The Giants lost 6-1 on Thursday night, falling for just the sixth time in their last 21 games and having their worst offensive performance since getting shut out in a doubleheader with the Los Angeles Dodgers two weeks ago. They were, for a night at least, thoroughly overmatched by the San Diego Padres, the second-best team in the division and possibly the National League.
But man, this loss came with one hell of a silver lining.
Drew Smyly returned after more than a month on the injured list and looked like the type of pitcher who can be Gabe Kapler's best weapon for the next 15 games, and potentially beyond that. On a night when Giants hitters tied a season-high with 14 strikeouts, Smyly looked like he might match that himself.
The left-hander struck out seven of the first 10 Padres he faced out of the bullpen and ended up with eight in four innings. He became the first Giants pitcher to enter in relief and whiff at least eight since Scott Garrelts came in for Mark Davis on May 13, 1984 and struck out nine.
This didn't look flukey, either. Smyly's fastball topped out at 95.8 mph and averaged 94.5, an uptick of 1.2 mph from his average in appearances before he strained his left index finger. Smyly said some of that was the adrenaline of having what he deemed a second Opening Day, but a lot of it was what he expected.
"Before I got hurt, I felt I was throwing a lot harder than I usually do," he said. "My arm felt really strong and I was really excited about that. I'm glad that was able to transition through that month I missed."
As manager Gabe Kapler and pitching coach Andrew Bailey watched in the dugout, and executives Farhan Zaidi and Scott Harris tuned in back at home, perhaps they all had the same thought. If Smyly is going to keep throwing like this, he could be a dominant multi-inning lefty out of the bullpen for the Giants, like Drew Pomeranz -- who saw a similar velo bump last year -- is for the Padres. He could even be the best closer candidate for a team that has gone by committee. In a short series, Smyly -- if he keeps throwing like this -- could be a game-changer in relief of a right-handed starter.
The most likely solution, though, is a return to the rotation, with Smyly getting stretched out -- he threw 59 pitches Thursday -- and sliding in somewhere alongside Johnny Cueto and Kevin Gausman at the top. Kapler said Smyly as a relief weapon is "enticing" but indicated he would ultimately start big games down the stretch.
"It's a little too early to determine how we'll use him the next time he pitches, but we see him as versatile, able to fill several different roles, a sprinter, a bulk-innings role out of the pen, or obviously start at any time," Kapler said.
The Giants have some time to decide the next step. The rotation is set through Sunday and they're off Monday and again next Thursday, so they can move guys around to maximize the innings they get out of their best arms.
"We've looked at several different scenarios and ways to lay out a rotation going forward," Kapler said. "We'll continue to consider the best way to get the best out of every starter given their rest and their workload, but also to line up our best guys, potentially. We're considering several different options."