LOS ANGELES — In a weird way, Hunter Strickland’s worst moments as a professional show why he was the perfect choice to pitch the ninth inning Thursday.
When Strickland jawed with Salvador Perez in the World Series four years ago, he stood at his locker a few minutes later and calmly answered wave after wave of questions. When he fought Bryce Harper last summer, he again was waiting for reporters when the clubhouse door opened. The next day, the incident was behind him.
Strickland is quick to move on in good times and bad. One of the best traits a closer can have is a short memory. No matter what had happened Thursday, when he was handed a 1-0 lead in the ninth inning at Dodger Stadium, Strickland would have asked for the ball Friday night.
“Strick has the right demeanor to pitch in that situation,” catcher Buster Posey said. “He doesn’t let much phase him. He gives up a hit or a walk and it’s ‘alright.’ It’s always ‘alright, on to the next one.’”
Making his first appearance as the new Giants closer, Strickland did in fact give up a leadoff single. Then he struck out Yasmani Grandal, got Logan Forsythe to pop up, and induced a game-ending grounder from Joc Pederson. The save was Strickland’s sixth as a big leaguer but first since an early morning meeting where Bruce Bochy named him the closer. When the Giants put Mark Melancon on the DL, Strickland was an easy choice.
The 29-year-old had a dominant spring, separating from other candidates in the bullpen, and he has always had the equipment to pitch the ninth. The upper 90s fastball is now paired with a revamped slider, and the combination was overwhelming in spring training, when Strickland didn’t allow a run and barely broke a sweat. He was the same guy Thursday, and he said he didn’t let the new role became a hinderance. His preparation has not changed.
“Honestly it’s just a job to do,” he said.
All the relievers did theirs on Thursday, and every out was needed. Josh Osich took over for Ty Blach and carried over his hot spring, throwing a cutter past Cody Bellinger to end the sixth and strand a runner. Cory Gearrin got the seventh and froze Chris Taylor with a two-out, two-strike slider right down the middle with two on. Tony Watson blew through the eighth, striking out Corey Seager, Yasiel Puig and Bellinger in his Giants debut. Strickland handled the ninth.
“They kept their poise well,” Bochy said. “Osich did a great job. Gearrin, that’s a big out when he had to. Watson looked good. All of them looked good. It’s a ‘pen we have a lot of confidence in.”
The Giants felt the same last spring and then Melancon went out and blew a save on Opening Day. It unraveled from there, but Strickland didn’t let this one get tight. The sellout crowd at Dodger Stadium never had a reason to stand in the ninth. Strickland stared down the Dodgers and came away with a handshake from Posey.
“Those are the types of guys you need late in the game,” Bochy said of Strickland. “They’re fearless.”