How three Giants rookies set stage for McCutchen's heroics

How three Giants rookies set stage for McCutchen's heroics

SAN FRANCISCO — Andrew McCutchen was honest. He had not heard of Pierce Johnson, Reyes Moronta or Roberto Gomez before sharing a clubhouse with them this spring. 

“No, no, no, not at all,” he said. “But it shows what they’re capable of doing.”

The three rookies allowed McCutchen to show what he’s capable of doing. The former MVP was the runaway star in a thrilling 7-5 win over the Dodgers, but you don’t get to the bottom of the 14th without some quality work from your bullpen, and the Giants leaned heavily on three right-handed rookies. 

Johnson, the 26-year-old who entered the season with one big league inning under his belt, came first. It was six up, six down for the Dodgers in the 10th and 11th, and Johnson now has five scoreless innings in his first three appearances in orange and black. 

Moronta, a 25-year-old who threw 6 2/3 innings last season, took over from there. His first inning might have been the most entertaining of the season for multiple reasons. A walk of Corey Seager had the Giants worrying that wild Moronta might have shown up, but he made Yasiel Puig look foolish with a series of sliders on the outer edge. Cody Bellinger swung through 97 mph for the second out. After a single by Logan Forsythe, it got interesting. The Dodgers were out of position players so Clayton Kershaw got ready to take the on-deck circle with two on. Bruce Bochy went out to talk to Moronta. He wanted him to know that he would intentionally walk Enrique Hernandez to load the bases for Kershaw. Bochy wasn’t worried about Moronta throwing a wild pitch or walking a pitcher, he was worried about Hernandez. 

“I would've felt worse if (Hernandez) got a hit,” he said. “I would’ve felt a lot worse.”

The Dodgers pulled Kershaw back and sent Hyun-jin Ryu up. Moronta struck him out before getting through the 13th with the same electric repertoire. 

“Every time, I just try to throw strikes,” he said. “And I never forget I have a good fastball.”

If he can harness it, Moronta will soon elevate to a much bigger role. Gomez has a big fastball, too, but he had some tough luck in his one inning. The Dodgers got three straight singles to open the 14th, but the third was a hard shot to third that clanked off Evan Longoria’s glove. Bochy credited Gomez, a 28-year-old with just four appearances prior to this season, with buckling down and keeping it a one-run game. That set the stage for McCutchen, who was all too happy to share the credit with three rookies. 

“Those guys did an amazing job,” he said. “They kept us in the ballgame.”

Stratton, Belt lead Giants to 'great team win' over D'backs

Stratton, Belt lead Giants to 'great team win' over D'backs

PHOENIX — Madison Bumgarner walked through the clubhouse Wednesday afternoon with the yellow ends of three pins sticking out of his left hand. It is a gruesome sight he has gotten used to, but that should end Thursday. 

Bumgarner is very confident that the pins, which are stabilizing his fractured metacarpal, will be removed during a doctor’s visit on Thursday. That would begin the next step in the rehab process, and could have Bumgarner back with the Giants by the last week of May. 

It is hard to watch them most nights and see how they will be in contention when their ace gets back. But then there are nights like Wednesday, when Chris Stratton offered a reminder that perhaps this franchise can once again win behind a strong starting staff. 

The 27-year-old allowed one run in seven innings of a 4-3 win over the Diamondbacks, lowering his ERA to 2.22. A night earlier, Johnny Cueto walked off the mound with a 0.45 ERA and 0.65 WHIP.

The final four innings were also a reminder, of course, that it takes much more than a stellar start. The offense is still not clicking, although Brandon Belt’s two-run shot in the 10th proved the difference. The bullpen is showing cracks, but three different relievers kept a crucial runner at third in three straight innings. 

There are plenty of issues for this 7-10 team, but perhaps they can be papered over if the rotation can charge to the finish line behind Bumgarner, Cueto, Stratton, who looks ready to take the next step in his career, and Jeff Samardzija, who returns Friday. In two starts on this trip, Stratton has allowed one run over 14 innings. 

“He’s been pretty spectacular,” Belt said. “The poise he has on the mound, there’s no situation that’s too big for him.”

That includes facing Paul Goldschmidt. Twice, Stratton had one of the best hitters in the National League fooled. He struck him out looking in their first two battles. 

“A 3-2 slider (the first time) and it looked like he was looking for something else,” Stratton said. “The next time we went to the two-seamer in and he wasn’t looking for that as well. He’s a great hitter. You’ve got to mix it up with him.”

Stratton can now apparently do that at will. His four-pitch mix has been overwhelming this season, and he appears here to stay as part of a rotation that could eventually be pretty strong. But there will need to be help from other corners. 

Belt and Evan Longoria provided it Wednesday. Longoria kept up his torrid pace of late, hitting a two-run homer early. After Hunter Strickland blew a lead in the ninth, Belt hit a towering two-run shot in the 10th. It was his 100th as a big leaguer. 

“I totally forgot about it,” he said. “They told me after the game. I guess that’s a pretty good way to get your 100th homer.”

The Giants quickly tracked the ball down and Belt handed it over to his mom, who made the trip from Texas. Then he joined his teammates in the dining room, discussing a night that on several occasions could have continued a downward spiral. 

Tony Watson left the tying run on third with no outs in the eighth. Strickland left the winning run on third with one out in the ninth. Cory Gearrin left them loaded in the 10th. 

“It was a great team win,” Watson said. “Lots of guys did big things. That was a big one for us.”

Giants lineup continues to struggle in shutout loss to D-Backs

Giants lineup continues to struggle in shutout loss to D-Backs

PHOENIX — Major League Baseball spent most of the offseason working on changes to improve pace of play. A few more months like this from the Giants lineup might singlehandedly fix the problem. 

Patrick Corbin needed just two hours, five minutes and 100 pitches to one-hit the Giants. The lone knock in a 1-0 loss at Chase Field was a check-swing, shift-busting, infield single from Brandon Belt with two outs in the eighth. 

The effort, or lack thereof, wasted a gem from Johnny Cueto, who struck out 11 in seven innings but could only watch as Tony Watson gave up the night’s lone run in the bottom of the eighth. Corbin did the rest. 

“You can’t say enough about what Johnny did,” Belt said. “He didn’t let the hitters’ failings affect him. He just went out and did his job and he was really good at it.”

So was Corbin, but these days, it seems like any pitcher facing the Giants will sleep well afterward. They have lost four straight and scored just six runs over that span. Through 16 games, they have failed to score more than two runs on nine different occasions. 

“I just see some guys pressing here,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “They’re trying too hard and you can see it. They’re trying to get things going. The past week, we’ve got to calm down a little bit. You don’t ever stop trying to do your best or compete, but you can go overboard.”

Bochy said he watches his hitters chase pitches in the dirt and sees “tension in their swings.” Asked what he can do, he said the staff is having daily discussions. The Giants made batting practice optional on Sunday to try and clear some heads. They couldn't do the same on the first night in a new ballpark. 

“We’re talking about ways we can help,” he said again. 

Right now, this group needs plenty of it. 

Corbin has taken the leap this year by relying heavily on a slider that Belt said looks like a fastball until it’s too late to adjust. He threw 40 of them Tuesday, getting 12 swinging strikes and five looking. Only one of the nine sliders the Giants put into play found success, and that was somewhat by accident. 

When Belt walked up with two down in the eighth inning of a scoreless game, Joe Panik’s fourth-inning walk represented the lone Giants baserunner. The Diamondbacks shifted, and Belt said he did not automatically eliminate the possibility of bunting. Bochy would have been fine with, no matter what the “unwritten rules” might say. The shift was on and the game was tied. 

“You’re trying to win a ballgame,” he said. 

Belt realized that it would take a perfect bunt to get a hit given the way Corbin falls off the mound, but he essentially did bunt, just without any controversy. He checked his swing and pushed one toward third, beating the throw to first. Belt cracked a huge smile as he walked back to the bag. 

“I hit one earlier (into the shift) and they took it away with a good diving play,” he said. “It just happens sometimes. The shift takes a lot of hits away, but once in a while, it gives one back.”

The Giants could not find another hit, though, and the Diamondbacks pounced on Tony Watson. A walk, sac bunt and single up the middle provided the only run Corbin would need. It was the first run allowed by Watson this season. 

Bochy had pulled Cueto after 97 pitches. He said he probably would have stuck with him a bit longer if he had not been coming off an ankle injury. 

“We talked with Johnny,” he said. “It was the right thing to do.”

That was true for many reasons, including one Bochy probably would rather not think about. There’s no telling how long Cueto would have had to stick around to get any kind of support from the lineup.