PHOENIX — The Giants will blow save opportunities other than Sunday’s, and the relievers know it. They don’t mind. It’s part of the game, and they know they’ll take heat when it happens.
But the timing of the season’s first meltdown was a bummer. This is a group that believes it will grow into being a very good bullpen, and after the way last season went, lighting a lead on fire on Day 1 stung.
“No doubt about it,” Hunter Strickland said. “Obviously it brings back pretty mad memories, but we came back tonight and battled through. We’ll get back to where we need to be.”
Tuesday’s second chance was a big step back in the right direction. Strickland and three others combined for four one-hit innings in relief of Johnny Cueto. Cory Gearrin got the first three outs, George Kontos cut through the heart of the Diamondbacks’ lineup in the seventh, Derek Law breezed through the eighth, and Strickland shut it down in the ninth for an 8-4 victory.
“It was unfortunate that opening day went the way it did — I think our guys were a little amped up and left some pitches up — but we came back out today and showed what we’re capable of doing it,” Kontos said.
Manager Bruce Bochy wasn't particularly bothered after Sunday’s outing. He viewed it as a fluke, and before Tuesday’s game, he worried more about all the runners the Giants left on base while losing their opener. Hiding behind all the blown saves last season was a lineup that often failed to add on, putting maximum pressure on Santiago Casilla and the rest of the late-inning guys. Bochy thought the Giants should have scored 10 runs Sunday, and they came close Tuesday.
The lineup had 15 hits, with six different players picking up multiple knocks. Joe Panik had three hits out of the eight-spot and Hunter Pence, who slumped all spring, had three in the three-spot. The biggest contributions came from the leadoff spot, where Gorkys Hernandez started because Denard Span woke up Monday morning with a sore hip. Hernandez faced Patrick Corbin on short notice, but he drove in four runs, matching his total from a year ago.
“You have to be ready all the time,” he said. “You never know what’s going to happen. When Bochy says be ready, I’m ready.”
Bochy said Hernandez did “a terrific job,” noting his defensive contributions in addition to the four runs driven in. The production came from up and down the lineup, and even Cueto got involved. When Paul Goldschmidt charged hard on a bunt in the second inning, Cueto pulled the bat back and chopped a single over Goldschmidt’s head. The read was one Cueto made in the batter’s box.
“You can’t chop the ball any better than that,” Bochy said.
Cueto lined out to center in the fourth, ending a three at-bat hitting streak to start the season for the starting staff. He reached on an error in the fifth and ended up being a big part of a five-run inning that started with a soaring Brandon Crawford homer. When Hernandez shot a rocket off the left field wall, Cueto busted for third. Phil Nevin sent him home. He raced across the plate, nicking it with the back of his heel in a play that was so close the Diamondbacks took time for a second look in their clubhouse. Did Hernandez think Cueto had any shot at giving him a second RBI on the play?
“Uhh, no. No,” he said, smiling. “I never thought about that. I hit the ball and I’m trying to go hard to second and when I looked up I saw Johnny going to the plate and thought, ‘Oh my god!’”
Panik had earlier scored from second when he got a great read on a flare to right. On the double, he jogged home.
“I turned around and heeeeeere’s Johnny,” he said. “Just chugging home.”
When Cueto got back to the dugout, Eduardo Nuñez told him to take it easy.
“He said it’s just the second game of the season,” Cueto said. “But my instincts took over.”
And the bullpen took it home from there.