Giants

Will Smith gives up first homer in two years, Giants lose heartbreaker

Will Smith gives up first homer in two years, Giants lose heartbreaker

SAN FRANCISCO — Will Smith is not what we’ve come to expect from a Giants closer. There’s no high-wire act. He doesn’t need 27 pitches to get through the ninth inning. He doesn’t have a signature celebration, or a pitch you’ll remember a decade from now. 

Smith, installed as closer after Hunter Strickland punched a door, has simply been drama-free. He has quick ninth innings, rarely putting any stress on his manager or the fanbase. He doesn’t show any extra emotion after the final out, simply turning and waiting until Buster Posey comes out for a handshake. 

Smith did end up seeking out a teammate late Monday night. But it wasn’t Posey. He found Dereck Rodriguez in a quiet clubhouse and offered a fist pump to the rookie as he headed for the showers. Smith hadn’t saved Rodriguez’s win. He blew it, and the Giants lost 3-1 after Smith gave up three in the ninth. 

“D-Rod pitched his ass off,” Smith said. “Nobody feels worse than me.”

Rodriguez grew up in this game, and he is as unflappable on the mound as any Giants rookie has been in recent memory. He was not stewing over the blown opportunity. 

“That’s baseball, you know? That’s baseball,” he said. “Sometimes you dominate and sometimes it’s one bad pitch. Everybody is trying. The great thing about this sport is tomorrow he’ll get the ball again if we have the lead in the ninth inning.”

For the Giants, there was dominance AND that one bad pitch. 

Rodriguez edged Charlie Morton, one of the better pitchers in the American League, with seven shutout innings, lowering his ERA to 2.34. Brandon Crawford’s solo shot in the sixth gave the Giants a 1-0 lead, and Bruce Bochy turned to his best to shut it down. He went away from his normal late-innings playbook, putting Reyes Moronta in the eighth instead of Tony Watson or Sam Dyson. Moronta got the ball to Smith, who had been perfect in seven save opportunities since June 29. 

It was clear throughout the inning that Smith was not his normal self. He walked Alex Bregman with one out and then walked Yuli Gurriel on four pitches with two outs. The Astros were playing without their three best hitters, but they still feature plenty of firepower. Marwin Gonzalez hit 23 homers last year, and when Smith laid a 1-0 fastball right in the heart of the strike zone, Gonzalez hit a high shot that went several rows deep in left. It was his 10th of the year. 

Several balls died in the thick air on this night. Smith had no such hopes when the ball left the bat. 

“He got it good,” he said. “It was right down the middle. As a pitcher, you know that sound. Yeah … homer.”

The home run was the first allowed by Smith since July 30, 2016. He had Tommy John surgery during that run, but his streak of 54 2/3 innings without a homer was still the second-longest in the Majors to Chris Sale of the Red Sox. The end of the streak sent the Giants right back to .500. They were an out away from a 58-56 record and a minor gain in the NL West. Instead, they fell right back to their level.

“He’s been so good, so solid,” Bochy said. “You’re going to have an off night occasionally. That’s a tough night to have it.”

Giants pitchers dig too deep a hole for hitters in loss to Nationals

Giants pitchers dig too deep a hole for hitters in loss to Nationals

WASHINGTON D.C. -- The Giants trailed by seven runs at the beginning of the ninth inning Wednesday night. About 15 minutes later, Sean Doolittle was on the mound and Reyes Moronta was hurrying to get hot in the visiting bullpen.

A spirited comeback fell short when Evan Longoria popped up with two on, capping a 9-6 loss. Those kinds of rallies leave you feeling better about your night. They also leave you with plenty of regrets. The main ones on Wednesday: Jeff Samardzija gave up two homers in the first and Travis Bergen allowed two more in the seventh.

"We just dug ourselves too big a hole," manager Bruce Bochy said. 

Samardzija had not allowed a homer in his six previous starts, including three strong ones to start this season. That was a big deal for a pitcher who once led the league in homers allowed and gave up 30 bombs in another season. But on this night, the Nationals jumped on two bad two-seamers in the first. 

Juan Soto got one that leaked up and in and crushed a no-doubter to right, giving the Nationals an early 2-0 lead. Two batters later, Howie Kendrick did similar damage to a two-seamer that again was in the happy zone. Samardzija said he'll go back to the drawing board, noting he felt too quick with his delivery. 

"It was a battle out there," he said. "Especially early."

The Giants lost for the 11th time in their first 19 games, and while this one was unfamiliar in terms of power on both sides -- they hit two homers in the ninth -- the comeback was something they've become used to. The lineup makes a habit of coming through late, and on most nights the regret is that there wasn't enough production early. This time the hole was too deep because of the pitching, but Samardzija hoped that ninth inning would help out in the series finale. The Nationals ended up using three relievers in the inning, including their closer. 

[RELATED: Braves lose their closer; Could Giants be trade partner?]

"It's not surprising," Samardzija said. "It was great to see. You get into the bullpen and even in a loss you make them get a few guys up, a few more than they wanted to. Those things carry over."

Could Giants trade bullpen arm to Braves after Arodys Vizcaino injury?

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AP

Could Giants trade bullpen arm to Braves after Arodys Vizcaino injury?

The Giants don't have a bonafide closer. They do, however, have several quasi-closers who have filled that role in the past, or possibly could do so in the future.

Will Smith, Mark Melancon, Sam Dyson, Tony Watson and Reyes Moronta have combined to post a 1.82 ERA and 1.03 WHIP in 39 2/3 innings, giving San Francisco what ranks as one of the best bullpens in all of baseball. The Giants' relievers rank first overall in WAR (plus-1.6), according to FanGraphs.

With the emergence of Trevor Gott (plus-0.3) and Travis Bergen (plus-0.2), the Giants suddenly have an abundance of good-but-not-great options from both sides of the mound in the later innings.

The Atlanta Braves, however, suddenly have one fewer option, and it's a big loss. The team announced Wednesday that closer Arodys Vizcaino had season-ending shoulder surgery.

Of the Giants and Braves, one team seems significantly more likely to make a run at the postseason than the other, and it's not the one that has scored the third-fewest runs in all of baseball.

San Francisco could certainly use an influx of youth and talent into all levels of the organization. Although a potential trade for one of the Giants' aforementioned quasi-closers wouldn't net a ton in return, the Braves entered the season with the third-best farm system in the majors, according to MLB.com.

[RELATED: Why Giants envision 'great comeback' from injury for Bart]

The Giants' bullpen has surpassed expectations and been a pleasant surprise, and yet, San Francisco has been below .500 since Opening Day. They're not going to contend this season, and if they're going to a year or two from now, a call to the Braves is the kind the Giants should be making.