When Barry Zito loaded the bases in the first inning, then subsequently allowed a two-run single to Neil Walker, it was looking like Monday’s Zito was all but history. But he settled down with a 1-2-3 inning in the 2nd, and was ultimately great the rest of the way. There were some hiccups on defense — including a couple errors at the hands of Pablo Sandoval — but Zito ended up giving the Giants seven solid innings with three runs allowed (one of them unearned). I was a bit surprised when Bruce Bochy sent Zito out for the seventh inning, as he was at nearly 100 pitches; and I can’t help but wonder how much Brian Wilson’s absence factored into that decision. But I have to hand it to Bochy there, as Zito managed to escape the seventh completely unscathed, retiring the top of the Pirates’ lineup in order. His velocity chart was particularly interesting, as he amped it up in the later innings (although “amping it up” to 84 on the radar gun isn’t necessarily impressive).
So, kudos to Zito. He’s started off his season like this: 16 innings, two earned runs, eight strikeouts, one walk. And I never could have imagined Zito stringing a couple starts like this together. In fact, this is the first time in Zito’s 13-year career that he’s ever begun a season with back-to-back starts of 7+ innings pitched — which is pretty amazing. Will it continue? Probably not (at least, depending on how you define “continue”). I don’t expect a lot from Zito, but he’s more than proven that he’s capable of mediocrity. And that’s all the Giants need from the fifth spot in the rotation. Plus, to echo Josh, the lack of walks from Zito thus far is a pretty encouraging sign.
As for the offense, they extended their 4+ runs scored streak to a whopping eight games, which is the team’s longest such streak in five years. This didn’t come as much of a surprise, of course, as Charlie Morton was on the mound. When it comes to left-handed hitters, Morton essentially throws batting practice. They’ve hit .335/.415/.530 against him for his career, and last season (which was his best season), they hit .364/.460/.500 against him. The Giants’ starting lineup, one through nine, was composed entirely of left-handed/switch hitters.
Angel Pagan, who I expect will start to heat up, finally collected a couple of hits (single, triple) and stole a base. Aubrey Huff, hitting out of the cleanup spot, was downright terrible today — three groundouts and a strikeout. Of all the hitters in tonight’s starting lineup (excluding Zito), Huff was the only one who failed to reach base.
In the ninth inning with the game tied at 3, following a single, Bochy made the ridiculous decision to send Ryan Theriot to the plate against Chris Resop to bunt — instead of pinch hitting Brandon Belt. Theriot failed to lay down the bunt, and eventually worked the count full. Then he singled. Of course, that doesn’t justify sending Theriot (an awful hitter, especially against right-handers) up to the plate in lieu of Belt. Bochy used a couple pinch hitters tonight, going with Gregor Blanco and Ryan Theriot, and leaving Belt on the bench the entire game (although it looked like Belt would have come to bat had Burriss not singled).
It was poor decision-making — not utilizing Belt, though it didn’t end up mattering. Belt hasn’t started a game in a week, but he’ll apparently be starting tomorrow’s game. His playing time for the next week or so could be determined by how he performs tomorrow, so hopefully he pulls it together. He’ll have the benefit of facing Kevin Correia.
Anyway, with that 4-3 walkoff win, the Giants are now .500, and things are really starting to roll. Ryan Vogelsong makes his return to the mound tomorrow.
Let’s see here…
- The fifth shutout of Matt Cain‘s career.
- The third one-hitter. And the first one-hitter in which the lone hit was a single.
- 11 strikeouts, which is tied for the second-most he’s ever had in a start.
- Zero walks.
- 17 consecutive outs recorded to begin the start.
- 28 total batters faced.
- 19 swing-throughs — the most he’s had in a start in years.
- A game score of 96: career-high.
This was Cain at his absolute best: the location, the movement, the pitch selection…all at the top of his game. And he was just cruising; only once did Cain need 15+ pitches to get out of an inning (that came in the sixth, in which James McDonald broke up the perfect game). It was really something special. As far as near-perfect games go, this was incredibly close. Had Brandon Crawford been positioned ever-so-slightly to the left, that McDonald single would have been just a groundout.
And that’s the formula. It took the Giants several games to master it, but there it is, finally: a strong outing from the starter, shutdown relief*, and just enough run support. It’s rather surprising, but six games into the season, this was only the Giants’ second quality start. In fact, this was only their second decent start. Four of the previous five starts — the one exception, of course, being that Barry Zito shutout — were simply terrible:
- Lincecum: 5.1 IP, 5 R
- Bumgarner: 4 IP, 4 R
- Cain: 6 IP, 5 R
- Lincecum: 2.1 IP, 6 R
Of course, “quality start” doesn’t really do this outing justice. Madison Bumgarner had a no-hitter going through 5 innings. In his first go-around against the Rockies lineup, seven of the nine outs he recorded came via the groundout, and one came via the strikeout. Through those first three innings, he faced the minimum. Through the first five innings, he faced the minimum plus one. With one out in the sixth, Tyler Colvin lined a ball to left and in an unsuccessful attempt to preserve the no-hitter, Melky Cabrera dove for it. Colvin ended up with a triple, and eventually scored, but that was the only run that would be surrendered by Bumgarner; and he came right back out in the seventh and retired Cuddyer, Rosario, and Young in order. He only ended up with two strikeouts, which was a bit odd, but the real dominance came in the form of his batted ball distribution: he induced groundout after groundout, with a few infield flies sprinkled in, and the Rockies generally didn’t make much hard contact.
*As for the relief, okay, maybe that wasn’t “shutdown.” That ninth inning was quite an adventure. Three hits, a well-hit liner that — fortunately — was right at Emmanuel Burriss, and a bases-loaded walk. Wilson was clearly injured (apparently it was an ankle tweak), and it seemed foolish to leave him in the game there. The sight of Dave Groeschner nervously pacing back and forth in the dugout is very unsettling. For obvious reasons, it’s incredibly frustrating to watch Wilson struggle through pain and try to stay in the game. Luckily it doesn’t seem all that serious, but it’s something to keep an eye on. Anyway, he eventually got the save.
Meanwhile, the Giants have now scored 33 runs through the first six games; in each of those games, they’ve scored 4+ runs. It might not seem like much, but the Giants’ longest such streak last year was seven games, with their second-longest stretch lasting all of four games.
There are 156 games left in the season. It’s much too early in the year to make any sort of confident assertions, but I’m becoming increasingly sure of one thing: I was wrong about Melky Cabrera. He’s opened the season with a six-game hitting streak, and in four of those six games, he’s collected multiple hits. All the general small sample size caveats notwithstanding, he’s looked excellent at the plate, and we’re not just seeing BABIP luck here. He’s made consistent hard contact, and he’s in great physical shape. So far, it’s looking like his 2011 season was more than just a fluke.
As for Angel Pagan, the outfield acquisition I was enthused about, I’m not all that concerned…at least not yet. He had some pretty good at-bats today (saw 25 pitches in five plate appearances), and one of them resulted in an RBI single on a solid line drive to left. But the best part about his season thus far: 25 plate appearances, two walks, one strikeout. That bodes well for him going forward.
The Giants are 2-4. They’re in last place in the NL West. But the Angels and Red Sox are also in last place in their respective divisions. They’ll begin a three-game series at home against the Pittsburgh Pirates tomorrow. Should be a good way for the Giants to jumpstart their season.