'Something has got to change' for Chris Stratton after latest rough outing

'Something has got to change' for Chris Stratton after latest rough outing

PHILADELPHIA — Sometimes you miss your ace at the strangest times. At Citizens Bank Park on Wednesday night, the middle innings might have qualified. 

Chris Stratton has been forced into the top role thanks to injuries to Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto, and ineffectiveness for Jeff Samardzija, but as he walked three in the fifth, the Giants got a reminder that he’s probably not ready to be the stopper on the staff. In the sixth, they got a reminder that having to plug holes in the rotation can leave some big gaps in the bullpen. 

The result was an ugly 11-3 loss to the Phillies, the third straight after a sweep of the Braves. Stratton gave up five earned and walked four. Pierce Johnson, a late addition to the staff this spring, but one who has pitched well, compounded the damage and was charged with six earned. Derek Law, called up Tuesday because the Giants simply don’t have healthy arms on the 40-man roster, couldn’t stop the bleeding until the game was well out of hand. 

The Giants were not winning this one given the way Stratton pitched and the lineup failed to hit early, but sometimes you can make a charge in the late innings in a small park. All too often, two or three-run deficits have turned into blowouts. 

“Those guys have got to hold them there to give you a chance to come back, but they keep tacking on,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “That’s hard for everybody.”

It won’t get any easier. Bumgarner isn’t due back for another month or so. Cueto will be at least two to three weeks behind him, and that’s if neither suffers a setback. They’ll need to find a way to pitch through this, and it’ll have to start with Stratton. There aren’t other options, really. 

Stratton got off to a scorching start this season but has given up 14 earned runs in his past three starts and pitched just 12 innings. 

“Overall I didn’t do a good job of commanding the fastball today,” he said. “I’ve got to do a better job in the first inning. The last three starts I’ve given up some runs in the first. I don’t know if I have to change my routine or have a different mindset, but something has got to change in that first to set the tone for the rest of the night.”

The lineup could have set a different tone, but Brandon Belt and Evan Longoria struck out against Nick Pivetta with two on in the top of the first. It was all quiet from there. The Giants struck out 11 times. 

The Giants’ pitchers also struck out 11, but they walked seven, too. Six of the Phillies who walked came around to score. 

“The walks have killed us,” Bochy said. “You look at all these rallies, there’s a walk involved. We just don’t seem to get away with those walks, and that’s got to get better.”

Giants Review: Austin Slater's future comes down to how healthy he is


Giants Review: Austin Slater's future comes down to how healthy he is

SAN FRANCISCO — The Giants drafted Austin Slater in 2014, watched him hit his way through the minors, and had him in their big-league lineup more than 100 times the past two seasons. They still don’t quite know what he is as a major leaguer, though. 

Slater, at his best, has a strong arm in the outfield, an opposite-fields approach that can put him on base a lot, and enough tools to be a solid contributor. But there’s no doubt that he needs a serious launch-angle adjustment, and he had some odd moments defensively in 2018. 

As they summarized the season, Brian Sabean and Bruce Bochy didn’t exactly light up when asked about Slater. 

“Slater, we’ve got some work to do there,” Bochy said.

“I think Slater needs to make some swing adjustments,” Sabean added, “But he’s certainly shown that he can be an extra player.”

The Giants have more time to try and figure out how Slater fits. In 2018, he showed positives and negatives … 

What Went Right

Slater had four separate runs in the big leagues, and through his first 36 games, he was batting .308 with a .429 on-base percentage. He showed off some impressive raw physical tools. His only homer of the year went 425 feet, and he threw a runner out at the plate with a 99.6 mph throw. Slater had two of the 28 hardest throws from the outfield in MLB in 2018 and six throws that registered at 95 mph or above; Alen Hanson, with one throw at 95.6, was the only other Giants outfielder to clear that barrier. Slater is also sneaky on the bases; he was successful on all seven stolen base attempts. 

Slater hit .274 with runners in scoring position and .370 with runners in scoring position and two outs. That simple swing can come in handy sometimes. 

What Went Wrong

In the era of Launch Angle, Slater is doing it his own way. His 63.1 groundball rate was the highest in the Majors and his 16.2 percent flyball rate was the lowest. This added up to just one homer, one triple and six doubles. There were 177 NL hitters who got at least 200 plate appearances and Slater ranked 164th in slugging percentage (.307). The lack of pop dragged his OPS down to .640 and was a source of a lot of discussion for the staff. They want to see him catch the ball out front and use some of his natural power, but that hasn’t shown in two seasons. As Sabean said, the Giants want to see swing adjustments. 

That could be hard to do if Slater’s elbow proves to be an issue. He came out of a game the final weekend with elbow pain and an MRI showed a mild sprain. The Giants are hopeful that Slater is ready for spring training, but there are no guarantees with the elbow. Serious injuries there aren't just limited to pitchers. 

Contract Status

Slater still has not accrued much service time. He has two minor-league options remaining. 

The Future

First of all, Slater’s immediate future will come down to how healthy he is. There was some concern about his elbow as the Giants packed up for the season, and if he eventually needs some sort of procedure that obviously would be a big blow.

The good news for Slater is that he certainly has shown enough of a hit tool and enough promise defensively that he should, at the very least, be a strong bench option. He was better than expected at first base, and as a fourth outfielder/backup first baseman/pinch-hitter, he should be on the Opening Day roster. Team officials want to see more — specifically, more power — before putting him in an outfield corner on an everyday basis, but if the Giants are unable to sign veterans, Slater very well could start in left or right on Opening Day. 

Giants, Charles Johnson issue statements about racist campaign ad


Giants, Charles Johnson issue statements about racist campaign ad

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants and Charles Johnson, who is believed to own the largest stake in the team, released a pair of statements Friday afternoon after it was revealed that Johnson donated to a super PAC that made a racist radio ad in Arkansas. 

The ad, paid for by a group called Black Americans for the President's Agenda, was made in support of congressman French Hill. It featured two women speaking, one of whom said, in part, "white Democrats will be lynching black folk again." According to ThinkProgress, the super PAC spent $50,000 on the ad. Johnson reportedly gave the group $1,000. 

“I had absolutely no knowledge that this donation would be used in this manner and I, like the Giants organization, strongly condemn any form of racism and in no way condone the advertisement that was created by this entity,” Johnson said in his statement. 

The Giants called the ad "disturbing and divisive." 

“The Giants’ reputation as one of the most inclusive and socially engaged professional sports teams in the nation speaks for itself," the team's statement read. "We are unaware of Mr. Johnson’s political donations because they are entirely separate from his stake in the Giants ownership group.  In no way do the Giants condone this disturbing and divisive political activity."