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. 

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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. 

Logan Webb looks to make a statement at end of rookie season


Logan Webb looks to make a statement at end of rookie season

ATLANTA -- Logan Webb smiled Sunday afternoon and said he has adjusted to facing players he grew up watching. No longer does he stand on the mound and think, "Holy cow, I'm facing Manny Machado." But Webb can still get wide-eyed at times. 

The 22-year-old knows that plenty of former Giants are coming into town next week to celebrate Bruce Bochy, and he said he hopes to meet Jonathan Sanchez or Pat Burrell or ...

"Maybe Timmy?" Webb asked reporters. 

Lincecum hasn't shown up at the park in years, but the Giants are quietly optimistic that he will next weekend. If No. 55 does enter the clubhouse, Webb won't just be a fan. He'll be part of the process, a 22-year-old rookie set to face the Dodgers during Bochy's final series as manager. 

"I'm excited to see all the other stuff and take it all in," Webb said. "There are not many guys like (Bochy) who come around."

Webb has gotten to make seven starts for Bochy and Sunday's was the best. He limited the NL East champion Braves to two hits and one run over a career-high six innings. The Giants won 4-1 in Bochy's final road game. 

"I felt like today I was finally able to put it all together," Webb said. "I've got a lot more work to do but I felt a lot more confident and had command of all my pitches."

Webb mixed it up well, throwing 51 fastballs, 21 slurves and 18 changeups. He got 13 swinging strikes and had the Braves off balance all afternoon. Bochy said Webb is more polished than he anticipated.

"He's known for kind of a power sinker, but I think he's just getting better and better with his secondary pitches," Bochy said. "They're better than I thought. He's got a good breaking ball and changeup. He's got the weapons and arsenal to pitch up here because he's got command, too."

Webb walked two on Sunday and has issued two-or-fewer free passes in six of his seven starts. That command, plus the raw stuff, has kept him in the rotation after a promotion in mid-August. A season that was extremely trying early on is ending on a high note, and Webb hopes to keep it going. He's well aware that every pitch he throws is another chance to impress a front office that will look to build a strong rotation this winter. 

"I think all the young guys, that's what we're hoping to do," Webb said. "Obviously you want to do well for now, but we also set ourselves up for the future as well."

Ex-Giants slugger Adam Duvall still hitting for power in new Braves home


Ex-Giants slugger Adam Duvall still hitting for power in new Braves home

ATLANTA -- It has slowed over time, but for a couple of years, Adam Duvall was The One Who Got Away for much of the Giants' fan base.

An organization that's had decades of trouble developing homegrown outfielders traded Duvall to the Reds and watched him hit 64 total homers in 2016 and 2017, and make an All-Star team. Duvall was far from Oracle Park, but as he broke through in Cincinnati, he was aware that fans grumbled about the deal.

"I have extended family [in the Bay Area] and they would talk about it," he said Friday. "I got an opportunity with the Reds to get a lot of playing time. For being a young guy, that was good for me to get some playing time and show what I could do."

The mistake the Giants made wasn't necessarily underestimating the power -- Duvall always had hit homers in the minors, including 30 in a season with High-A San Jose. The Giants simply didn't believe he could handle left field, and with Matt Duffy at third, they included Duvall in a 2015 deadline trade for Mike Leake. They wanted more consistent starting pitching. It didn't work out that way. 

Duvall's run in Cincinnati ended last year, when the home-run power wasn't enough to make up for a .205 average and .286 OBP. But he has found a role with the Braves, starting 23 games in the outfield and posting a .863 OPS. His homer against his old team Saturday night was his ninth in 103 at-bats for the NL East champs.

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The Braves clinched Friday night against some players Duvall considered mentors. Before Friday's game, Duvall said he's grateful for the work the Giants did in preparing him for the big leagues. He pointed to Buster Posey and Ryan Vogelsong -- who is coaching with the Giants this weekend -- as two former teammates who were particularly helpful. 

"That was a big, big part of my career when I first got introduced to playing in the big leagues," Duvall said. "They were a very professional group."