No drama as Strickland, Harper square off for first time since fight

No drama as Strickland, Harper square off for first time since fight

WASHINGTON D.C. -- Hunter Pence's RBI single in the seventh inning on Friday was a sneaky big moment if you're a fan of drama. The run gave the Giants a 9-5 lead, which meant Hunter Strickland was left in the bullpen in the ninth inning, when Bryce Harper was due up third. There was no avoiding a confrontation on Sunday. 

Harper led off the top of the ninth at Nationals Park, and Strickland came in with a two-run lead. A little over a year after they came to blows in the middle of AT&T Park, Harper grounded Strickland's third pitch up the middle for the first out of a 1-2-3 ninth. 

"Last year is over. I've just got to get the out," Strickland said. "The past is the past. Everybody has moved on and that's part of the job, to get whoever is up there out."

Well, not everybody has moved on. Much of Sunday's crowd departed before the ninth, fearful that a storm was on the way. But those who remained showered Strickland with loud boos as he warmed up. The boos were not as loud, however, as they were when Strickland and the Giants played here last August. 

"That's expected," Strickland said, smiling. "I don't blame them."

The matchup never came close to turning dramatic. The first pitch was an 89 mph slider that was up, and Harper fouled it back. Two pitches later, he was headed back to the dugout. Harper did not look back at Strickland and Strickland did not look back at Harper. He returned to the mound and clinched his 13th save, capping off a big day for the bullpen.

Mark Melancon pitched a scoreless sixth against his former team. Sam Dyson breezed through the seventh. Tony Watson struck out one in the eighth. The four relievers combined for four hitless innings and struck out three, continuing a trend. Since Will Smith and Melancon returned, this bullpen has turned into one of the National League's strongest. 

"Those guys are tremendous and they're going a great job," Strickland said. "Everybody all year has been doing their part, but to get those guys back, with that kind of experience, is always clutch."

Dereck Rodriguez sets second-half tone, leads Giants to win vs A's

Dereck Rodriguez sets second-half tone, leads Giants to win vs A's


OAKLAND — To make a run at a division title, the Giants need Dereck Rodriguez to match his big first half. Perhaps the rookie has bigger plans. 

Rodriguez took the ball on the first night of the second half and allowed just one run on three hits against a tough A’s lineup. He departed with one out in the seventh and the bullpen took it home, clinching a 5-1 win that evened this Bay Bridge series at two games apiece. 

Here's what you need to know from the first game back... 

--- Rodriguez walked none and struck out five. He lowered his ERA to 2.72. 

--- With Brandon Belt on the paternity list, Ryder Jones was called up for a spot start. He certainly made the most of it. Jones jumped on a 2-0 slider from Edwin Jackson in the fifth, smacking a homer off the right field foul pole. The blast was the third of the 24-year-old’s career. He hit two last season as a rookie. 

--- Andrew McCutchen had a pair of sliding catches. The robbery of Jonathan Lucroy in the fifth inning had a catch probability of just 66 percent. 

--- Pablo Sandoval hit a no-doubter to right in the seventh inning. It was his 14th homer since returning to the Giants last summer, matching his total in Boston. 

--- The A’s announced a crowd of 45,606, a sellout. They’re expecting a few thousand more on Saturday.

Up for one night, Ryder Jones takes advantage of Giant opportunity

Up for one night, Ryder Jones takes advantage of Giant opportunity

OAKLAND -- In the seventh inning Friday night, 26-year-old starter Dereck Rodriguez gave way to 25-year-old Reyes Moronta. Rodriguez jogged to the dugout and sat next to Andrew Suarez, 25, and the two rookies watched Moronta strand a runner. A few minutes later, 24-year-old center fielder Steven Duggar strolled to the plate and roped a single into right. 

There's a youth movement in San Francisco, but you might have known that already. Rodriguez, Suarez and Moronta were a big part of the story of the first half and Duggar made waves over the final week. 

What you might not have realized is that another player in the middle of all the action Friday night is actually younger than all four of them. Ryder Jones got 150 big league at-bats last season and had not been seen since, and it's often easy to write a player off when he disappears for a stretch. But Jones, a former second-round pick, is still just 24. He was born seventh months after Duggar, who previously was the youngest player on the roster. 

There's still plenty of time for Jones to find his stride and live up to the promise he has shown at times. On Friday, there was another flash of that talent. Jones hit a long solo homer in the fifth, giving the Giants a lead they would never let go. With a 5-1 win over the A’s, the Giants got their second half off to a rocking start and tied this Bay Bridge Series at two games apiece. 

Jones is likely headed back to Sacramento. The plan was for him to come up for one day to fill in while Brandon Belt witnessed the birth of his second son, and he certainly took advantage of the opportunity.

“I thought the homer was huge for him,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “It was huge for us. He’s been doing a nice job there in Sacramento the last month. He’s doing what we were hoping this year, having another big year. That’s all he needs is at-bats and experience. He’s got the tools to be a nice big-league player.”

Jones struck out in his first at-bat, but got ahead in the count 2-0 the next time up. Edwin Jackson tried to sneak a slider across the inside of the plate and Jones crushed it. Both players leaned — in different directions — and watched as the ball clanked high off the pole. 

The Giants are leaning heavily on rookies this year, but Jones was part of a 2017 class that never found footing. Just about every player in that group got hurt, and most struggled in the majors. Jones batted .173 last year, striking out in a third of his at-bats. With Evan Longoria brought over and Pablo Sandoval locked in, Jones didn’t get much time this spring. He picked up outfield play in Scottsdale, hoping to increase his versatility, but he has primarily been the third baseman in Sacramento. At the time of this latest promotion, Jones was batting .299 in Triple-A, with nine homers, 15 doubles and 48 RBI. 

He’ll head back to a River Cats squad that has provided plenty of help. Rodriguez started the season there. On Friday, he allowed one run over 6 1/3 innings, lowering his ERA to 2.72.

“I trust my stuff. I trust my stuff,” Rodriguez said. “I was just going after them.”