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.