The Giants have been a tale of two teams for the first third of the 2018 season. Friday night at AT&T Park behind Chris Stratton they were the team that plays 15-10 at home in their 3-0 win over the Philadelphia.
The Phillies (31-24) looked nothing like the team who swept these same Giants (27-30) just three-and-a-half weeks ago at Citizens Bank Park. Philadelphia was kept scoreless by San Francisco pitching and succumbed to a grand total of 13 strikeouts, giving Nick Pivetta (L, 4-4, 3.48 ERA) the loss.
This story has been updated with quotes and post-game material from the Giants clubhouse at AT&T Park.
Friday was a homecoming for the Giants but it was a different kind of return for two specific Giants: starter Stratton (W, 7-3, 4.79 ERA) and All-Star Gold Glover second baseman Joe Panik.
Stratton started the season off strong, earning a 2-2 record in his first five starts with the team going 4-1 in those games. But after the birth of his daughter on April 25, with a brief stint on the paternity list, he became inconsistent. The Giants were still 4-2 in his next six starts, but he lacked the sharpness and the longevity he was developing in his early starts.
Of the apparent turning point in Stratton’s season and whether Stratton’s daughter’s birth had a hand in it, manager Bruce Bochy said:
“I don’t know [if the birth affected him], I mean, he did do a lot of traveling before that [April 28] start, but after that I cant say that that affected him. I will say that in this game we all have our little moments, whether as a hitter or pitcher where things aren’t quite going as well, as far as your location [and] your pitches. He was so good there at the end of last year and the start of this year that you know he was probably due for a little bit of hiccup.”
For Stratton, Friday was a return to form. He pitched six scoreless innings recording three-up-three-down innings in the first, second, fourth and his strongest, the fifth, when he struck out the side. He struck out seven total and gave up just four hits. Add to that a feat that has seemed to elude Giants pitchers in 2018: he put down two successful sacrifice bunts to move runners over and juice rallies.
Stratton had a few explanations for the way he turned things around Friday against the Phils. The biggest was perhaps the strangest. In addition to speeding up his tempo, in a bullpen session in Colorado of all places he said he found his curveball again. He credited catchers and bullpen staff saying they, “they all had a hand in it.” But it was bullpen catcher Eli Whiteside who was behind the dish in his Denver bullpen when he regained his yakker at altitude.
Of his recent struggles Stratton added:
“I just think when you start to struggle a little bit you try to find something and you’re thinking about that [too much]. I think getting my tempo up is really what helped me turn the page.”
The skipper was brimming with praise for the 27-year-old righty describing the difference between his recent starts and Friday’s game against Philadelphia:
“I think just how sharp he was with his command, his pitches overall were crisper—the breaking ball, slider and changeup to go with the fastball. And I thought his stuff was up a little but tonight he was around 92-93 [miles-per-hour] there and he really was hitting his spots.”
Panik’s return was a bit more literal. He spent the last five weeks on the disabled list with a torn ligament in his left thumb. For him, the series opener was a return to his rightful place in the middle infield and atop the batting order, and there was no rust.
“It was a short re-hab for him, but it didn’t show.”
As leadoff man he got on base four times in five his plate appearances, setting the table for an offense that worked like a well-oiled machine. He went 2-for-2 with two walks and two singles, scoring in the first on an Evan Longoria single after he walked to lead off.
Panik said he felt some nervous energy going into Friday’s game, but it dissipated quickly:
“When you’re out 4-5 weeks you and come back, you’re a little excited, sometimes you feel a little anxious. You know that walk in the first inning kinda settled everything down and I kinda got into the flow of the game. It was nice to get a walk and get back into the game that way.”
Stratton was grateful to have the starting second baseman back in action as well.
“The ball was definitely finding him, and he made some great plays today. He is a really good catalyst for us, he always seems to put together really good at-bats. I’m glad he’s back.”
The Giants second rally started in the fourth when a Brandon Crawford fly ball fell in between left fielder Nick Williams, shaded toward the left-center field gap, and third baseman Maikel Franco, playing his shifted position near shortstop. What in most circumstances would have been a routine popout was turned into a lead-off double.
Four batters later, after Crawford scored on a Gorkys Hernández single to left making it 2-0, and Panik walked, hackles were raised when Pivetta plunked Buster Posey on the elbow. Nothing came of the drilling, and Pivetta got out of the inning on an Andrew McCutchen groundout, but Posey, known for his stoicism, looked less than thrilled, flinging both his bat and shin protection to the side with far more vigor than normal.
A seventh inning leadoff triple from McCutchen sparked a third rally to make it 3-0 San Francisco.
Giants relievers Tony Watson and Sam Dyson combined to make sure the Phillies offense never saw the light of day through the seventh and eight innings, adding five more strikeouts to the Phillies ledger and keeping them hitless.
Things got “interesting” in the ninth inning as Hunter Strickland allowed a single to Scott Kingery and a double to follow from Herrera but he sent the next three Phillies packing to end Philadelphia’s greatest threat of the night.
The Giants will play game two of a three game series with the Phillies Saturday. Pitching probables are southpaw Andrew Suárez (1-4, 5.65) and righty Vince Velasquez (4-5, 4.08). First pitch is set 7:05 p.m. and the Giants are giving away retro orange fanny packs to the first 20,000 fans, which is as good a reason as any to head out to the yard.
Brandon Belt was pulled from Friday’s game after the second inning with what was first described as gastrointestinal upset and was replaced by Pablo Sandoval at first base. After the game, manager Bruce Bochy announced that Belt was actually rushed to the hospital after his at-bat in the first inning. Bochy said:
“He wasn’t feeling very good before the game, but he thought he was good enough to go We didn’t know what it was, [just] stomach [upset]. He just didn’t feel well and after the first at-bat it just got worse so [Giants Senior Head of Athletic Training] Dave Groeschner came up and said we gotta get him outta there and get him evaluated.”
There is some suspicion that Belt may be suffering from appendicitis, though the team is awaiting confirmation on a diagnosis from his doctors. Belt is currently hospitalized and Bochy said this may affect roster decisions for Saturday’s game.
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.