In final start, Stratton shows he deserves to be in Giants' 2018 rotation

In final start, Stratton shows he deserves to be in Giants' 2018 rotation

SAN FRANCISCO — You would have a hard time finding a starter in Major League Baseball who dealt with weirder pre-game distractions than Chris Stratton. He had 20 minutes notice one day because Johnny Cueto was a late scratch. Before one home start, Stratton was delayed several minutes by a long pre-game ceremony, and another night was scuttled by a rare lightning storm around AT&T Park. On Friday night, the first pitch was delayed six minutes because of the Willie Mac Award ceremony. 

The wait for Stratton’s next start will be a long one, but it’s going to be much easier to handle. 

Stratton will enter the offseason as the favorite to be the No. 5 starter in next year’s rotation. Anything can happen of course, from a surprise free agent addition to a trade to a spring injury, but the Giants believe they have a contributor in the 27-year-old right-hander, and Stratton did nothing but bolster his case on his final night of the season. He went into his offseason on a high note. 

Stratton has pitched well, but he hasn’t gone particularly deep into games. He wanted to do so Friday, and he pitched 6 2/3 shutout innings before leaving to a standing ovation. The Giants crushed the Padres 8-0. Stratton finished his rookie year with a 3.68 ERA, and he was 4-2 with a 2.27 ERA in his final eight starts. During that stretch, he had 39 strikeouts in 39 2/3 innings. 

“He’s made a really big statement, I think, if you look at his body of work,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “Just watching him pound the strike zone, he’s got two good breaking balls and a changeup. He’s locating well and he finished up on a good note tonight. It’s nice to have a young man like this come up and make some noise, where he wants to be in the rotation next year. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but he certainly did his part.”

The Giants, for much of the last two years, have gotten similar performances from Ty Blach. But many of the organization’s decision-makers believe the lefty can be a more dangerous weapon in a bullpen that lacks a reliable southpaw. Blach will surely get a chance to compete with Stratton next spring, but it has been the right-hander who has gotten the starts down the stretch. For his part, Stratton said he expects it to be competitive next March. His mindset is that he still has a job to win. 

“All I’m trying to do is help the team win,” he said. “Hopefully they can see that I can help them out.”

That’s been crystal clear in a down year. Friday night’s win assured that the Giants will not lose 100 games, but it’s been a devastating year nonetheless. On top of the traditional struggles, the Giants have been stunned by the number of injuries to young players. Other youngsters have flamed out. 

Stratton was an exception, and he credited two veterans with helping him break through at the highest level. He said Tim Federowicz forced him to throw his four-seamer up in the zone more when they were together in Triple-A. Nick Hundley did the same in the big leagues. 

“They’re trying to get me to ride that four-seamer up in the zone,” he said. “(People) always preach down, every pitching coach says to pitch down in the zone (but) we’ve been really trying to ride (the four-seamer) up and it’s been successful so far.”

Throw in an elite curveball that rates as one of the best in the game by spin rate and you’ve got a pretty good repertoire. Stratton had the Padres off-balance all night. He had just one regret. 

“I would have liked to go a little deeper,” he said. “I had hoped I could get seven complete (innings), but I’m glad they gave me a chance there.”

With the way he pitched this year, he’ll get plenty of chances to go deep in games next season. 

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.”