inning appearance on Wednesday night. Manager Bruce Bochy let him extend himself to keep the good vibes going. 

In six appearances this spring, Osich has allowed just four hits over seven scoreless innings. He has seven strikeouts and one walk. 

“O, it just seems like he’s got confidence,” Bochy said. “He’s kept it simple, he’s not tinkering with different pitches. He’s throwing more strikes, and more than anything he’s just trying to pound the strike zone now with quality strikes. That’s all he has to do. You look at him and he’s hitting 95 with a couple of good off-speed pitches. That works here.”