Giants' revamped bullpen blows two leads in Opening Day loss

Giants' revamped bullpen blows two leads in Opening Day loss

PHOENIX — Bruce Bochy’s head dropped into his right palm and he stared out at the mound with a familiar look on his face. He had seen this game before, many times over the second half of last season. He did not expect to see it on the first day of the Mark Melancon Era. 

The Giants blew 32 saves last season and flamed out in the NLDS because of a leaky bullpen, but the group was overhauled. Melancon got four years and $62 million to fix the ninth. The eighth was handed over to promising youngsters. 

The Giants believe in this group, and they believe they have the makings of a very good bullpen, but the first time out was the same flavor of disaster. Derek Law gave up the lead in the eighth. Melancon gave up four straight two-out hits in the ninth, blowing his first save opportunity with the Giants. The Giants lost 6-5 to the Diamondbacks, wasting a historic day from Madison Bumgarner and standout performances from Eduardo Nuñez and Joe Panik.

In a quiet clubhouse, Bochy said he’s not concerned about a group that’s lost this way before. 

“They’re men in there,” he said. “You’ve seen how they’ve handled things. It’s one game and we’ve got 161 (left). If we start thinking about this too much, that compounds things. I don’t worry about Mark or anybody. They’re pros and part of that is being resilient.”

The 1-of-162 theme flowed throughout the clubhouse, and it’s completely true. Still, it was hard not to feel like the Giants let one hell of a kickoff party slip through their fingers. Bumgarner went seven strong and became the first pitcher in MLB history to hit two homers on Opening Day. After the second one, a blast to deep left, teammates simply stared at him in the dugout and laughed. An hour later, the Giants were trying to come to grips with a walk-off loss. 

“In a way I think it’s my fault,” Law said. “I think if I get it to (Melancon) earlier, maybe it’s a different ending. I kind of feel like, how hitting is contagious, pitching is the same way. If I would have kept going the way Bumgarner was going, maybe it ends the way we want it.”

The Giants learned last season that, as little sense as it might make, blowing saves can feel contagious. Santiago Casilla was the main culprit, but his replacements in September didn’t fare much better. Casilla wasn’t part of the collapse in Game 4 of the NLDS.

Melancon’s blown save happened in an odd way. He got two quick outs, but a double and three straight singles ended the game. He said he made two execution mistakes, to Daniel Descalso and Jeff Mathis. 

“You tip your hat to those guys,” Melancon said. “They executed. They did what they wanted to do. It happened quickly. It's never fun to process, but it’s part of the job. You have to have a short-term memory.”

The schedule will make that a bit more difficult. Because the NCAA basketball title game is in nearby Glendale, the Giants won’t play again until Tuesday night. Bochy said that game, and all other ones, will be about more than bullpen arms. The Giants went 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position, although one of the wasted rallies included a foul tip straight off the plate that wasn’t reviewable. Players who watched the video in the clubhouse said the ball, hit by Brandon Crawford in the top of the ninth with the bases loaded, was indeed foul. 

“Craw thought it was foul. (Phil) Nevin thought it was foul,” Bochy said. “That’s a big call at that point.”

The Giants never pulled away on a day when their No. 9 hitter carried a heavy load, and it cost them. They’ve blown a lot of games at Chase Field over the years. They know how it goes.

“We don’t expect anything negative to happen with Mark out there, but hey, it happens,” Bochy said. “You’re not going to be perfect. We had a chance to put the game away a couple of times. We just couldn’t do it. In this ballpark, anything can happen.”

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.”