Sloppy defense costs Giants in back-and-forth slugfest at Coors Field

Sloppy defense costs Giants in back-and-forth slugfest at Coors Field

DENVER — The secret about Coors Field is that often times it’s not the home runs that kill you. Oh they leave their mark, but it’s the bloops that turn into singles, the lazy fly balls that turn into doubles, and the gappers that go for three bases that really add up. 

Because of that, this is a place where you can’t skimp on outfield defense. You will pay for your mistakes, and the Giants certainly did Friday. They might have actually completed the comeback this time, but a brutal stretch in the seventh put the finishing touches on a 10-8 loss to the Rockies. 

Trailing 7-5 at the time, Bruce Bochy sent Jeff Samardzija back out on a batter-by-batter basis. Neither player nor manager lasted long. Samardzija’s 3-2 pitch to DJ LeMahieu appeared to catch the inner edge, but home plate umpire Gary Cederstrom disagreed. Samardzija felt Cederstrom gave up on the pitch too soon, missing out when it caught an inch of the plate. He pointed at Cederstrom and soon Bochy was running out to argue. He was ejected and Samardzija was pulled after six-plus up-and-down innings. 

“It was just frustration,” Bochy said. “I told him he missed it. I still believe he missed it. That's a big out. We finally make a pitch and get the guy out. That’s a big out (he missed). They ended up putting up a crooked number in that inning.”

As Samardzija walked off the field, he had a few more words for Cederstrom. He later said the umpire had a good night overall. 

“We’re in the seventh inning — there are a lot of emotions,” Samardzija said. “I’m out there fighting. He’s a professional and I said what I had to say and he didn’t throw me out. The one pitch I was unhappy with was in a situation where I really needed it.”

The walk set off a comically bad stretch. A passed ball got LeMahieu to second and he scored when Carlos Gonzalez’s flare to right-center dropped just in front of Hunter Pence. That was only the beginning. Two batters later — after a sacrifice fly made possible by two defensive mistakes — Pence couldn’t handle Raimel Tapia’s single to right. It clanked off his glove and bounced toward the wall, Gonzalez scoring from first and Tapia ending up on third. He, too, would score, on a double to right that was just out of Pence’s reach. 

“The ball popped up on me,” Pence said. “There might be a small part of me trying to do too much because (other) balls seemed to be just out of reach. It’s unacceptable. I’ve got to make better plays out there.”

Pence is said to be healthy, and he said the lights were not a problem. The ball has been taking off in this series — five homers were hit Friday — but outfield defense has been an issue all year, not just in this series. Per FanGraphs, the Giants’ outfield has been worth negative 30 defensive runs saved, the worst mark in the big leagues. And that was before Friday’s mistakes. 

“We’ve got to clean it up a little bit here,” Bochy said. 

Pence said players might be trying to do so much because they want to turn this around so badly. The emotion showed earlier, particularly on Samardzija’s two-run homer. It was his first in four years and traveled 446 feet, the longest by a pitcher since Statcast began tracking it in 2015. 

Samardzija flipped his bat, held a wing up on his way around the bases, and shot out a Ric Flair scream as he crossed the plate. A few minutes later he gave up five runs, including a three-run homer to Ian Desmond that wouldn’t go out anywhere else. Samardzija wasn’t able to celebrate his homer very much, but he also didn’t blame the park for his eight-run night. 

“It’s a tough place, but listen, it’s even both ways,” he said. “It helps out both teams.”

On this night, so did the Giants. 

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.”