Bay Area Baseball

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May 11, 2013
Giants' Blanco answers the call, Bumgarner baffles the Braves

SAN FRANCISCO -- Gregor Blanco said he watched the first four innings of the Giants' 10-1 win today from the bench, saw how Madison Bumgarner was confounding the Braves and figured the Giants wouldn't be requiring his services. When Atlanta began warming up a right-hander in the bullpen in the middle innings, he put on his shin guard just in case, but didn't duck into the cages under the home dugout for any swings.

So when manager Bruce Bochy told Blanco he'd be pinch-hitting if Atlanta brought in Cory Gearrin in the fifth, Blanco said, his reaction was: "OK, let's do this." Which the Braves did after walking Hunter Pence to load the bases with one out in what was then a 3-1 game.

Gearrin came on to face right-hander Francisco Peguero, and Bochy countered with Blanco, who made it a genius move when he doubled into the gap in right-center to clear the bases and break open what became a blowout.

"No swings, no stretch, nothing," Blanco said of his pre-pinch-hitting regimen today. "It was pretty much from the bench to that swing."

It was Blanco's first pinch-hit of the season and keyed the Giants' four-run inning. He stayed in the game in left field and also tripled in a four-run eighth, setting a career high with four RBIs.

Blanco said that before the first at-bat he went up to Andres Torres and said, "Hey, just watch my swing, I'm just going to go in there and hit a hard line drive." He said Torres later asked him how he prepared for the at-bat.

"I was like, 'Nothing,'" Blanco said. "(He said), 'So you'd better not do anything tomorrow either.'"

Bochy said Blanco usually does a good job of staying involved on the bench -- but that he'll likely get a start tomorrow against Braves right-hander Kris Medlen. Both Blanco's hits came with runners in scoring position, and he's now 9-for-19 on the season in those situations -- which he said have become a priority now that he's regularly hitting lower in the Giants' lineup.

"My strong thing is being on base, but in the situation that I am right now, hitting sixth or seventh, I'd better start hitting the ball with guys on bringing them home," Blanco said.

"That's what they want from me, and I have to start committing myself to start doing it. It's been fun, to tell you the truth."

* Bumgarner followed up his worst start of the season with one of his best, striking out a season-high 11 in seven innings and allowing one run on a two-out single in the fifth by counterpart Paul Maholm.

The Braves came in with the most strikeouts in the National League and Bumgarner said he was well aware of that fact when planning out how to attack the Atlanta lineup.

"They swing a lot and swing hard," Bumgarner said. "So you try to keep mixing it up and keep making good pitches, and that's what we were able to do. (Catcher Guillermo Quiroz) did a good job back there. He deserves a lot of credit."

Bumgarner retired the first 11 hitters he faced before Justin Upton's infield single in the fourth, despite the fact -- he later said -- that he didn't really start mixing in his curveball until the middle innings. When he did start throwing it, he had the Braves' right-handed hitters swinging over pitches diving at their back feet and -- at times -- in the dirt well in front of home plate.

Blanco said Bumgarner appeared locked in from the beginning -- "Every pitch that he threw, he threw wherever he wanted. It was fun to watch." Shortstop Brandon Crawford remarked that Bumgarner seems to have full confidence in all his pitches right now, even going so far as to throw a changeup in one at-bat to the Braves' left-handed cleanup hitter Freddie Freeman.

"He's really just continuing what he's done all year," Bochy said of Bumgarner, who is 4-1 with a 2.18 ERA despite getting a total of four runs of support in his four starts prior to today's. "One game he had a little bit of a hiccup, but other than that he's throwing as well as anybody."

While Bumgarner has been consistent in the first month and a half, the rest of the Giants rotation has been anything but. Bumgarner said it was heartening that his outing came on the heels of Matt Cain's eight-inning quality start Friday night -- something Bochy also appreciated for its allowing him to rest a bullpen already down a man with Santiago Casilla still battling knee pain.

"He's been coming around his last few starts, command's been good," Bumgarner said of Cain. "That's nice to see him going good, and I think everybody's going to work out their problems.

"For the most part we've still been throwing pretty good all year, but as you know not as good as what we're used to everyone doing. So it felt good to put a couple good games back-to-back. Good pitching's contagious, good hitting's contagious, all that stuff. So hopefully we can keep it going."

* Speaking of hitting being contagious, the Giants took a break from their low-scoring, grind-it-out-late ways for the second consecutive game with 10 runs on 14 hits. They knocked Maholm out of the game in the fifth having allowed six runs a day after showing Tim Hudson the door with a six-run fourth.

The Giants were 7-for-13 in the game with runners in scoring position and, aside from Pablo Sandoval's solo homer off Maholm in the first inning, scored all their runs by stringing together hits.

Brandon Crawford, the focus of tomorrow's print story for his two hits off Maholm (who came in holding left-handed hitters to a .082 average on the season) drove in one with a double. Marco Scutaro had two more hits to extend his hitting streak to 11 games. Hunter Pence also had a pair of hits, including a double, and scored twice.

"This is more of our game," Bochy said. "Hopefully get the quality starts to keep us in the game, and find a way to in them. ... Good to see and hopefully this gets contagious."

* Sandoval was hit by a pitch on the right forearm in the fifth and was in some obvious pain, but stayed in the game until coming out for a defensive substitution in the eighth. Bochy said Sandoval had an X-ray that came back negative.

"I'll check on him tomorrow and see if he's available," Bochy said. "It just missed the wrist there. So a little concern, obviously, when you get hit there. We'll see where he is tomorrow."

Bochy also said Casilla is doing better and antsy to get back on the mound, though he said before the game he's prepared to not have Casilla back until Tuesday in Toronto.

"It's day-to-day right now," Bochy said.

* It was pointed out to Bumgarner, who grew up a Braves fan in North Carolina, that this was the first time he has beaten Atlanta in five regular-season starts. He was less moved by that than the fact the Giants go into tomorrow with a chance to take three out of four from the Braves, currently 21-15 and in first place in the N.L. East, who he said have "as good a shot as anybody of playing October baseball."

"When you play a team like that, you want to play your best baseball to try to kind of see where you're at, I guess," Bumgarner said. "We know we're good, we know we can play with anybody. But it's nice to go out there and beat the good teams."

* A couple weeks back, Bochy mentioned that he thinks when hitters are struggling, it doesn't help to have their numbers flashed on the big video board in center field before their at-bats. At AT&T, you can actually see averages for the entire lineup of both teams throughout the game -- which allows for moments like the bottom of the second inning today, when fans in center field broke out the "What's the matter with ____?" chant in B.J. Upton's direction, but changed the customary response to "One-fifty-three" -- the struggling Upton's batting average at the time, as displayed in large numbers behind him.

Upton actually reached base in two of four plate appearances in the game, on a walk and a single, and is now batting .157 on the season. He struck out once and now has 45 on the season in 121 at-bats, but didn't have nearly as rough a day as teammate Dan Uggla, who struck out in all four of his at-bats. Uggla now leads the Braves with 49 strikeouts in 120 at-bats on the year.

* The Giants go for the series win tomorrow behind Tim Lincecum (2-2, 4.75 ERA). The Braves will send out Kris Medlen (1-4, 3.25). One more game before the Giants bolt the country, for a few days anyway.

-- 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.
Email: mkawahara@sacbee.com.
Phone: (916) 321-1015.
On Twitter: @matthewkawahara.

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