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.”