Giants

Giants' detailed plan falls apart late in season opener vs. Dodgers

Giants

The Giants only had a month at Scottsdale Stadium this spring, but that was enough time for new manager Gabe Kapler to lay out much of his vision. Kapler often would sit with reporters for 10 or 15 minutes after cameras and mics had turned off, talking about his favorite foods, or asking questions about how beat writing had changed over the years.

He talked of his own preferences, and when the conversation would steer back towards baseball, there was a theme that would rise above the others. More than anything, Kapler's Giants want to be more prepared than you. 

This was clear when Kapler laid out part of his plan during a combative press conference in November. It was clear during workouts in February and March, and again in April and May, when the modern manager sent out screenshots of simulations he was running with his massive staff. This is a manager who bought a PlayStation so he could practice matching up against the rest of the NL West. He could not have been more prepared for Thursday's season opener. 

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And there he was, the game tied 1-1 in the bottom of the seventh, calling for Tyler Rogers, his best reliever. The first night of the Gabe Kapler Era could not have gone much smoother to that point. 

 

In the end, the Giants lost 8-1 to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

"I thought we were in a good spot with Rog right there," Kapler said. "Sometimes it doesn't work out in your favor."

That's the cruel thing about this game. It's the reason Kapler's predecessor, Bruce Bochy, spent so many sleepless nights replaying games in his office over drinks with Brian Sabean. You can do everything right and the game will still leave you wanting to pull your hair out. 

The Giants, to be clear, did not do everything right. They made mental mistakes on the bases and in the field. They scored one run. That five-run sixth inning was filled with missed locations by Giants pitchers. 

But the staff did have this game set up the way they wanted. Johnny Cueto's shimmies matched Dustin May's lightning bolts for four innings, and Drew Smyly surprised by coming out of the bullpen. The plan all along was for Smyly, a No. 3 or No. 4 starter, to pitch in relief in the opener. 

"It was important for us to use our best weapons, I think, in the heart of the Dodgers' order," Kapler said. "Every time you go through Muncy and Bellinger and Turner and Betts, I think you're trying to retire several of the best hitters in baseball. It's going to be a task to do it once, so we really have to be careful with using our strongest weapons in that situation. I thought we did that with Smyly in that spot."

Smyly ultimately did get through those four, plus Corey Seager. In the dugout, though, another member of the rotation was left wondering why it played out this way. Cueto admitted after the game that he wasn't comfortable with getting pulled after 63 pitches. 

"In my 12 years in baseball it's the first time I'm seeing this," Cueto said through interpreter Erwin Higueros. "As a pitcher, you want to face the lineup as many times as possible. But you have to adapt to it and get used to it. That's what life is."

Perhaps Cueto would have masked those feelings for the night had it all turned out better. Rico Garcia was impressive in the sixth, getting the ball to Rogers, who was set for two innings that would have ideally given a lead to Trevor Gott and Tony Watson.

But Mookie Betts singled, Cody Bellinger doubled, and the game's latest member of the $300 million club showed why he was worth that contract when Justin Turner hit a grounder to second. Donovan Solano came home right away but Betts beat it out with a great jump and perfect slide. 

"I just don't think we executed all that well and the Dodgers made a couple of really good plays, in particular Mookie Betts' jump on the contact play," Kapler said. "We did everything we possibly could. We watched the play several times after the game. He read it well, it was well-struck and (Solano) threw a perfect strike to the plate and that was a pivotal run obviously.

 

"Any time you give up a lead in that situation it puts the Dodgers at a pretty significant advantage. My impressions are we didn't execute as well as the Dodgers overall."

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A two-run single by Kiké Hernandez gave the Dodgers a cushion, and Kapler went back into action. He had treated this game like a playoff game, using two starters for the first five innings. He's treating the rest of this series with the same intensity. Smyly was pulled after that one shutout inning so that he can start later this weekend. Rogers was pulled for inexperienced Rule 5 pick Dany Jimenez so that he's available again Friday night. 

Kapler wouldn't say who his starter will be Friday, but if you watched the first nine innings of the season, you know there's a well-rehearsed plan. The hope, this time, is that it's strong enough to overcome any missteps along the way, along with all of the talent pouring out of the other dugout.