Giants' first-inning woes continue, and openers a distinct possibility

Giants' first-inning woes continue, and openers a distinct possibility

SAN FRANCISCO -- When Farhan Zaidi stood in front of a group of Giants season-ticket holders in January, he was asked if he was serious about occasionally using an opener. The new president of baseball operations volleyed the question back, asking the fans if they would still be against an opener if he could guarantee them that the strategy would improve the Giants' chances. 

Zaidi learned a lesson that day. The majority of the fans in the room confirmed that yes, they would still be against the opener, a recent addition to MLB rotations, even if it helped the club's chances. 

Perhaps the question should be asked again. 

After Cincinnati Reds outfielder Yasiel Puig deposited a hanging Jeff Samardzija slider in the Oracle Park bleachers in the first inning of the Reds' 5-4 win Saturday, Giants starters have allowed 40 runs in 39 first innings this season. Puig's homer was the 16th against Giants starters in the first, easily their worst mark in any inning. The staff has allowed just 16 homers in the final four innings combined. 

This isn't just about the pitching, though. Evan Longoria's solo shot in the bottom of the inning was the first homer by a Giants hitter in the first inning this season. They have just three runs in the first all year, as many as the Reds scored in one night at Oracle Park. 

Add it up, and the Giants have been outscored 40-3 in the first inning this year. 

As manager Bruce Bochy likes to say, "if it's not working, change something."

"Some things are hard to explain," Bochy said Saturday. "As a staff we've had a tough time in the first. It's hard to believe how any runs we've given up in the early innings. We've got to fix it."

The fixes so far have been subtle. Samardzija threw more pitches than usual in the bullpen before the game, but it didn't work. Derek Holland, who had a rough first inning last week in Colorado, was moved to the bullpen, and he's not happy about it. 

But bigger strategy changes could be coming soon. The front office has continued to talk about using openers, and on several occasions already the discussions have gotten serious. When Ty Blach was recalled for the Dodgers series last homestand, the Giants seriously considered starting Blach against the left-leaning lineup he previously had always dominated, and bringing Samardzija out of the bullpen. 

The Giants haven't gone that far yet, but they continue to evaluate upcoming series for opportunities to try something different. On Friday, Bochy said the concept is still a consideration. 

"I can't tell you if or when we'll do it, but it's still something that has come up," he said at the time. 

[RELATED: MadBum's no-trade list reportedly includes eight contenders]

After Saturday's loss, Bochy said Tyler Beede would start Tuesday but wouldn't name a starter for Wednesday's game. Andrew Suarez and Shaun Anderson are options to come up from Triple-A, but perhaps it's time for the front office to finally turn to a concept Zaidi first floated at the Winter Meetings. 

If it's not working, change something. Right now, the plan in the first inning isn't working. 

Giants to pay more funds to event-based workers in coronavirus hiatus


Giants to pay more funds to event-based workers in coronavirus hiatus

It's unclear when games will return to Oracle Park, but the Giants announced a program Wednesday that will help keep stadium employees afloat while the sport is shut down by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. 

The program, announced by president and CEO Larry Baer and vice president and general counsel Jack Bair, has two tiers and will cover about 2,600 employees who work at Oracle Park during games and events. Baer additionally said all full-time Giants employees will remain employed and have been working from home. 

Major League Baseball had previously announced that all teams would pay $1 million each to help pay ballpark employees, and the Giants' ownership group and executives are chipping in an additional $700,000. It will be distributed in two ways.

The first part of the program covers event-based employees who technically work for a third party, such as the 900 Bon Appetit workers who handle food and catering at Oracle Park. Those employees will get a one-time grant of $500. The Giants expect about 2,000 workers to request this grant. 

The second part covers event-based staffers and will provide an additional $100 to $250 per month depending on length of employment and how many hours were worked during the 2019 season. This primarily benefits people like ushers, security guards and maintenance workers, along with game-day workers like the scoreboard operators and the group that tosses t-shirts into the stands. 

"They are in many ways, in our view, really the backbone of what we're doing," Baer said of the collective group. "They're the people that work hard, work diligently and serve our fans, which is the lifeblood of our sport and our business. Without games, obviously many of them will encounter hardship."

The majority of event-based employees had a second job elsewhere, though many work at places like Chase Center, which also has been shut down. The Giants have encouraged everyone covered by their program to also apply for unemployment benefits. They have confirmed with local and federal government officials that these supplemental payments won't impact unemployment eligibility. 

"The benefits that we're offering, in addition to unemployment, should roughly equate to what people would have made if games were played, and in some cases it could be more," Bair said. 

None of the newly announced funds came from players, but Baer said some have expressed an interest in working on their own programs and he intends to reach out to them. When the players do return to Oracle Park, it should look different. 

Some work continues on the Mission Rock development since it has been included in the "essential work" description given by the city because some of the project is dedicated to affordable housing. Workers in what used to be Lot A are practicing social distancing and wiping down equipment as they work. 

[RELATED: Kruk and Kuip recall legendary Kershaw-Bumgarner battles]

Baer also said construction on the bullpens and outfield walls has been stopped but will restart when the Giants are given the all-clear by the city. 

"We have timelines available and when we have a game at Oracle Park, we would have enough lead time to perform that work," Baer said. "Much of that work had been done already."

Giants broadcasters recall Madison Bumgarner-Clayton Kershaw battles

Giants broadcasters recall Madison Bumgarner-Clayton Kershaw battles

Programming note: Watch the re-air of Madison Bumgarner's first home run off Clayton Kershaw tonight at 8 p.m. PT on NBC Sports Bay Area.

When Madison Bumgarner is on the mound, he’s unstoppable. Things don’t change when he approaches the plate, either.

The Giants-turned-D-backs ace hit 19 home runs in his career, two of which came against Dodgers star Clayton Kershaw.

“When Madison Bumgarner took the mound at Dodger Stadium, or at Oracle Park, and he’s facing the Dodgers, and it usually was [Clayton] Kershaw, it was always an event,” Giants broacaster Duane Kuiper told NBC Sports Bay Area’s Amy Gutierrez. “And you knew it was probably going to be a one-run, two-run, low-scoring game until the eighth or ninth inning.”

On Wednesday night, the re-air of MadBum’s first home run off of Kershaw will be broadcasted on NBC Sports Bay Area. It’s a matchup and a battle that has commenced for more than a decade, both on the mound and in the batter's box. 

Kuiper compared what Bum could on both sides of the ball to that of 15-year veteran Donnie Robinson, who was a former teammate of Mike Krukow’s.

“Yeah, Donnie Robinson, ‘The Caveman,’ was a great hitter,” Kuiper said. “And he was a great pitcher.” 

Still, Bumgarner was a different breed. He was intimidating, just as Kershaw was. When a hitter would face him, he would feel the presence of the three-time World Series champion, as would everyone in attendance and watching from home. 

[RELATED: Looking back at the 19 homers Giants have hit off Kershaw]

When Bumgarner and Kershaw would square off, the two had that demeanor about one another that would create something dynamic out on the field. It was a head-to-head matchup you wouldn't want to miss.

"I loved it. I loved every pitch of every one of those games," fellow broadcaster Mike Krukow said.

"It always meant more. To me, it was a playoff game. It was between Kershaw, and it was between Bumgarner. And each guy as competitive as they were, they wanted to be the best on that given day."

Check out Kruk and Kuip's full comments in the video above.