Bullpen blows Belt's two-homer game in Giants' loss to Padres

Bullpen blows Belt's two-homer game in Giants' loss to Padres

SAN DIEGO — The thing about Madison Bumgarner leading the team in home runs is that Madison Bumgarner will let you know that he leads the team in home runs. 

“That was my main objective today,” Brandon Belt said. “Passing him.”

Belt did, hitting his first career grand slam and a solo shot two innings later. He’s tied for the major league lead with three homers, and when Bumgarner walked up in the clubhouse late Friday night, two overflowing bags of definitely-not-store-bought jerky in his hands, Belt pointed out that the tables had turned. 

“That’s okay,” Bumgarner said slowly. “I play tomorrow.”

The moment was a reminder of how much has gone right for the Giants this week. Bumgarner was outstanding on Sunday and Belt looks poised for a career year. Others up and down the roster have gotten off to hot starts or contributed with big moments. 

But the only number that matters thus far is eight. It’s the number of leads the pitching staff has blown, and it’s led to a 1-4 start. On Friday, Belt’s slam got Matt Cain off the hook. George Kontos, who had thrown better than any reliever over the past two weeks, gave it right back. The Giants fell 7-6 to the rebuilding Padres. 

“We were going to have a 1-4 stretch at some point,” Belt said. “It just happened to happen early.”

There’s much more than a grain of truth in that. Every team has a run like this, but this team — coming off a second half and postseason of blown leads — would have preferred any other start to the season. It’s not so much that the Giants are blowing leads. It’s that it seems contagious. Kontos entered having struck out nine of the previous 10 batters he had faced. He got through the heart of a dangerous Diamondbacks lineup on Tuesday, earning a look in the seventh inning Friday. It went off the rails quickly. 

Travis Jankowski walked and Wil Myers hit a single up the middle. Yangervis Solarte got a cutter that wasn’t far enough in on his hands, and he blasted it to right-center. The Padres had the lead, and they would tack on an insurance run that became important when Belt blasted his third homer of the year to dead center. 

“I felt fine,” Kontos said. “I just didn’t do a good job of executing pitches.”

It seems there’s no right answer for Bruce Bochy at the moment, but he hid any displeasure, saying this in a bullpen in transition, and roles will become clear. 

“It’s early. It’s the first week,” Bochy said. “We’ll get it figured out and they’ll settle into roles they’re comfortable in. This is a process. Ideally, you have it set up. We like to think we do. But this was a hiccup. George left a lot of pitches up and they took advantage.”

Cain did the same, giving up four runs in 4 1/3, including two homers to young center fielder Manny Margo. Again, execution mistakes, the theme of the young season. 

“I wasn’t as sharp as I need to be,” Cain said. 

Cain fell behind early to young right-hander Luis Perdomo, who fired 96 mph sinkers at the knees for five innings. In the sixth, he loaded the bases ahead of Belt. A slider hung at the knees and Belt crushed it. 

“My goal right now is not to guess,” Belt said. “I just want to see the ball. I feel if I can do that, my hands will go. That’s what I did there.”

It was an impressive swing, one that brought Bumgarner sauntering over an hour after the final out. Given the early schedule, the ace should have been preparing to put an exclamation point on a hot start. Instead, they're hoping he can salvage the week. 

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.”