Giants manage just four hits in finale, drop three of four at Chase Field

Giants manage just four hits in finale, drop three of four at Chase Field

PHOENIX — Aaron Hill stood in the visiting clubhouse of a park he long called home, smiled, and pointed out that the Giants have 158 games left. 

“Didn’t we sweep them one year and they went out and won the World Series?” he asked. 

Hill’s Diamondbacks did, in 2012, taking three straight games from a Giants team that then went to Coors Field and watched Barry Zito throw a shocking shutout in the season's fourth game. This series left a similarly bitter taste, as the Giants dropped three of four in strikingly similar fashion. 

On Thursday they again jumped out to a lead, only to see the Diamondbacks charge forward with another stretch of seven unanswered runs. A second straight night of that led to a 9-3 loss for the Giants, who managed just four hits in a park where that’s hard to do.

“You’re trying to limit the damage,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “When they scored, they put up crooked numbers. When we scored, we put up one. We’ve had success here by answering back and scoring lots of runs. Their guy (Robbie Ray) had good stuff, but still, we scored early and it got away from us. It comes down to pitching better.”

Jeff Samardzija couldn’t have thrown any better in the first couple of innings. He had five strikeouts, and he followed that with an easy third. In the fourth, David Peralta and Paul Goldschmidt hit solo homers to tie the game. Samardzija wasn’t particularly bothered by that inning, but the sixth inning ticked him off. 

Peralta drew a leadoff walk ahead of the dangerous Goldschmidt, who singled. Samardzija tried to sneak a fastball past Jake Lamb and it ended up bouncing onto the pool deck in right-center field. A 3-2 Giants lead turned into a two-run deficit.

“The sixth inning bothers me,” Samardzija said. “We were going heating in. We had thrown a few in there and had success. It ran back over the plate and he got good wood on it.”

Samardzija gave way to the bullpen, and Ty Blach — pitching for the second time in an unfamiliar short-relief role — couldn’t keep the game close. Blach gave up three runs with two outs in the eighth, walking a pair before two hits to left that gave Hill, an infielder his whole career up until Wednesday, trouble. 

“They’ve got to bring their closer in (for the next inning) and there are two outs and nobody on, and they put up a crooked number,” Bochy said. “We’ve got to clean it up and stay away from that.”

--- Bochy said Buster Posey will get a planned day off Friday, with Nick Hundley catching Matt Cain. Hunter Pence will also get a day off. The Giants had planned to rest Pence more often this season and they are reacting in part to four very long games (they weren’t thrilled by the pace of play this week). Jarrett Parker will start in right and Hill, who homered early Thursday, seems headed for his first career start in left. 

“It’s about getting in there and getting experience,” he said. “I’m comfortable. But it’s a new position … I want to see those line drives and hard fly balls.”

Hill came up just short on a diving attempt in the eighth Thursday. He got turned around a bit on an RBI double to the warning track. 

The Giants are hopeful that Denard Span (hip) can start Friday. If not, Gorkys Hernandez will get another day. 

--- Hunter Strickland was stretched out on Thursday, getting five outs. Bochy knew he wouldn’t have Strickland this weekend. The reliever and his wife, Shelley, are expecting their first child. Steven Okert will replace Strickland while he’s on paternity leave. 

Should Giants be finding more starts for slugging Pablo Sandoval?

Should Giants be finding more starts for slugging Pablo Sandoval?

SAN FRANCISCO -- Pablo Sandoval took fly balls in left field during the spring. He caught a bullpen session. A year after starting at second base, he tried to keep that option open, too. 

The Giants' switch-hitter has embraced versatility over the last year, or tried to, in order to get extra time on the field, but thus far his role has been as traditional as it gets. He has made two starts at third base and one at first, and in both games of this series, he was the designated hitter. Otherwise, Sandoval has 17 appearances off the bench. 

That's the role that was expected as the Giants broke camp, but Sandoval has put his own twist on things: He has been more dangerous than any Giants hitter through a month, making a strong case that he should be more of a fixture for one of the worst lineups in the majors. 

"There's no real good way to do it except give Longo the occasional day off," manager Bruce Bochy said before Wednesday's 4-0 win over the Blue Jays. "The thing that I like about Pablo is he's able to sit and maintain his swing and go up there and give you a good at-bat, so whether it's Belt or Longo taking a day, Pablo will start occasionally. If you're talking on a daily basis, it's just hard to do."

Perhaps the Giants need to find a way, though. 

Sandoval's homer Wednesday, his second in two games in Toronto, left the bat at 112 mph (he later had an out at 111 mph). It was the hardest-hit ball of the season by a Giant, and by the end of the day Sandoval had a .333 average and 1.027 OPS. He would easily lead the team in OPS if he qualified, and he currently leads the Giants in doubles (7) despite starting just five games. 

The problem is that Sandoval can't really be anything but an emergency option at any position but first and third. First baseman Brandon Belt is the team's best hitter overall and locked into the lineup, although perhaps the Giants will give him more time in left to clear some playing time. The staff has shown no inclination to give Sandoval more time at third, where Evan Longoria has a .655 OPS and three homers. 

Sandoval enjoyed two days as a starter in Toronto, picking up four hits. But it'll be back to the pinch-hitting role when the Giants return home Friday, and it's a role nobody is doing better right now. Sandoval leads the National League with six pinch-hits, five of which have been doubles. He has scored three runs and driven in two as a pinch-hitter, repeatedly kickstarting late-game rallies. 

[RELATED: Belt not a fan of robot umpires despite frustrations]

"A lot of Pablo's hits are coming off the bench, too, so that works," Bochy said. "It's nice to have a batter sitting on the bench and when you need a big hit, he's ready to go. A lot of those at-bats come with men on base and later in the game, and I've got a pretty nice weapon there."

Giants prospect Heliot Ramos reflects on recent hot streak with San Jose

Giants prospect Heliot Ramos reflects on recent hot streak with San Jose

Everything felt right. There wasn’t anything off with his swing, he wasn’t pressing mentally, and yet, he only had one hit in his first 17 at-bats. 

All it took was a home run on April 9 to get Heliot Ramos, the Giants’ No. 2 prospect, back on track. Since then, he's hitting .349 (15-for-43) with five home runs.

“I knew that I was doing everything right,” Ramos said on Tuesday’s Inside The San Jose Giants Podcast. “In my mind, everything was right. My confidence was good. My swing was good. I just needed the ball to get down. I just keep on swinging.” 

As he kept swinging, hits started to show up in the scorebook. What has been just as important, however, has been him not swinging. 

Ramos registered just 35 walks last season as a member of the Augusta GreenJackets and finished his first full season in the minor leagues with a lowly .313 on-base percentage. He worked all offseason tracking pitches longer and laying off breaking balls in the dirt while playing Winter Ball, and it has paid off big time. 

Through 18 games in High-A with the San Jose Giants, Ramos already has 14 walks and his on-base percentage is over 100 points higher than last season (.418).

“I can see the ball well right now,” Ramos said. “I feel good. I’ve been feeling good. I learned a lot from last year. I hope this is something that can keep going good for me.” 

Not only has Ramos shown improved patience at the plate, but the center fielder is also driving the ball all over the yard. He’s batting .262 with a .991 OPS, and 11 of his 16 hits have gone for extra bases. Despite being the fifth-youngest player in the California League at 19 years old, he’s second in home runs (5), fifth in slugging percentage (.574), fifth in on-base percentage, fourth in walks, and third in OPS. 

San Jose was supposed to be a preview of what’s to come for years in San Francisco this season with the duo of Ramos and top prospect Joey Bart. A fractured hand for Bart has derailed those plans, but it hasn’t slowed down the younger of the two. 

Ramos no longer has the protection of Bart hitting right behind him. The teenager is seeing more off-speed pitches and is now the primary threat offensively to opposing teams. And yet, he’s flourished at the plate. 

[RELATED: Heliot Ramos' advancement 'really encouraging to see']

Since Bart broke his hand on April 15, Ramos has gone 8-for-26 (.308) with two home runs, two doubles, three RBI, and four runs scored. He’s growing every game as a player, both mentally and in the box score, and it could all be thanks to a disappointing season where he hit .245 with 136 strikeouts in 124 games last year. 

“Stay positive,” Ramos said when asked what he learned from last season. “That was the main thing I learned. Stay positive and never give up. Keep working hard and everything’s going to be okay.”