Giants

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

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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.

Giants rookie Andrew Suarez shows competitiveness when Bruce Bochy pulls him

Giants rookie Andrew Suarez shows competitiveness when Bruce Bochy pulls him

SAN DIEGO — The two rookie pitchers who have helped solidify Giants manager Bruce Bochy’s rotation go about their business in different ways. You can see the fire in Dereck Rodriguez’s eyes as he stands on the mound, and there seems to be a certain intensity with everything he does on the field. Andrew Suarez, on the other hand, often seems to be playing a stress-free game of catch. 

But on Monday, Suarez showed what you knew was there. You don’t get to this level without being ultra-competitive, and the rookie let his guard down for a split-second when Bochy came out with the hook after just 87 pitches en route to a 4-2 win over the Padres. Suarez briefly threw his hands up, and the disappointment was clear on his face as he walked off the field. A few moments later, he found his manager in the dugout. 

“I just apologized to him. I thought I showed him up,” Suarez said. “That’s the last thing I’m trying to do.”

Bochy didn’t mind one bit. 

“I don’t want them to (want to) come out,” he said. “He’s a competitor. We had our guys fresh, [the relievers] have been throwing the ball well.”

Ultimately, Tony Watson got out of the eighth and Will Smith closed out the win. Suarez got the victory, his seventh, and showed a little fire in the process. The Giants knew it was there. It just took a tough decision for it to be made public. 

“My pitch count was low for being that deep in the game,” Suarez said. “I thought I would finish it. I was surprised, but you have to go to the bullpen. We have a good bullpen.”

Suarez said he hoped to match Chris Stratton’s complete game from Friday night, but the Giants are handling Suarez and Rodriguez a bit differently down the stretch, trying to keep some innings off their arms even as they go all the way through the end of September. Bochy liked Mark Melancon against the Padres coming up, regardless of how many pitches Suarez had thrown. 

In the end, it was the best of both worlds for the Giants. They got out of the inning and got the win, and they learned a bit more about a rookie who has been one of the biggest bright spots of a down year. 

“He said it was ok,” Suarez said of his conversation with Bochy. “He liked that I was competitive.”

Giants rookies take advantage of chance vs. Padres with big night

Giants rookies take advantage of chance vs. Padres with big night

SAN DIEGO — The days of this being AT&T Park South are over. There were maybe 5,000 people actually at Petco Park on Monday night, and the usual large swatches of orange were missing. You can’t blame any fans who took this trip off their calendar sometime over the past six weeks. 

But the Giants have kept it circled, and not just because of all the taco spots within walking distance of the team hotel. Manager Bruce Bochy has tried to be respectful of games with contenders, trotting out lineups that included plenty of veterans. The first night against the last-place Padres allowed for some extra time for his rookies, and man, did they take advantage. 

Andrew Suarez would have been in the lineup regardless, and he continued a strong first season with a career-high 7 2/3 innings in a 4-2 win over the Padres. Left fielder Chris Shaw had his first career three-hit game, giving him five in two days. Aramis Garcia looked at home in his first start at first base and drove in a run with a hard single. Right fielder Austin Slater cut a runner down at second with one of the best throws of the year by a Giant. 

“They did a great job,” Bochy said. “It started with Suarez, what a great job he did. He really had a good fastball going, good movement on it. Shaw, a nice game by him, and a big hit by Garcia. It was good to see the kids playing well.”

The biggest leaps in recent days have come from Shaw, who looked lost at the plate for his first 25 big league plate appearances but has been locked in the last couple of days. Shaw said he made an adjustment, starting his swing earlier. He lifts his leg when the pitcher lifts his leg, a tweak he used earlier in his career. 

“It allows me a ton of time,” he said. 

On Monday, Shaw used those split-seconds to shoot the ball all over the field. He had a single and double to left and pulled a hard double down the right field line. The final hit came off a lefty reliever, and was enough to have his manager doing a little extra noodling late at night. Bochy said he will think about using Shaw against either lefty Joey Lucchesi on Tuesday or Robbie Erlin on Wednesday. 

If Shaw does get a start against a lefty, that’ll be another milestone to check off the list. Monday’s game also showed that he still has room to grow in other departments. After the double, Bochy put Gorkys Hernandez in for defensive purposes. He said Shaw has come a long way and done a good job out there, but it’s clear the staff would like to see more. 

In right field, Slater continued to show that he has the tools to handle either corner spot. His throw to rob Franmil Reyes of a double was one of the defensive highlights of the season for the Giants.

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They have not, in recent years, had any types of arms in the outfield. Slater’s is clearly different. 

“That’s one of the more impressive plays and throws I’ve seen,” Bochy said. “It’s not like he took his time to gather himself to get a lot on it. It was all arm. He’s going away from second base and he wheels and fires a bullet right on the money.”