Making the spot-start for Johnny Cueto, who will be on a six-day rotation as he is eased back from an elbow injury, Derek Holland flashed a level of dominance the Giants had only seen glimpses of over the course of his 17 previous starts.
Holland (L, 5-8, 4.17 ERA) matched his season high of eight strikeouts and went without issuing a single walk for the first time in those starts.
But like Monday’s series opener, the Giants (48-46) were again shut down by Chicago pitching, in this case José Quintana (W, 8-6, 3.96 ERA) and later the bullpen, including closer Steve Cishek (S, 3, 1.96 ERA). Tuesday, it was the Giants bullpen that blinked first, a rarity this season, with Sam Dyson allowing an inherited runner to score and a second run of his own in an ugly seventh inning that proved to be the difference as the Cubs (52-37) took the 2-0 victory over San Francisco.
This story has been updated with quotes and post-game material from the Giants clubhouse at AT&T Park.
Holland lost his job as a starter five days ago with the return of Cueto, and in that time he had two excellent performances in relief, including relieving for Cueto on the very day he transitioned to the bullpen during which he went 3-1/3 innings and allowed two runs on four hits while striking out seven.
Holland, not unlike Pablo Sandoval, has filled the role of chameleon for the Giants and he has repeatedly expressed a willingness to help the team in any way he can:
“Whatever [the Giants] put down, I’m gonna go out there and help out as much as I can. I know that Cueto is pitching tomorrow, we got Samardzija coming back, too, so if I have to go back to the ‘pen I’m perfectly fine with it. You’re not gonna hear me complain. Whatever they ask me to do I’ll be ready for that call.”
According to manager Bruce Bochy, the future is unwritten for Holland:
“We’ll talk about it. The way he’s throwing the ball, he’s got so much value as a starter. He’s done a great job there [and] he’s done a great job in the bullpen, so we’ll huddle up. He can help us in the bullpen before the break, ’cause those guys have been used quite a bit, [but after the break] we’ll see where he fits in.”
Everything was coming up aces for the veteran lefty Tuesday night. He breezed through 6-1/3 innings in part on the steam of an improved curveball that he worked on after viewing footage of his last start in Arizona.
Then he was chased after just 3-2/3 innings allowing three runs on seven hits and four walks and he realized something needed to change. But in addition to viewing film, he credits his bullpen outings themselves as helping him tighten things up, saying that in a way those appearances felt like the equivalent of the non-game bullpen sessions starters do normally:
“I think it was after watching what Arizona did I really felt like I needed to execute better with my offspeed and I definitely worked on that coming into the game and coming out of the ‘pen as well. When you’re coming out of the ‘pen I feel like there’s more of a bigger confidence in yourself when you’re out there ’cause you don’t have time to really think about much at all.”
He was at 99 pitches Tuesday when he gave up a one-out double to Addison Russell prompting Bochy to pull him. He could’ve potentially finished the inning under different circumstances but after two bullpen outings in the previous five days, the last of which came just three days ago, his pitch count was an issue.
Dyson was on a short list of guys who didn’t pitch in Tuesday night’s 11-inning wonder, so it was he who took over for “Dutch,” and things quickly unraveled.
When Bochy made the change Cubs skipper Joe Maddon pinch-hit Kyle Schwarber, and with Schwarber at the plate Dyson threw a wild pitch giving Russell third. The Cubs shortstop scored when Nick Hundley air-mailed a throw to third that skated down the left field line toward the home bullpen mounds.
Dyson proceeded to walk Schwarber. And after Hundley cut him down trying to steal second with Ian Happ at the plate, Dyson walked Happ, too. Victor Caratini doubled to right to get a second run on the board for the Cubs, and with that Holland’s masterpiece was tarnished.
Dyson threw a scoreless eighth inning and recent call-up Ray Black put on a show in the ninth, topping out at 99 miles per hour with a 1-2-3 inning including two strikeouts against a Cubs heart of the order made up of three guys with rings to their names Russell, Schwarber and Willson Contreras. This was especially big for Black as he struggled against the Cardinals in his first big league outing Sunday allowing two walks and a splash hit.
Bochy was happy with the way his second appearance went:
“I wanted to get him out there as soon as I could after his last outing. The first one you throw out, everybody’s gonna be amped up, a little nervous, butterflies or whatever, but tonight he used his breaking ball really well — and he’s got a really good one — along with the 98, 99[-mph], and thats gonna work up here. … It was impressive how he went out there and bounced back and had a nice clean inning against good hitters.”
But the damage was done, and the Giants offense fell without so much as a muffled squeak, mustering just three hits and getting into scoring position just once.
Neither the bullpen nor the Giants bats could supply Holland with the win he deserved.
Johnny Cueto (3-1, 1.95 ERA) will take on Mike Montgomery (3-3, 3.68 ERA) in the series finale between San Francisco and Chicago Wednesday. The Giants planned to give him an additional day of rest ahead of his second start since returning from rehab for right elbow inflammation, which is why Holland started on what would have been Cueto’s normal turn in the rotation Tuesday.
At the conclusion of the Cubs series Wednesday the Giants will take their first day off after a stretch of 16 straight games. Friday they will open a three-game series against the Athletics at AT&T Park before heading into the All Star Break. … MLB announced the most recent results of the Final Vote for the All Star Break in which Belt is a contender. Voting ends at 4 p.m. Wednesday and as of Tuesday morning Belt was in second place trailing Brewers first baseman Jésus Aguilar. Holland and Hunter Pence produced a WWF wrestling parody video ahead of Monday’s game campaigning for Belt, and with the news of Belt’s place in the standings Tuesday, Holland said he hoped to do more to promote Belt for the Final Vote before polls close Wednesday afternoon.
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.