Programming note: Giants-D'backs coverage starts tonight at 5:30pm with Giants Pregame Live on NBC Sports Bay Area Plus, and streaming with the NBC Sports App.
PHOENIX — When George Kontos was a rookie, pitching coach Dave Righetti pulled him aside one day with a new role. “We’re going to use you like a lefty,” Righetti said. The staff had noticed that Kontos, a former starter, still had the repertoire to face hitters from both sides, and that hasn’t changed.
Kontos’ splits over the past three seasons are just about even. Righties hit .213, lefties hit .216. Righties slug .324, lefties slug .333. In Tuesday’s win, the ability to face both sides allowed Kontos to get through one of the tougher left-right-left combinations in the National League. He came on for David Peralta in the seventh and got a fly ball to center. Paul Goldschmidt struck out on a sinker and Jake Lamb was frozen by a series of cutters.
“I’ve always taken pride in being able to get lefties out,” Kontos said. “I knew that when we only carried (Ty Blach) as our lefty that some of that workload was going to fall on me and I’m more than up to coming in and facing whoever, right, lefty, whoever. I’m up for the challenge.”
With the two strikeouts, Kontos continued a run that started late in the spring. He has 10 strikeouts over his past four outings, and nine of his last 10 outs have been strikeouts.
“With more time and being more comfortable comes more confidence,” he said. “My delivery has been feeling good and I’m going out there with the mindset to attack hitters and locate my pitches with good movement down in the zone. I’ve never thrown overly hard, so you’re going to see 91 to 93 out of me, but if I’m locating my cutter and slider, a 92 mph fastball looks pretty hard after that.”
Bochy said after Tuesday’s game that Kontos will be used in the seventh inning. That’s a step up for a guy who has often come on with runners on in the fifth or sixth, but Kontos wants more. He noted that this is an unselfish bullpen, but ....
“I want to pitch as late in games as I can,” he said. “Selfishly, I think all of us want a chance to pitch the eighth inning, but I’ll pitch when I’m called on to pitch. Hopefully my outings speak for themselves and I’ll get deeper and deeper into games.”
His first outing of the season was a good start in that direction. Here are four more takeaways from Tuesday’s win …
--- Joe Panik looked ready for the season from the first week of live batting practice. There was a spring slump that dropped his numbers, but he’s off to a hot start now that the games count. Panik had three hits Tuesday and made a couple of outstanding plays at second.
“He’s healthy,” Bochy said. “You can tell with the way he’s been moving around. He’s got a different look to him.”
Perhaps the most impressive play was a read Panik made on the Gorkys Hernandez flare to right early on. Panik was practically running up Eduardo Nuñez’s back when he reached the plate, which is hard to do.
“Sometimes you’ve got to play a hunch,” he said. “You could see from the swing he took. It was hop, hop (towards third) and then I just took off.”
--- Hunter Strickland has slightly altered his mechanics. You'll notice that the leg kick is a little bit different, with the purpose of adding deception. It’s just the latest step in Strickland’s evolution. He went entire outings this spring without throwing his four-seamer so he could work on getting quicker outs.
--- Archie Bradley, a former top starting prospect, was phenomenal. He struck out seven in 3 1/3, and the Giants are surely happy they won’t see his 98 mph fastball and spike curve again in this series. If you’re a fantasy baseball person, you might want to stash him somewhere. And if you’re the Giants, and you don’t need Tyler Beede in the rotation later this season, you might want to remember this game. Beede’s stuff should play up out of the bullpen kind of the same way Bradley’s does, and he could be an intriguing multi-inning guy.
--- A new year brought a new victory soundtrack, including “The Humpty Dance,” which was briefly Javier Lopez’s warm-up song. Some things never change, though. For, oh, at least the fourth or fifth straight year, DJ Crawford kicks things off with “Bounce It” by Juicy J.