Giants

After breaking through late in 2016, Okert pushing for Opening Day job

After breaking through late in 2016, Okert pushing for Opening Day job

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Steven Okert made his MLB debut last April and walked the first batter he faced. The next batter taught him a valuable lesson. 

“The ball was smoked and (Brandon) Crawford is right there and he turns two,” Okert said Sunday. “It was like, ‘Wow. Don’t try to do too much. Use your defense.’ You’ve got Crawford out there making diving plays, and Joe (Panik) up the middle, and (Brandon) Belt scooping balls and (Eduardo) Nunez out there, and our outfielders. That takes pressure off any pitcher.”

Okert tried to keep that in mind throughout his three stints in the big leagues, and the late-season results showed that he was getting better and better at slowing the game down. When he returned in September, Okert allowed one run in nine appearances, with eight strikeouts in those eight innings. That put him in position to try and win an opening day job this spring. It would be natural for Okert to feel that added weight this month, but he said he has tried to ignore it.

“I try not to think about it at all, honestly,” he said. “Ultimately the decision is not mine. There’s nothing I can do other than show my best on the field. Me and (Josh) Osich are buddies and we hang out. It’s a weird position to be in, being buddies and competing, but I’m trying to stay within myself.”

Okert has tried not to look at the numbers. But if he were to sneak a glance at the stat sheet, he would see a young left-hander who has done everything necessary to line up at Chase Field on April 2. In seven scoreless innings, he has allowed just two hits, walked one, and struck out four. He entered after Jeff Samardzija ran into a jam in the fifth Sunday, getting two grounders and a harmless fly to center to strand a runner. 

“O has been good. He's done all he can,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen between those guys, but he certainly has pitched well.”

Early on, it looked like a big spring would make Okert an opening-day lock. Osich allowed runs in each of his first three outings and Will Smith missed the first few weeks of action with an irritated elbow. But Osich has settled in, with just one hit allowed over his past four appearances. Smith made his spring debut Friday and he’s set to ramp it up even more this week. 

If Smith is ready for opening day, the decision for the second lefty spot will be a difficult one. Okert has elevated his status in part by listening to those around him. He has taken advice from Jeremy Affeldt on how to deal with the mental part of pitching, and when Tim Hudson was in camp in February, Okert picked his brain about his changeup. The best advice may have come from a position player. 

“The first time he caught me, (Nick) Hundley noticed that sometimes I’m locked in on the target and sometimes I’m looking somewhere else,” he said. “Hundley and (Tim) Federowicz have gotten on me about looking in (at them) consistently. Everything with pitching is about being repeatable with your delivery, so I’ve been working on that.”

Okert has a fastball that regularly ran up to 94 last season, but he’s focusing on being less of a strikeout pitcher. He knows the best path through an inning with the Giants is often to let the Gold Glove-heavy defense take over, and he’s hoping he gets to test Crawford, Panik and others often. The September run last year showed that he belongs, but teammates made that clear long before Okert found his stride on the mound.

“Getting back up to the big leagues last year, when I walked in, right away it was: 'Congratulations. Make it about you being you. Make your pitches and you’ll be fine,'" Okert said. "And getting in a couple of big situations last year, that helped a lot."

Giants swept away in St. Louis, drop fourth straight

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AP

Giants swept away in St. Louis, drop fourth straight

BOX SCORE

The Giants wore goofy sweaters on their flight to San Diego last Sunday, and their rookies were given Fortnite outfits as they left Petco Park on Wednesday.

The flight home this Sunday will take on an entirely different tone. 

The Giants lost 9-2 to the Cardinals at Busch Stadium and suffered their first sweep in St. Louis since 1995.

The NL Central was one house of horrors after the next this season. The Giants also were swept in Cincinnati and Milwaukee. They lost two of three in Chicago and Pittsburgh. 

Here's what you need to know from the final game of that 2-13 road stretch ... 

--- Andrew Suarez was pulled after just 77 pitches, as the Giants likely are trying to limit his innings this late in the year. He gave up two earned runs in five innings, and if this is it for his rookie year, he currently stands at a 4.22 ERA and 1.27 WHIP. He's been a bright spot and certainly gives this team a nice rotation piece. 

--- This one turned into a boat race in the sixth. Ray Black was charged with four of the five runs allowed in the inning, which raised his ERA to 6.45. 

--- The lineup had just one hit off Cardinals starter Miles Mikolas through six innings. Brandon Crawford hit a two-run homer in the seventh. 

--- The Giants have lost 50 road games in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1984 and 1985. They went 26-55 away from home last season. Not surprisingly, the issue has been the offense. They've scored 25 fewer runs on the road despite playing six more games.

Giants blow 4-2 lead, fall to Cardinals on Tyler O'Neill's walk-off

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AP

Giants blow 4-2 lead, fall to Cardinals on Tyler O'Neill's walk-off

BOX SCORE

SAN FRANCISCO — The Cardinals made four errors Saturday and had trouble with several other balls. The Giants couldn’t take advantage.

Cardinals right fielder Tyler O’Neill hit a walk-off homer off reliever Mark Melancon in the bottom of the 10th at Busch Stadium, handing the Giants a 5-4 loss. They’ve lost three straight after a good start to their final trip. 

The Giants had runners on the corners and one out in the top of the 10th, but second baseman Alen Hanson struck out. After an intentional walk of catcher Nick Hundley, Right fielder Austin Slater struck out to end the threat. 

—- The Cardinals butchered a couple of bloops in the seventh and the Giants took full advantage. With a runner on first, Hanson and starting catcher Aramís Garcia hit bloops that Cardinals outfielders didn’t handle cleanly. Starter Dereck Rodriguez followed with a single and outfielder Gregor Blanco made it 4-2 when he beat out a double-play ball. 

—- Rodriguez was cruising but he walked the lead off batter in the bottom of the seventh and then gave up a two-run shot to catcher Yadier Molina. It was the first non-solo homer allowed by Rodriguez this season. The rookie was charged with four runs in what could have been the final start of his season. 

—- Joe Panik isn’t a thumper, but his first career start at first base had plenty of positives. Panik  had three hits and looked fine defensively. 

—- Garcia bounced back nicely from a four-strikeout night. He had four hits, including a big one in the seventh inning rally.