Ray Black's blazing fastball catches eyes, but advanced stats love his breaking ball


Ray Black's blazing fastball catches eyes, but advanced stats love his breaking ball

SAN FRANCISCO — For years, Ray Black’s name has come with a few extra words. When the right-hander got into a game in spring training, or was discussed by the Giants, it was always “Ray Black, who has a fastball that has hit 104.”

The heater has gotten Black to the big leagues. But to stay here, he’ll have to do more than light up the radar gun. As intimidating as 100 mph might look when it flashes across the scoreboard, big league hitters will light up even the best fastball if they know it’s coming. That’s why Black’s second appearance was so encouraging. 

Black had given up three runs in his debut, one of his fastballs sailing deep into the seats. 

But he felt much more settled as he took the mound Tuesday, sandwiching two sliders around a 98 mph fastball to get ahead of Willson Contreras 1-2. Naturally, Black knew how he wanted to finish the All-Star off. Nick Hundley, his veteran catcher, had other ideas. 

“I shook him once,” Black said Wednesday morning, laughing. “He put down the same sign and let me know, ‘Hey, this is the pitch, kid.’”

Black wanted to throw a fastball. Hundley insisted on a curveball, and Black delivered a 79 mph beauty that dropped right at the bottom of the strike zone. Contreras froze, and then slowly walked back to the visiting dugout. The Cubs learned a lesson about the rookie right-hander. Black did, too. 

“I think a lot of times guys will always resort to their best pitches,” he said. “Guys will say that if they get beat they want to get beat on their best. For me, I’m a fastball thrower and guys know it’s coming. But in that situation, to trust a guy like (Hundley) behind the plate and understand the count and the situation, you just (have to) trust the secondary stuff there.”

In a traditional way, the secondary stuff is not as sexy. Black will always be known for the fastball that sat 98-99 in his first two outings and certainly will tick higher as he gets more comfortable up here. But we’ve moved into the spin-rate era, and Statcast loves Black’s secondary stuff. The curveball to Contreras had a spin rate of 3174 RPM, which is a level hit by just three other Giants pitchers this year: Chris Stratton, Sam Dyson and Pierce Johnson. He later threw a curve to Kyle Schwarber, called a ball, that had a spin rate of 3336 RPM. Only two curveballs thrown by Giants this season — one each by Stratton and Dyson — have had higher spin rates.

It’s an extremely small sample, but Black certainly has the makings of a strong secondary pitch that will keep hitters from loading up on his fastball. Black was this week’s guest on The Giants Insider Podcast and you can hear much more about his repertoire and long path to the big leagues by streaming it here or downloading it on iTunes here.

After two straight losses, Giants looking to regroup during All-Star break

After two straight losses, Giants looking to regroup during All-Star break

SAN FRANCISCO — The clubhouse cleared out quickly after Sunday’s games. Players are always in a rush to get to flights home after the final game of the first half, but you have a bit more urgency in your step when you’re trying to leave a couple losses behind.

There is one member of the clubhouse, though, who will not soon forget the way the Giants lost 6-2 to the A’s in their first-half finale. Bruce Bochy watched a lineup that looked tired and incapable of backing a suddenly sturdy staff. Afterward, he promised to spend the next four days pondering some solutions.

“That’s what I’m going to sit on here the next four days — if they need more breaks,” Bochy said. “We’ll think of things to keep them fresher and sharper.”

The team that faced Sean Manaea on Sunday looked very much in need of a break. The Giants had five scattered hits and a performance that would have looked right at home in last season’s first half. Bochy said he saw some tired bats, and the numbers this month look all too familiar, in the wrong way. The Giants have just six homers in July, the least in the Majors, after showing increased power early in the season.

Two have come from Chase d’Arnaud and Pablo Sandoval, fill-ins for Evan Longoria. Alen Hanson and Gorkys Hernandez have the others. That’s not exactly how they drew this up. Bochy cut off a question about the backups having all the power this month.

“Oh I’m well aware of that,” he said, laughing.

Andrew McCutchen doesn’t have an extra-base hit this month, continuing a frustrating first season in San Francisco. Brandon Belt has three doubles but nothing more in July. Buster Posey also has three doubles and Brandon Crawford has a pair. Bochy is pleased with the additions of guys like d’Arnaud, Hanson and Steven Duggar, Sandoval’s improvements and Hernandez’s breakouts, but he knows he needs his big guns down the stretch.

“That’s what we’re missing as much as anything is power,” he said. “Not just homers — we’re not driving the ball like I think we can.”

The staff is hopeful that four days off will help. It’s not like the Giants have a tough travel schedule in front of them. They’ll regroup on Thursday in Oakland for a workout and then play three more in the East Bay, where most of this roster lives. After that it’s a day off and two in Seattle, and then it’s back home.

Bochy revealed that Dereck Rodriguez will get the opener in Oakland, followed by Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto and Andrew Suarez. Jeff Samardzija, placed on the DL on Sunday, is a possibility for the fifth spot, although Derek Holland seems far more likely.

Rodriguez got the nod in part to break up the lefties and righties, but also as a reward for the good work he has done. He has been a revelation, helping the Giants stay above water. Even after losing two straight to the A’s, the Giants finished the first half at 50-48 and just four games behind the Dodgers in the National League West.

A year ago at the break, this club was 34-56 and 27 games out of first place.

Giants enter All-Star break with a whimper, lose second straight to A's

Giants enter All-Star break with a whimper, lose second straight to A's


SAN FRANCISCO -- There were many positives in the first half for the Giants, but the All-Star break came with a whimper. 

The lineup scattered five hits, Andrew Suarez had a rare dud, and the Giants fell 6-2 to the A's in the third game of this six-game set. They've lost two straight after a good win on Friday night and enter the break with a 50-48 record and in fourth place in the National League West. 

Here's what you need to know from "Don't Miss Your Red-eye Flight" Day... 

--- Suarez was cruising through his final start of the half before the wheels came off in the fourth. Suarez didn’t allow a hit to that point, but Jed Lowrie walked with one out and the A’s followed with four consecutive singles. A sacrifice fly capped the four-run inning. Suarez gave up four earned in five innings, walking two and striking out five. He had allowed four total runs in his four previous starts. 

--- Because of all his injuries, Ray Black often wasn’t allowed to pitch back-to-back days in the minor leagues. Bruce Bochy tested him Sunday, sending him out for the seventh a few hours after Black got a couple outs in relief of Tony Watson. Black easily handled the test, striking out two and getting a pop-up to center. His fastball was down a tick… to 97. 

--- Chase d’Arnaud hit a solo shot, his second since being called up. The veteran is tied with Pablo Sandoval for the team lead in homers in July. That’s nice for d’Arnaud, not so great for this offense. The Giants have just six homers this month.