Ty Blach

The unlikely lefty who stole the show in Giants-Dodgers Opening Day

The unlikely lefty who stole the show in Giants-Dodgers Opening Day

LOS ANGELES -- Ty Blach was supposed to spend Thursday afternoon in the bullpen. He was set to be the swingman, serving as a long reliever or short-stint lefty until the Giants needed a fifth starter on April 10.

Instead, Blach spent the final hour of his second Opening Day on the dugout rail, watching a bend-but-don't-break bullpen close out a 1-0 victory at Dodger Stadium. The 'W' went to Blach. The 'L' to Clayton Kershaw. A national television audience may have been surprised. A young pitcher was not.

"That's what this game is about, it's about competing," Blach said. "I love the opportunity to go up against one of the best. It's a great opportunity. I loved every moment of it."

The Giants needed every moment of it. The two strikeouts in the first. The double plays in the second and third. The Chris Taylor groundout that stranded two in the fifth with Blach's pitch count getting near its limit. Without Madison Bumgarner and Jeff Samardzija, they needed someone to step up and lead the way, and Blach did that on a massive stage. 

Before the game, manager Bruce Bochy said he wasn't sure if Blach would start the home opener, a task once also set aside for Bumgarner. Now it seems a lock, and that would also set Blach up to come back and start next Sunday at AT&T Park against these Dodgers. In eight career appearances against them, Blach has a 1.96 ERA. 

That number dipped with his five shutout frames Thursday, but it wasn't the work on the mound that was so impressive. It was the fact that Blach was so unimpressed by the whole situation. He said he leaned on a playoff appearance and a clutch win over Kershaw and the Dodgers at the end of 2016 to prepare. 

"I'll tell you what, I said he wouldn't be nervous or scared or in awe of anything," Bochy said. "He's got a great makeup about him. We were very confident he would give us a chance to win today, which he did. That's why we picked him to go Opening Day."

Blach was backed by a strong bullpen and a hefty swing by Joe Panik. He took Kershaw deep in the fifth, wrapping a pitch around the pole for the game's only run. Both dugouts seemed surprised it stayed fair. It was the second extra-base hit in 119 at-bats against Kershaw by the team's three lefty infielders, Panik, Brandon Crawford and Brandon Belt. 

"When you hit those balls you see it start to curve and you figure it's going to keep curving," Panik said. "Hey, I'll take it."

The Giants will take all of this. It's one game, but hey, they have a winning record for the first time since Oct. 2, 2016. Blach's win over Kershaw at AT&T Park came the day before that, and on Thursday he once again took the wheel. 

"Obviously it hurts with Bum, Shark and Melancon starting on the DL, but Ty did a great job getting us that game and the 'pen did a great job," Buster Posey said. "That's a great feeling."

Giants go with 'the simplest solution,' name Ty Blach 2018 Opening Day starter

Giants go with 'the simplest solution,' name Ty Blach 2018 Opening Day starter

OAKLAND — Ty Blach started a Double-A season opener in New Britain, Connecticut and a Triple-A season-opener in Salt Lake City. The next stop opportunity is just a tiny bit different. 

Dodger Stadium.

Against the reigning National League champions. 

With Clayton Kershaw on the other side. 

“It’s just a game,” Blach said Sunday morning, smiling. “I’ve pitched against him twice in my career and it’s been a good game both times. It’ll be good to take on that challenge.”

The Giants believe he’s up for it, but truthfully, that’s not why Blach is starting game one. This is no knock on Blach, who has a 2.23 ERA in seven career appearances against the Dodgers, but the Giants were low on options after Jeff Samardzija and Madison Bumgarner went down on back to back days this week. 

Johnny Cueto was already lined up to start Sunday’s game in Oakland, giving him only three days rest before opening day, and the Giants decided not to move Cueto up to Saturday’s game because management feared cold and wet conditions in Sacramento. With Cueto, Derek Holland and Chris Stratton lined up for the Bay Bridge Series already, that left Blach. 

“It’s the simplest (solution),” manager Bruce Bochy said. “Instead of disrupting three guys, Ty falls into that slot. It just keeps it easier for everybody.”

Bochy challenged Blach and other young pitchers this spring, saying it was time for the next generation to take over. He sort of did the same Sunday. 

“It’s unfortunate what happened (to Bumgarner and Samardzija), but you look at and the only good side is guys are getting an opportunity,” he said. “Somehow, someway, we have to pitch our tails off to soften the loss of Bum and Samardzija.”

Blach said he won’t feel added pressure, pointing out that he pitched in postseason games as a rookie. Still, there is added significance. After Blach was given the news Saturday, he called his parents and wife. They’re all flying out to Los Angeles to be at Dodger Stadium.

“Obviously the circumstances are tough losing Bum, but it’s an honor to be able to get that nod and go out there and give everything I’ve got and go get them,” Blach said. 

The Giants hoped Bumgarner could go into Los Angeles and get the season off to a roaring start by beating the best pitcher in the game. Maybe Blach can put a twist on that. Bochy has had more success against Kershaw over the years by going with his “bomb squad” lineups of random right-handed hitters. Perhaps Blach, then, is just the man to waltz into Dodger Stadium and open the season with a statement win.

Krukow believes Blach, Stratton duo will be big surprise for Giants

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Krukow believes Blach, Stratton duo will be big surprise for Giants

Between the Giants' first three starters in their rotation, Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija have logged 4,698.2 innings and have combined for 795 starts in the big leagues. 

The leaders for the next two spots in the rotation are juniors to these Giants. In two seasons, Ty Blach has pitched 180.2 innings in the bigs and has started 26 games. Chris Stratton has only seen 68.2 innings and made 10 starts in 2017. 

To Mike Krukow though, these two don't have to be work horses of yore to be successful in San Francisco. 

"Look, with the way the game's evolved, you don't expect them to go out there and get 200 innings out of them," Krukow said Thursday on KNBR. "You expect them to go out there and go through the lineup twice.

"Whether it's four, five or six innings, that's their job. And both Ty Blach and Stratton are more than capable of that." 

Blach and Stratton came into spring as the leaders for the No. 4 and No. 5 spot in the Giants rotation. With prospects Tyler Beede and Andrew Suarez competing to show they belong, Blach and Statton have done everything to keep them away. 

Through three starts, Blach has only allowed one earned run over 8.1 innings pitched, good for a 1.08 ERA. The lefty will never blow batters away, but he has struck out nine and is yet to walk a batter this spring. 

Stratton has made two starts and appeared once out of the bullpen halfway through spring training for the Giants. Over eight innings, the right-hander has allowed one more run than Blach and has a 2.25 ERA. He has 11 strikeouts and three walks thus far. 

"I like the fact that those guys are in that spot [No. 4 and No. 5]. I think that those guys will be a nice surprise for this club," Krukow said. 

If they keep throwing like this, soon it won't be such a surprise, but more of an expectation just like the trio ahead of this young duo.