Giants' revamped bullpen blows two leads in Opening Day loss

Giants' revamped bullpen blows two leads in Opening Day loss

PHOENIX — Bruce Bochy’s head dropped into his right palm and he stared out at the mound with a familiar look on his face. He had seen this game before, many times over the second half of last season. He did not expect to see it on the first day of the Mark Melancon Era. 

The Giants blew 32 saves last season and flamed out in the NLDS because of a leaky bullpen, but the group was overhauled. Melancon got four years and $62 million to fix the ninth. The eighth was handed over to promising youngsters. 

The Giants believe in this group, and they believe they have the makings of a very good bullpen, but the first time out was the same flavor of disaster. Derek Law gave up the lead in the eighth. Melancon gave up four straight two-out hits in the ninth, blowing his first save opportunity with the Giants. The Giants lost 6-5 to the Diamondbacks, wasting a historic day from Madison Bumgarner and standout performances from Eduardo Nuñez and Joe Panik.

In a quiet clubhouse, Bochy said he’s not concerned about a group that’s lost this way before. 

“They’re men in there,” he said. “You’ve seen how they’ve handled things. It’s one game and we’ve got 161 (left). If we start thinking about this too much, that compounds things. I don’t worry about Mark or anybody. They’re pros and part of that is being resilient.”

The 1-of-162 theme flowed throughout the clubhouse, and it’s completely true. Still, it was hard not to feel like the Giants let one hell of a kickoff party slip through their fingers. Bumgarner went seven strong and became the first pitcher in MLB history to hit two homers on Opening Day. After the second one, a blast to deep left, teammates simply stared at him in the dugout and laughed. An hour later, the Giants were trying to come to grips with a walk-off loss. 

“In a way I think it’s my fault,” Law said. “I think if I get it to (Melancon) earlier, maybe it’s a different ending. I kind of feel like, how hitting is contagious, pitching is the same way. If I would have kept going the way Bumgarner was going, maybe it ends the way we want it.”

The Giants learned last season that, as little sense as it might make, blowing saves can feel contagious. Santiago Casilla was the main culprit, but his replacements in September didn’t fare much better. Casilla wasn’t part of the collapse in Game 4 of the NLDS.

Melancon’s blown save happened in an odd way. He got two quick outs, but a double and three straight singles ended the game. He said he made two execution mistakes, to Daniel Descalso and Jeff Mathis. 

“You tip your hat to those guys,” Melancon said. “They executed. They did what they wanted to do. It happened quickly. It's never fun to process, but it’s part of the job. You have to have a short-term memory.”

The schedule will make that a bit more difficult. Because the NCAA basketball title game is in nearby Glendale, the Giants won’t play again until Tuesday night. Bochy said that game, and all other ones, will be about more than bullpen arms. The Giants went 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position, although one of the wasted rallies included a foul tip straight off the plate that wasn’t reviewable. Players who watched the video in the clubhouse said the ball, hit by Brandon Crawford in the top of the ninth with the bases loaded, was indeed foul. 

“Craw thought it was foul. (Phil) Nevin thought it was foul,” Bochy said. “That’s a big call at that point.”

The Giants never pulled away on a day when their No. 9 hitter carried a heavy load, and it cost them. They’ve blown a lot of games at Chase Field over the years. They know how it goes.

“We don’t expect anything negative to happen with Mark out there, but hey, it happens,” Bochy said. “You’re not going to be perfect. We had a chance to put the game away a couple of times. We just couldn’t do it. In this ballpark, anything can happen.”

Giants Review: Steven Okert makes most of late call-up, but future still murky


Giants Review: Steven Okert makes most of late call-up, but future still murky

SAN FRANCISCO — It took a while for the Giants to find consistent left-handed relief after the end of the Javier Lopez-Jeremy Affeldt Era, but in 2018, Tony Watson and Will Smith were one of the National League’s best lefty bullpen duos. Ty Blach did a nice job once he was pulled from the rotation, too, and looks like a solid long reliever. 

But don’t forget about a fourth lefty, one who spent most of his season in Sacramento. Steven Okert was up on the taxi squad in April but didn’t get into a game. He wouldn’t return to AT&T Park until September, and when he did, he opened some eyes.

What Went Right

Okert made it back on Sept. 3 and made his 2018 debut that day, pitching a sharp scoreless inning at Coors Field. Over 10 September appearances, he would allow just one run in 7 1/3 innings, holding opponents to four hits in 27 at-bats.

The lefty struck out the side against the Brewers in his second appearance and had eight strikeouts and no walks in those 7 1/3 innings. In his final appearance, he struck out three Dodgers in two innings while allowing his lone run of the year. 

What Went Wrong

It’s a small sample, but Okert’s fastball maxed out at 93.4 mph in September, per Brooks Baseball, which was down from two previous stints, when he was often peaking at 94-95.  

The bigger concern for him is just the simple fact that the Giants didn't feel the need to have him up until September. The staff chose Josh Osich coming out of the spring and Okert had a down year in Triple-A, posting a 4.55 ERA and 1.42 WHIP. He struck out 43 in 31 2/3 Triple-A innings but also allowed opponents to bat .289. 

Contract Status

Okert used up his third minor-league option at the end of the spring. 

The Future

Okert, 27, appeared slimmed down in September, and the staff was pleased with the way he threw the ball. There wasn’t much to celebrate over the final month, but after a couple of losses, manager Bruce Bochy pointed to Okert as a positive.

Still, it’s hard to see where he fits in 2019 because the Giants have three lefties in their bullpen already and Okert cannot be optioned again. Bobby Evans always found a way to keep players like that in the organization, but a new boss might view things differently, and Okert could be thrown into a trade this offseason to find an easier path to a big-league job next spring. 

San Mateo native Tom Brady professes hatred for Dodgers, rooting for Red Sox


San Mateo native Tom Brady professes hatred for Dodgers, rooting for Red Sox

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has a few reasons to root for the Red Sox in the World Series.

For one, he plays in Massachusetts, so he has a natural rooting interest in a team from Boston winning a title.

Two, he hails from San Mateo and grew up rooting for the Giants.

On the latest episode of The Kirk and Callahan Show on WEEI in Boston, Brady was asked if he hates the Dodgers.

“I do. I was a Giants fan growing up, and now I’m a Red Sox fan," Brady said. "So it couldn’t set up any better for the Red Sox to win the World Series, and I think they’re going to do it. It’s going to be a lot of fun to watch.”

Brady is the latest Patriot to pronounce his hatred for the Dodgers. Redwood City native Julian Edelman made it very clear over the weekend that he dislikes the Giants' bitter rival.

"I hate the Dodgers," Edelman told reporters Friday. "I hate the Dodgers. I mean, I'm a San Francisco guy."

See, you do have something in common with Tom Brady and Julian Edelman.