Holland turns luck around for slumping Giants: 'We needed that in the worst way'

Holland turns luck around for slumping Giants: 'We needed that in the worst way'

PITTSBURGH — On the first day in Philadelphia, Derek Holland walked up to a beat writer -- this one -- who had missed the Atlanta sweep and jokingly reintroduced himself. That turned into a running gag through a week in Pennsylvania that ended up being a nightmare for the Giants. 

After three straight losses, evening the record on the road trip, Holland asked if I planned to follow the team to Pittsburgh. Told yes, he laughed and suggested I take my bad luck elsewhere. Anywhere else. After the first loss in Pittsburgh on Friday, he called me over, smiling as he asked why I was still around the team. 

“You’ve got to change something, man, change it up, change up the luck,,” he joked. “Wear a different shirt or something. Do something.”

There is luck involved in this game, as the Giants found out early on Sunday. They hit six balls at least 100 mph in the first four innings and didn’t see any of them fall for hits. But for the most part, a team will make its own luck. 

It was pretty simple Sunday. It didn’t matter who was sitting in the press box or what shirt he was wearing or what kind of magic beans the Giants might have hidden in their dugout. All they needed was a strong start, and Holland finally provided one. He took a shutout into the seventh and the Giants won 5-0, snapping a six-game losing streak to the Phillies and Pirates. 

“We needed that in the worst way,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “I said it would take a good pitching effort to get over this. Give him credit — he took over.”

Bochy wasn’t the only one giving that message. As Holland warmed up, he was approached by pitching coach Curt Young.

“We need you today,” Young told him. “We’ve got to step up.”

Against the Pirates, that meant pitching through plenty of traffic. Holland walked five and gave up four hits, but he made pitches when he had to. He repeatedly busted the Pirates inside with fastballs and catcher Nick Hundley said Holland’s command was the best it has been all season. Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, the Rangers’ hitting coach when Holland was a youngster in 2010, said his team simply had to tip its themed caps. 

“He beat us with the kitchen sink,” Hurdle said. “The ball was around the zone. We pushed to get out there, and we couldn’t come away with really even hard contact in those situations.”

The Giants had plenty of hard contact early, and for a while, Bochy thought this would be one of his buzzard’s luck games. That changed when Gorkys Hernandez found the seats in the sixth. An extended rally was capped by Hundley’s three-run bomb into the same seats. Richard Rodriguez hung a first-pitch curveball and Hundley skied it. 

“Thankfully he made a mistake with the breaking ball,” he said. “You get something like that, you’ve got to do damage on it.”

The homer, Hundley’s fourth of the year, capped an all-around day for the catcher. Holland credited his guidance, and that was true in more ways than just pitch-calling. Holland lost track of the outs in the second inning and started walking off the mound after the second one. Hundley held his hands up and yelled back at the striding pitcher. 

“Hey,” he said. “We’ve gotta get the third one.”

Holland got plenty more, pitching so effectively that Bochy sent him back out for the seventh to get past 100 pitches. When he came out for the ball, Holland tried to talk his way into more. That was enough on this day, though. The Giants needed a big performance and the left-hander gave it to them. He clinched a happy flight home, which allowed for one last joke on the way out of Pennsylvania. 

“You’re off the hook,” he whispered as reporters walked away from his locker.

Giants Review: A healthy Ray Black finally got to show off his big fastball


Giants Review: A healthy Ray Black finally got to show off his big fastball

SAN FRANCISCO — For years, Ray Black seemed like an urban legend. You would see his outrageous strikeout totals in the minors, then notice that he was pitching just every third day to limit the injury risk. You would hear his fastball exploding in the bullpen at Scottsdale Stadium, then see him walking through the clubhouse the next day encased in ice. 

Black’s name came with a caveat: “If he could only stay healthy …”

In 2018, Black got healthy and stayed healthy. He made his MLB debut and had some pretty high highs, along with some rough moments. Here’s a rundown of the long-awaited arrival of Ray Black and his 100 mph fastball … 

What Went Right:

First of all, Black stayed healthy. That’s the most important thing that happened to him in 2018. Black looked headed for life on his family farm, but he picked up a ball last offseason and found he was pain-free, and when he arrived in Double-A, he struck out 20 in 10 innings. He was similarly dominant in Triple-A, earning a big league promotion July 8. 

After giving up a three-run homer that day, Black threw 10 1/3 consecutive hitless innings. His relief no-hitter lasted nearly a month, and in the midst of that streak, he had an absolutely dominant inning against the heart of the Arizona Diamondbacks lineup.

Black led the Giants with an average of 12.79 strikeouts per nine innings, and his walk rate of 3.86 was down from some minor league stops. While his ERA was 6.17, perhaps he got spectacularly unlucky; his FIP was 3.98 and his xFIP was 3.45. 

Black was one of 10 big leaguers to throw double-digit pitches 100+ mph, maxing out at 100.9 mph, according to Statcast. His average fastball was over 98 mph. 

What Went Wrong:

When it went bad for Black, it REALLY went bad. He gave up runs in seven of his 26 appearances, but six of those instances included multiple runs. When he returned in September, for example, Black allowed runs in just two of his 10 appearances, but in those two he was charged with six earned. The end result was that 6.17 ERA. 

Black allowed a three-run homer to Matt Carpenter in his big league debut and that problem followed him a bit throughout the rest of the season. He allowed four homers in 23 1/3 innings and nine of the 17 hits he allowed went for extra bases. 

Contract Status:

Black made the MLB minimum in 2018. 

The Future:

Black showed some important traits as a rookie. He was able to pitch back-to-back days and go multiple innings, and while the Giants sent him down to Triple-A at one point, in part to watch his innings, he didn’t have any health issues down the stretch. If he’s still rolling next spring, Black should be in the opening day bullpen. This is not a bullpen built on strikeouts, but Black, at his best, is a player Bruce Bochy can call on in the sixth or seventh when he absolutely needs a strikeout. This late in his career, there should be no restrictions, and while the Giants still have some concerns given his lengthy injury history, they’re going to ride this as long as they can. Perhaps over time Black will develop into a setup man or even a closer, but for now, all sides are happy with one of the best developments of 2018: Ray Black was healthy.

Report: Giants interviewed D'backs senior VP Amiel Sawdaye


Report: Giants interviewed D'backs senior VP Amiel Sawdaye

The Giants are casting a net near and far for their next head of baseball operations.

The latest candidate works in the NL West and resides in Scottsdale, the city the Giants call home during spring training.

Amiel Sawdaye, the senior vice president and assistant general manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks, interviewed with the Giants, according to USA Today's Bob Nightengale.

According to his bio on the D'backs website, the 41-year-old Sawdaye was in charge of Arizona's amateur and international scouting. Before joining the D'backs, Sawdaye spent 15 years with the Boston Red Sox.

Sawdaye is among the finalists for the Giants' open position, according to Nightengale.

Over the last week, it was reported that the Giants will interview MLB exec Kim Ng and that they were denied permission to speak with Brewers GM David Stearns.

The Giants are in need of a new head og baseball operations after they fired Bobby Evans as general manager a week before the end of the regular season. Executive vice president of baseball operations Brian Sabean is expected to take a step back once the Giants hire their new executive.