Bay Area Baseball

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May 22, 2013
A return to familiarity for Giants despite loss; Harper shines

SAN FRANCISCO -- More than taking two out of three from the Washington Nationals, or seeing Bryce Harper flash his all-around game to help the Nationals salvage the finale 2-1 in extra innings today, the takeaway from this series for Giants manager Bruce Bochy was simply how the games were played.

The Giants pitched. They played tight defense. Twice, including today's loss, they trailed in the eighth inning or later and tied the game. After the 1-5 road trip on which the Giants did very little of the first two things and got the one win by out-slugging the Rockies at Coors Field, it qualified as something of a return to normalcy.

"They've had a history of doing that, the pitchers and the players," Bochy said. "They got on track here, which we needed. This is more of our baseball. Sure it's a tough loss today, but you have to be encouraged with how we did play."

That starts with the starters. Ryan Vogelsong, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner totaled 19 innings in the series and allowed three runs. That was after the rotation posted a 9.82 ERA on the six-game trip, with even Bumgarner getting tagged in Colorado for a season-high seven earned runs.

Questions about Vogelsong, of course, have now shifted from the cause of his awful start to who will replace him in the rotation for the next two months. But with Cain, any hand-wringing over his winless April must now consider the fact he has gone at least seven innings and allowed two or fewer runs in three of four starts in May. And for Bumgarner, in light of his overall consistency in 2013, today's outing went a ways toward making his last start look like more of an aberration.

"We're only going to go as far as our starting pitching's going to take us really," reliever Jeremy Affeldt said. "So the way that they're pitching games right now and giving us opportunities to win is huge, and we almost got out of that one with another win."

Bumgarner allowed four hits in seven innings, the big one a solo home run by Harper in the sixth that broke a scoreless tie. Bumgarner said he was trying to go down and away with a fastball and didn't miss by much, but it was a little up and Harper went the other way with it for his 12th home run.

The Giants, handcuffed by Gio Gonzalez for seven innings, tied it in the eighth on Buster Posey's RBI single off Drew Storen to score Angel Pagan. The Nationals broke the tie in the 10th when Harper doubled off Affeldt and scored on a single by Ian Desmond.

Ironically, Vogelsong was the only starting pitcher in the series to earn a win -- he went five scoreless innings before fracturing his hand on a swing. But there was definitely a sense after today's game that this series put a lot more distance between the Giants and their road trip than just a flight from Denver.

"We're going to have some struggles here and there," Bumgarner said. "I don't think anybody was too worried about it. It's never fun to go out there and give it up like that, but I think everybody's going to be fine."

* Harper reportedly took Tuesday night's loss hard, saying he should have made a play on Gregor Blanco's game-tying triple in the ninth but the memory of his collision with the wall at Dodger Stadium last week was in the back of his mind.

If that's the case, then perhaps even more impressive than the opposite-field homer off Bumgarner or the double in the 10th off Affeldt was Harper's catch of Hunter Pence's drive into the same right-center field gap to end the sixth, which Harper gloved on a run while approaching the wall.

Harper robbed Pence again in the eighth after Posey's game tying hit with a sliding catch coming in on a sinking liner. That he later scored the winning run felt like an encore.

"I know he was frustrated with what happened last night," Bochy said. "The good ones, the good athletes, they're able to put that behind them, and he did."

Harper is now tied for second in the league with the 12 home runs. It's sometimes hard to remember he's just 20 -- 20 years and 218 days, to be exact, which according to the post-game notes makes him the second-youngest player ever to homer at AT&T Park (Miguel Cabrera was 20 years and 128 days old when he did so in 2003).

"I think he's made it pretty clear he's going to play as hard as he can every day," said Bumgarner. "It's fun to play against guys like that. Most everybody plays that way. ... But he's the kind of player that'll bring out the best in you."

Affeldt said he was initially grateful his 1-1 pitch to Harper, which missed over the inner half, wasn't "hit a lot further than that." Affeldt too praised Harper's all-out playing style, which combined with Harper's precociousness has made the Nationals outfielder a polarizing figure for some.

"I think he's a great player," Affeldt said. "He's a hard-nosed player and he can do those kinds of things late in the ballgame, he can make a difference in those games. ... I think he's a good player for that team over there and he's a little sparkplug, obviously."

* After Harper's catch on Pence's liner in the eighth, the Giants still had runners on first and second with two outs. Brandon Belt pinch-hit for Brett Pill and hit a sharp grounder that first baseman Adam LaRoche snared on a dive and, after realizing Storen was late breaking for first base, calmly threw to second base for the out.

Belt said in that situation, you simply have to tip your cap to the Nationals' defense. "Get up there in that situation, you have a plan in mind, you get a good pitch to hit and hit it, and they make a play," Belt said. "There's nothing more you can do."

Belt was held out of the lineup with back tightness. He said afterward it didn't bother him swinging -- the issue would have been standing and crouching on defense. But he said it's "getting better" and he should be OK to play Friday.

* Marco Scutaro's 19-game hitting streak came to an end as he went 0-for-3 with two walks, but the end was infused with some drama. Scutaro drove a pitch to the warning track in left with two outs in the 10th, but not quite well enough to clear the wall, even with the ball carrying fairly well on a warm afternoon.

"I hit it good, but it was kind of too high. And you know this park," Scutaro said. "For me to hit it out I have to really hit it. And I didn't feel like I hit it."

Before the game went to extras, it looked like Scutaro's last chance at extending the streak had come in the eighth, when he walked on a full-count pitch ahead of Posey's RBI single. He said the hitting streak wasn't on his mind at all.

As for whether he was sad to see it end? "I feel worse because we lost the game."

* Bochy didn't have an update after the game on reliever Santiago Casilla, who was put on the DL on Tuesday and went to get a second opinion on his troublesome knee today. A team spokesman said Casilla saw doctors at Stanford but the Giants likely wouldn't have an update -- such as whether Casilla might require surgery -- before Friday.

* In case you missed it, Ryan Vogelsong talked to reporters this morning about the procedure on his pitching hand and his hope to return to "contribute down the stretch."

* The Giants are off tomorrow before the Rockies come to town for a three-game series starting Friday. The projected pitching matchups:

Friday: RHP Tyler Chatwood (2-0, 2.55) vs. RHP Tim Lincecum (3-3, 4.70)
Saturday: RHP Juan Nicasio (4-1, 4.47) vs. LHP Barry Zito (3-3, 3.91)
Sunday: RHP Jon Garland (3-5, 5.19) vs. RHP Matt Cain (3-2, 5.12)

-- Matt Kawahara

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About Bay Area Baseball

Matt KawaharaMatt Kawahara was born in Sacramento and attended McClatchy High School and UC Berkeley, where he wrote for the independent student paper The Daily Californian. He graduated from Cal in 2010 and started at The Sacramento Bee as a summer intern. He joined The Bee’s sports staff in fall 2011.
Phone: (916) 321-1015.
On Twitter: @matthewkawahara.

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