There are hidden heroes when a team is going through the kind of stretch the Giants are in right now, and Sammy Long certainly qualified Sunday.
Long threw 90 pitches out of the bullpen after taking over for Anthony DeSclafani, and while his ERA took a hit, he kept Gabe Kapler from using anyone else but Austin Slater on the mound. The manager was appreciative after Long took down 4 2/3 long-relief innings in a 9-0 loss to the Braves.
"Sam is going to have a hard time understanding how valuable that work was for us today, but we do go into the next series with a fresh bullpen," Kapler said.
That was a silver lining Sunday, as the Giants dropped their first series since late July and had one of the few truly demoralizing days of this stretch of 16 games in 16 days. It'll continue Monday when the first-place Milwaukee Brewers come to town, and while the bullpen will be fresh, there are cracks elsewhere -- and this is no time for those to pop up. Kapler, for his part, was pretty optimistic.
The first concern Sunday was with Kris Bryant, whose only appearance in the game came when Slater used his glove to get the final out of the day for Giants pitchers. Bryant came out of Friday's game with side soreness but an MRI came back clean. Kapler said he hopes to have Bryant back in the lineup Monday for the Brewers, but the Giants are going to be extremely careful with this one.
"He's still feeling it in there," Kapler said. "One thing we have to be very cognizant of is we don't want Kris Bryant for one game or two games. We want Kris for the rest of the season."
The other concern was one that popped up again during the game. Anthony DeSclafani came off the IL after dealing with ankle irritation, but he was removed after just nine outs and with trainer Dave Groeschner by his side. Kapler said DeSclafani was fine after the game.
"He said he was OK to continue," Kapler said. "We just made more of a strategic decision to bring in Sam Long there and see if he could cover some innings for us and not put Tony at risk."
DeSclafani said the ankle will be a "tolerance thing" going forward and he's hoping it gets easier to deal with. It's clear this is something he might have to fight through the rest of the year, but this is a time when nobody is 100 percent. The Giants will hope they're as close as possible when they land back in San Francisco ahead of what could be the toughest week of their season.
They have four games against the Brewers and then three against the Dodgers, and it's possible they'll see four Cy Young candidates on the mound this week. It starts Monday night with Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff will follow. It's a brutal week, which is why a 6-3 road trip was well-timed.
Kapler wanted more, though. The Giants went 4-2 on a sticky swing through New York and Atlanta, but that's not the standard around here anymore.
"Hard to be especially excited about the road trip when we weren't able to complete the trip with our best play," he said. "You're always going to remember the last game of the trip. It's always going to be the thing that you taste most. I will say that overall, had you said, 'Hey, would you sign up for a 4-2 trip here?' I would say I might. I have a lot of belief in this club and every time we go out on the field I think we're going to win that day's baseball game, and right now I'm a little not pleased with the way we played this one."