LOS ANGELES — The Giants were so gassed after a 16-inning game in Miami on Thursday that they chose to add a 14th pitcher instead of Brandon Belt, their best hitter, for the opener at Dodger Stadium. The situation was still dire even with Pierce Johnson, so manager Bruce Bochy was prepared to let Derek Holland hit for himself if there were two on and two outs in the top of the fifth, despite a rising pitch count.
And yet there was Pablo Sandoval, a day after playing all 16, muscling a Ross Stripling offering into the left field bullpen in the seventh inning. Sandoval looked fresh. The rest of the Giants looked like a team that played the equivalent of a doubleheader and then flew across the country. The Giants managed just four hits, Derek Holland gave up two homers, Austin Jackson committed a back-breaking error, and the Dodgers went home with a 3-2 win.
When it was over, Sandoval was asked about his new role as an everyday player.
“We lost Longo,” he said, shrugging. “We don’t have too many guys.”
They still might have more than the Dodgers, though. The reigning league champs have a full rotation on the disabled list, but Stripling has stepped up to turn into a right-handed ace to complement Clayton Kershaw, who should be back soon. The Dodgers look poised to go on one of their patented summer runs and take control of the division, and the Giants — healthy or not — will have to play better ball to keep pace. That means they can’t make the kinds of mistakes that haunted them Friday.
Jackson’s was the big one. The center fielder has lost his starting job to Gorkys Hernandez, but Bochy felt Hernandez needed the day off after Thursday’s marathon. Jackson went back to the wall on Yasmani Grandal’s fly ball in the fourth but dropped it. The three-base error led to a third Dodgers run that didn’t look as big when the Giants were flailing against Stripling, but loomed as a game-changer when Sandoval hit a two-run shot. The error proved to be the difference.
“I don’t know if he lost it in the lights,” Bochy said. “It was a little (bit of) twilight still, I think. I don’t know.”
Jackson has struggled on both sides of the ball and has Steven Duggar breathing down his neck in Triple-A. The Giants have shown no indication that they’re ready to make that move, but the misplays are piling up at the big league level and, beyond that, this is a group that often looks in need of some new energy. The Giants have lost four of five since a strong weekend in Washington D.C., dropping three back of the Dodgers and 5 1/2 behind the first place D'backs. They all of a sudden find themselves just a game ahead of the last-place Padres.
Perhaps a drop that low will lead to changes beyond Belt’s return. You never know what a player — whether it’s Duggar or Austin Slater — can provide when given a chance, and Sandoval is a shining example of that. In his second go-around with the Giants, he is once again a fixture. On an otherwise lackluster night, Bochy lit up when asked about the Panda.
“I love the guy,” he said. “The way he plays, his enthusiasm and passion for the game. He’s doing a great job.”