One fourth-inning rally had both starters hitting the showers long before the Giants made it two in a row over the Reds with a 4-3 win Tuesday night at AT&T Park.
After allowing a Brandon Belt splash hit to open the fourth and loading the bases, Cincinnati righty Tyler Mahle (L, 3-5, 4.34 ERA) had recorded just one out when the Giants (22-21) pinch-hit for Ty Blach (ND, 3-3, 4.05 ERA) in an effort to fuel a rally. Reds manager Jim Riggleman, taking no chances, pulled out the hook when he saw switch-hitter Pablo Sandoval in the on-deck circle.
The move didn’t work out as Sandoval tied the game with a single setting up the go-ahead run. It was a game for the bullpens and the Giants relievers didn’t blink handing the Reds (14-29) a second-straight loss.
This story has been updated with quotes and post-game material from the Giants clubhouse at AT&T Park.
After escaping the first inning without giving up a run despite throwing just 10 out of 23 pitches for strikes, Blach found his groove. He continued to deal at an even pace into the third when he whiffed Billy Hamilton on three pitches and drew a harmless ground out to short from José Peraza to start the frame.
It was after those two outs that things got ugly, though. Left fielder Jesse Winker seemed destined for the same fate as Peraza when he tapped a grounder to Kelby Tomlinson, but the utility infielder booted it, allowing Winker to take first on an error. Blach said he wasn’t rattled by the error but it may have upset his rhythm. After taking two straight pitches for balls, Eugenio Suárez launched a changeup over the left-center field wall for a two-run dinger (7).
Blach said the error was a non-factor and he credited Suárez with hitting a good pitch:
“It’s just one of those things where you just go out there and you’re still trying to make pitches. I just fell behind and got in a favorable count for him and he took advantage of it. I was just trying to throw one in there for a strike and he did a nice job going and getting it.”
The Giants didn’t answer back right away as their bats remained silent for the first three innings. But after the Reds made it 3-0 on some small-ball in the fourth, San Francisco staged an uprising.
Belt opened the Giants half of the inning by muscling his eighth home run of the year into San Francisco Bay. The Giants followed the eighth splash hit of Belt’s career with three consecutive singles from Evan Longoria, Brandon Crawford and Austin Jackson to load the bases. Tomlinson came up next, positioned for redemption after his damaging fielding error. But he fell short in the big moment striking out.
With the bases loaded and Blach coming up, San Francisco skipper Bruce Bochy pulled the southpaw, just 62 pitches into his night.
Of the risky move, Bochy said:
“You have to do what you think is right for that game, and we felt like we had the pitching to get us through the game. You can’t take the starter out after four very often, but like I said, the guys that we had [in the bullpen] almost needed work, and I felt like, ‘Hey we have a chance to win this ballgame.'”
Derek Holland is the only Giants starter to have made it past the fifth inning since May 5 and in the wake of a five-inning performance from Chris Stratton, Bochy expressed concern about the rotation’s lack of longevity Monday night, saying the hope is to get six. He added that constantly asking for 12 or more outs from the bullpen is eventually “gonna catch up to you.”
Nevertheless, the skipper’s decision to sacrifice his starter’s longevity in the interest of bolstering an offensive attack paid dividends. Sandoval came off the bench to bat for Blach and roped a line drive down the left field line good for one bag and two RBIs. Two batters later, Andrew McCutchen legged out the back-end of a double play to score Jackson, giving the Giants 4-3 lead, which they never relinquished.
Of the unorthodox move, catcher Buster Posey said:
“Boch has been around long enough where you don’t question the moves he makes and obviously he thought that was a big moment in the game and it turned out to be.”
Bochy’s confidence was rewarded as San Francisco’s bullpen rose to the occasion. Pierce Johnson, Will Smith, Sam Dyson and Tony Watson each took one inning, and each put up a zero allowing Hunter Strickland (S, 8, 2.55 ERA) to come in and close it out. In total, the quintet of relievers allowed two hits and struck out eight without issuing a single walk.
“Hey its great when it works, but if it doesn’t then you’ve used your pen quite a bit. But because of the job they did in the bullpen it worked and of course what Pablo did. I thought it was big that we found a way to win this ballgame”
The Giants haven’t seen a lefty starter since May 2. They will take on their 13th right-hander in a row on Wednesday, pitting left-hander Andrew Suarez (1-2, 4.57 ERA) against former Mets hurler Matt Harvey (0-2, 6.10 ERA).
Former Giant Adam Duvall filled in Tuesday after Reds All-Star first baseman Joey Votto was removed from Monday night’s game against the Giants for lower back tightness. Votto did end up coming in as a pinch-hitter in the ninth Tuesday and struck out to end the game. During Votto’s at-bat, a foul ball collided with Buster Posey’s mask and shoulder leaving the catcher briefly dazed before finishing off the inning. … The Giants optioned outfielder Austin Slater to Triple-A Sacramento. Infielder Miguel Gómez was called up from Double-A Richmond. … Mac Williamson is recovering well from the concussion he sustained tripping over the Giants bullpen mound and hitting his head on the left field padding at AT&T Park on April 24.
Manager Bruce Bochy said:
“He’s doing fine. He did his exertion test earlier in the day and that went well. All his baseball activities that he’s been doing, he’s passing with flying colors. He just has to do this for a few days, then he’ll be cleared to start a rehab.”
The skipper said it’s possible Williamson could be back with the big league club as early as this weekend against Colorado if his rehab goes well in terms of fielding and timing at the plate. According to Bochy, Madison Bumgarner, who is feeling good after a first bullpen session Monday, is expected to throw another bullpen session Wednesday. If all goes well, he could be starting in Sacramento next Saturday. … Closer Mark Melancon, recovering from a right flexor strain related to previously treated pronator syndrome, is set to face hitters Thursday and, barring any unexpected setbacks, he will begin his rehab Sunday or Monday. … Second baseman Joe Panik played catch Monday for the first time since tearing a ligament in his left thumb April 28. … Hunter Pence, bouncing back from a sprained right thumb, went 2-for-4 Monday night and is batting .316 in 10 rehab games in Triple-A Sacramento.
Julie Parker is SFBay’s San Francisco Giants beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @insidethepark3r on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of Giants baseball.