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.”

Alex Dickerson's bright future with Giants clouded by injury concerns


Alex Dickerson's bright future with Giants clouded by injury concerns

SAN FRANCISCO -- Once he hires a manager and general manager, Farhan Zaidi will turn to the heavy lifting. The main goal this offseason is to make the Giants lineup more competitive, particularly at home. It would be a lot easier to do that if the Giants knew exactly what they could count on from a midseason acquisition. 

Alex Dickerson changed the course of the season when he joined the Giants at Chase Field in late June against the Diamondbacks, bringing left-handed thunder to the lineup and life to the dugout as a struggling team briefly put it all together with a memorable July run. But Dickerson's season ended up going a familiar route.

He was available to Zaidi only because he had been unable to stay available for the Padres, and an oblique injury wrecked Dickerson's second half. 

That didn't leave a bad taste in his mouth, though. As Dickerson stood in front of his locker the final week of the season, he pointed out that he didn't play an inning in the big leagues the previous two seasons. 

"I just wanted to get out and compete again, and I knew there were going to be ups and downs," he said. 

The highs were game-changers for the Giants. Dickerson drove in six runs in his Giants debut and didn't slow down until he was forced to the Injured List the first week of August. In 30 games over that stretch, he hit .386 with six homers, 10 doubles, 23 RBI and a 1.222 OPS. The Giants went 20-10 when he was in the lineup. 

That's certainly not sustainable, but nothing about what Dickerson was doing looked particularly flukey, either. He has always flashed power and he showed good plate discipline and a short swing that first month. 

The oblique injury put a halt to all that, and when Dickerson returned, it was touch-and-go the rest of the way. He never felt quite comfortable, hitting .164 with three extra-base hits over his final 67 at-bats, which were scattered because he was able to start only 14 times the final six weeks. 

Looking back, Dickerson feels he returned earlier than he should have, but he has no regrets because the Giants were trying to stay in the race. He said his swing got out of whack and he was never able to find it again because he didn't go through a normal rehab process. 

There were positives, though. Dickerson's surgically-repaired back and elbow were not an issue, and he plans to be aggressive in attacking the oblique pain this offseason. Dickerson said he will do additional research and talk to as many experts as he can in an attempt to increase his core mobility and make sure the oblique pain does not return. For the first time in a long time, he's not rehabbing going into the offseason. That's a comforting feeling. 

"It'll just be a normal offseason and building up and getting in shape to hopefully play a full season next year," he said. 

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Given Dickerson's history -- he has never played more than 84 games -- the Giants can't count on a full year. But they're hopeful that Dickerson, who is arbitration-eligible and a lock to return, can be part of the solution. They can manage his health as long as that bat is still helping win games. 

"With the impact potential he showed, he's going to play as much as his body will allow," Zaidi said. 

MLB rumors: Giants interested in Astros' Joe Espada for manager role

MLB rumors: Giants interested in Astros' Joe Espada for manager role

Go ahead and add another name to the candidacy list to take over the Giants' managerial role after Bruce Bochy announced his retirement following the 2019 season.

San Francisco reportedly has asked the Houston Astros for permission to speak to Joe Espada, according to MLB Network's Jon Heyman. Espada also is a candidate for the Cubs' managing job.

Espada, 44, currently is the bench coach for the Astros. His background before joining Houston includes a stint with the New York Yankees as the special assistant to general manager Brian Cashman in 2014, where he later was named the team's third-base coach. Before that, he was the third base coach for the Miami Marlins.  

He also coached the Puerto Rican team in the 2017 World Baseball Classic. 

Espada was drafted by the Oakland A's in the second round of the 1996 MLB Draft and spent a decade playing internationally and made it through to Triple-A.

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He joins a list of potential Giants managers that includes Tampa Bay Rays bench coach Matt Quatraro, former Phillies manager Gabe Kapler and A's quality control coach Mark Kotsay ... to name a few.

As Heyman points out, this is a younger group of candidates, which appears to be the theme across the board for Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi.

There surely will be many more names to come before we know who will man the Giants' dugout in 2020.