Rookie Dereck Rodriguez proving to be a workhorse for Giants rotation

Rookie Dereck Rodriguez proving to be a workhorse for Giants rotation

SAN FRANCISCO — When setting a rotation for the second half the of the season, a manager will often slide a rookie between a couple of veteran starters, knowing that the experienced pitchers can help make up for any innings the bullpen might have to soak up in the rookie’s starts.

The Giants brought Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija back this week and they slid Dereck Rodriguez, a 26-year-old, between the two reliable innings-eaters. But Rodriguez is flipping the script. 

Cueto’s return on Thursday night was shaky, and the Giants, for all their optimism, don’t quite know which version of Samardzija will show up at AT&T Park on Saturday afternoon. But when this slice of the rotation comes back around next week, they can be pretty comfortable with the young right-hander pitching between two of the highest-paid pitchers in the game. 

Rodriguez was dominant into the seventh Friday night, shutting down a Cardinals lineup that whacked Cueto a night earlier. He did not get the decision in a 3-2 win over St. Louis, but he tightened his grip on his rotation spot, lowering his ERA to 3.09 with 6 2/3 strong innings. 

The Giants will keep a close watch on Rodriguez as the summer wears on. He is, after all, a converted outfielder who has never thrown more than 143 innings in a season. But he also has the look of a workhorse. 

“We’re going to keep an eye on him with his workload,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “But he’s a strong kid and he maintains his stuff late in the ballgame. He can maintain his stuff and command, and he’s got strength and stamina to be one of those guys. When he goes out there you have confidence he’s going to get you late in the game.”

Rodriguez threw 99 pitches and seven innings two starts ago. His last time out, it was 6 1/3 innings on 102 pitches. On Friday night, he went 6 2/3 on 90 pitches before Bochy pulled the plug. He was able to get deep because of a change in gameplan, but not a conscious one. 

Rodriguez said he has long been a fly-ball pitcher — “oh yeah, by a long shot,” he said, smiling — but he got 13 outs on the ground Friday, repeatedly feeding an infield that took a blow in the fourth inning. Joe Panik was pulled with a left groin strain and will go on the disabled list Saturday, with Alen Hanson taking over at second and Austin Slater getting most the time in left. Hanson better be warmed up the next time Rodriguez pitches, because he kept the guys behind him busy Friday. Rodriguez was talking about that defense when he paused and looked back at a reporter. 

“How many — 13?” he said of the groundball outs. “I don’t think I’ve ever gotten more than 10 in my life.”

The Cardinals kept pounding it into the dirt, but they did get to Rodriguez twice. Hanson overran a two-out pop-up to left in the second inning and Rodriguez was saddled with a tough-luck run. He cruised from there, but Bochy saw signs of fatigue in the seventh and had Reyes Moronta warming. Paul DeJong singled with two outs and Kolten Wong pulled a double off the bricks, with DeJong scoring easily when the ball took an odd bounce. That was it for Rodriguez, who yelled into his glove as he walked off the mound. The crowd didn’t seem to notice. Rodriguez got a raucous ovation. 

“Yeah, I thought it was a good pitch (to Wong) and he put a good swing on it,” Rodriguez said. “Unfortunately the ball took a bad hop when it hit the wall.”

It might have cost Rodriguez a win, but it didn’t cost the Giants. Andrew McCutchen drove Hunter Pence in a few minutes later and Tony Watson and Will Smith closed it out. The Giants snapped a four-game losing skid. 

“Right now we’re not clicking offensively,” Bochy said. “We’re going to have to throw the ball well and find a way to score runs.”


Why Vladimir Guerrero Jr. MLB debut makes Giants' Bruce Bochy feel old


Why Vladimir Guerrero Jr. MLB debut makes Giants' Bruce Bochy feel old

SAN FRANCISCO -- Bruce Bochy will spend parts of this season reminiscing as he walks into visiting ballparks for the last time, but all those memories are not the only reminders of how long the Giants' manager has been in the game. 

On Opening Day, the Giants watched the debut of San Diego's Fernando Tatis Jr. Bochy played with the 20-year-old's grandfather in the Astros' minor-league system, and managed against teams featuring his father. On Saturday, Bochy watched as Pirates rookie Cole Tucker sunk the Giants with a game-winning two-run homer. Later that night, Jackie Tucker visited Bochy in his office. The two have ties to the same community college in South Florida and Jackie played with Bochy's brother, Joe.

There's a chance this strange tour will continue Tuesday. The Blue Jays are close to bringing up Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who is either the top prospect in the game or right behind Tatis Jr. Asked about the possibility in Pittsburgh on Sunday, Bochy smiled. 

"It shows you you're getting old," he cracked. "That's the biggest thing."

Guerrero Jr., 20, hit 20 homers with an OPS over 1.000 while tearing up three levels in the minors last season. An injury -- and service time concerns -- delayed the promotion discussion this spring, but he already has reached base eight times in 20 plate appearances in Triple-A, homering twice. He is ready, but there have been conflicting reports about when he might join the Blue Jays. 

A source said Sunday that Blue Jays players did not think the super-prospect would debut Tuesday. But, Bochy and some others in the Giants clubhouse seemed to think that was a strong possibility. 

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Bochy saw plenty of Vlad Sr. over the years. If he sees the son, it'll continue a theme that includes Bochy's own players, too. Bochy now manages Dereck Rodriguez, son of Pudge, and he managed his own son, Brett, for seven big-league appearances. 

"It's kind of cool to see these kids of ex-teammates and guys I managed against coming up and doing so well," Bochy said. "You see their talent."

What Buster Posey's first homer of 2019 in Giants' win shows Mike Krukow

What Buster Posey's first homer of 2019 in Giants' win shows Mike Krukow

Buster Posey's first home run of the 2019 season was a no-doubter. And it couldn't have come at a better time, plating each of the Giants' runs in a 3-2 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Sunday. 

With the Giants down 2-0 in the top of the fifth inning Sunday against the Pirates, Posey hit a three-run shot to the farthest part of the ballpark. The catcher crushed a 92-mph fastball from Chris Archer 409 feet to dead-center field at PNC Park. 

"That tells me that his balance is finally in sync," Giants broadcaster Mike Krukow said Monday on KNBR. "With his hip throw, with his hand throw, all of that is in synch. And he can backspin a a ball over center field. That was huge." 

Just as important, Posey's smile was back with his first home run since June of 2018. 

"You could see the look of relief on his face," Krukow said. "It was wonderful."

Even manager Bruce Bochy knows this was a big swing for Posey, who has accomplished pretty much everything anyone can ever dream of in baseball. 

"I'm sure, even for Buster, that some weight is off his shoulders," Bochy said after the game.

The Giants held on for a wild win that snapped a four-game losing streak. They're 2-4 on their current road trip, and play two more games away from home starting Tuesday in Toronto.

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"Getting Buster back, getting his confidence back in his swing, and winning the way they did in a comeback victory -- to salvage a game -- that's a huge win for this team," Krukow said.