Dereck Rodriguez joined the two rookies before him in the Giants three-game series sweep of the Phillies in showing confidence, composure and poise on the mound Sunday — three of manager Bruce Bochy’s favorite attributes in a young starter.
Two days ahead of his 26th birthday, Rodriguez (W, 1-0, 1.93 ERA) went toe-to-toe with one of the best starters in the game in Jake Arrieta, striking out six and giving up just one run on five hits through six innings, earning his first career win in a 6-1 victory at AT&T Park. And he did so with a fastball topping out at 94.7-mph.
He described his first major league win as a “fun day:”
“I was just going out there like any other start [like] when I was down in Triple-A, only with a couple thousand more people.”
There was another pretty big difference between Sunday’s start and his appearances with Triple-A Sacramento, though, namely the big league hitters he was facing in the box.
Of his stuff, Rodriguez said:
“I think everything [was working] you know. Just establishing the inside of the plate, controlling both sides of the plate and I felt like I was good with my fastball today and throwing my curveball for strikes.”
One guy who got an up-close and personal look at Rodriguez’s stuff was Buster Posey, and the All-Star catcher was impressed:
“His fastball’s got a ton of life, [it] seems to come out pretty easy and he’s done a nice job of pitching up and down, and moving the ball to both sides of the plate. He’s confident. I think he knows he’s got the stuff that plays, and he’s got a good presence on the mound, so hopefully he’ll keep that going.”
Like the two previous Phillies starters in the series, Arrieta (L, 5-3, 2.66 ERA) wasn’t giving an inch. His velocity may have dropped some since his 2015 Cy Young season, but his breaking balls were nearly impossible for Giants hitters to see.
Adding insult to injury, he knocked a solo dinger (1) to right in the second inning to give the Phillies an early lead.
But aside from Arrieta’s homer, Rodriguez matched him goose egg-for-goose egg, citing shutout pitching performances from the other two wet-behind-the-ears Giants, Chris Stratton and Andrew Suárez, who preceded him in the series:
“It gives you a little push. You don’t want to be that pitcher [when you’re] going for the sweep [who] gives it up. But you know I just pitched my game out there, [and] they gave me a little extra confidence.”
He also got some extra confidence from another, more seasoned source ahead of his start: his Hall of Fame dad, Iván ‘Pudge’ Rodriguez.
Of that conversation, the younger said:
“He just told me to do what I know how to do, and that’s all he had to tell me. I went out there and pitched my game.”
It took the Giants offense until the sixth inning to finally find their sea legs and offer some support for the solid work Rodriguez had put in on the mound.
After Gorkys Hernández faced some 2-2 chin music from Arrieta he responded by lobbing the next pitch he saw into left-center for a single. With the fourth leadoff man on base in as many innings, Bochy was not wasting yet another chance.
Rodriguez was at 85 pitches and showing no signs of being out of gas, but with Arrieta on the mound and the Phillies motivated to scrape what dignity was left out of this series, he pinch-hit for Pudge’s kid with Alen Hanson.
On an 0-1 check swing, Hanson hit a dribbler to shortstop Scott Kingery that looked doomed to earn Arrieta his third double play of the afternoon, but Hernández got a good jump and Hanson showed off his wheels. Everyone was safe.
The Giants had their first man in scoring position all afternoon. It was now or never, and San Francisco wasn’t ‘Paniking.’ They had just the guy they wanted up. In his third game off the disabled list Joe Panik recorded his sixth hit and his third in the clutch. A sharp grounder up the first base line scored Hernández and moved Hanson to third, tying the game.
But the Giants wanted more than a no decision for Rodriguez in his first start, so they weren’t done. Posey rocketed a liner to center to score Hanson, move Panik over and give San Francisco the lead.
That still wasn’t enough, though. The Giants had revenge in mind for the five previous innings they spent blinded by Arrieta’s breaking balls and the four game sweep at Citizen’s Bank Park in May. Andrew McCutchen followed up with a cathartic homer over the right field wall at Levi’s Landing to blow the game open, making it 5-1.
Arrieta got out of the inning with no further damage, but the shutout was gone and the sweep seemed imminent.
Mark Melancon took the mound for the first time this season in the seventh and showed 40,492 fans at AT&T Park that he was back, striking out the side.
He’s spent a lot of time imagining such a perfect inning for his return after spending the entirety of the season so far on the shelf. He said:
“It’s been a long time. It’s a really good feeling to be back and be able to help these guys out. It was fun.”
Bochy plans to stick with the formula that’s worked in Melancon’s absence with Hunter Strickland as the closer for the time being. The plan is to use Melancon in the sixth and the seventh innings in the immediate future.
Melancon said of his new role:
“Given the time off it makes sense, Strickland’s been doing great, Watty [Tony Watson], [Sam] Dyson—having Will [Smith] back is awesome—you know [Reyes] Moronta, [Cory] Gearrin, all those guys have been pitching really well. I can’t tell you how excited I am to be back and to be able to contribute and be a part of it instead of kinda sitting on the sidelines cheering guys on. So it’s just nice to be in the mix, and things will pan out and we’ll go from there.”
Smith ran into some trouble in the seventh allowing a single and a walk to lead off the inning but ultimately he made it out of the inning unscathed.
After losing to the Giants both Friday and Saturday the Phillies put Hector Neris in, perhaps to get him some work. Bochy took the opportunity to get Hunter Pence in the game pinch-hitting for Smith to lead off. Despite making an out, it was a very loud out. After his fly ball was caught by Odúbel Herrera in center, Giants fans nevertheless gave the “Forever Giant” a standing ovation.
Bochy acknowledged how special that moment was for Pence.
The skipper said:
“I can tell you it’s probably somewhat emotional for him. It was nice seeing [that] he’s loved by The City, and by all of us, [too]. He’s special, and what he’s done here, and the way he plays, the way he is in this clubhouse the way he walks in there every day—he’s just so well-respected and loved by everybody, and its pretty cool to see.”
A batter later Neris nearly hit Posey with two letter high, inside fastballs clocking in at over 94-mph to start the at-bat. But following a third ball, Posey got revenge the best way he knew how when Neris teed up another 94-mph fastball down the middle of the plate and Posey sent it flying over the Chevron sign in left field for a solo home run (4).
Reyes Moronta took the mound in the ninth to close out the sweep, the first the Phillies have experienced in 2018.
Bochy reveled in sweet revenge after the game:
“They had their way with us in Philly, I mean we got beat up pretty good and [they] swept us, so you always wanna get back, get even. And the guys did it, they were determined to punch back, and they did it with a nice three game sweep against three good starters who all have been throwing the ball really well.”
Derek Holland (3-6, 4.94) will face righty Zack Godley (5-4, 4.38) in the series opener Monday against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Holland is coming off a win in Colorado on Wednesday in which he threw five innings giving up eight hits and five runs. This will be the final series the Giants play before heading out on a three city road trip.
Bochy said Brandon Belt is doing well after undergoing an emergency appendectomy surgery early Saturday morning. He was examined by Giants trainers at AT&T Park during Sunday’s game. … Johnny Cueto had an impromptu game of catch before Sunday’s game, throwing to 120 feet. Bochy said the righty is anxious to get back out there and he could take his first bullpen as soon as next weekend in Washington. Current estimates are that Cueto should be back on the field by the end of June He was placed on the 60-day disabled list May 1 with right elbow inflammation. … Jeff Samardzija is expected to play catch tomorrow as well. He was placed on the 10-day disabled list with right shoulder tightness on May 30.