SAN FRANCISCO — The Giants are down their ace. They will spend the first month of the season without another pitcher who regularly churns out 200-inning seasons. Their closer may also start the season on the disabled list.
There were, naturally, some long faces at AT&T Park on Tuesday. Team officials held a meeting before batting practice, and some emerged looking almost shaken. They understand that a lot needs to go right early on for the team to survive the injuries that have hit over the past week, and that’s why Tuesday night’s game was so encouraging in one respect.
The Giants need a pitcher to step up and take the leap, and Chris Stratton is as good a candidate as any. Coming off a breakthrough second half, Stratton has had a strong spring. He finished the exhibition season Tuesday by scattering four hits and striking out three in five shutout innings against the A’s.
“You kinda wish this one would count towards it," he said. "But it's good to build up and get your confidence going."
Early on, it looked like Stratton might just add to the list of concerns. He loaded the bases with no outs in the top of the first, but he got Khris Davis to bounce into a 5-2-3 double play. The next hitter, Matt Olson, swung over the top of a high-spin curve, Stratton’s bread-and-butter pitch.
“Not ideal, for sure,” Stratton said of the start, smiling. “The first inning sometimes can get a little rocky for me, but it was good to settle down.”
Stratton, a former first round pick, had a 2.42 ERA in nine starts once he was inserted into the rotation last August. Duplicating that number is a lofty ask, but anything close would go a long way toward keeping the Giants in the race while Madison Bumgarner, Jeff Samardzija and Mark Melancon get right.
--- Here's the roster moves from last night, with news on Steven Duggar, Gregor Blanco and others.
--- Bruce Bochy finally confirmed what was telegraphed by lineups all spring: Joe Panik will hit leadoff against right-handed pitchers and Austin Jackson will do so against lefties. Panik opened up with a triple in the first inning Tuesday and scored the night’s first run. He also made a crazy diving stop and took the time to enjoy it.
--- Pablo Sandoval has had a strong spring at the plate and continued to impress the staff this week when he asked to catch a bullpen session during the Bay Bridge Series in preparation of emergency catcher duty. Sandoval will be the big bat off the bench most nights, but he may have a different role sometimes. Bochy said he’s considering sliding Brandon Belt to left on occasion so Sandoval can start at first.
--- Josh Osich faced one batter Tuesday and struck him out. His spring: 11 innings, 0 runs, 3 walks, 16 strikeouts. Osich and Hunter Strickland have been lights out for a month; with others ailing or struggling, perhaps this is the year they take control of the back end of the bullpen?
--- D.J. Snelten, a left-handed reliever, pinch-hit in the bottom of the eighth. Why? (Other than the fact that it made a certain beat writer irrationally happy, obviously.) The Giants were apparently out of ready position players, and you can bet they didn't want to use a big leaguer given the recent injury issues. So this was the conversation, according to Snelten.
Bochy: "Can you hit?"
Snelten: "I have a couple minor league at-bats."
Bochy: "That's not what I asked."
Snelten struck out, but he enjoyed the moment.