Going into Tuesday’s contest with the Blue Jays, the Giants had a negative-37 run differential in 40 first innings this season, a fact that prompted San Francisco’s brain trust to give a go to the opener strategy.
But the use of reliever Nick Vincent (L, 0-2, 3.24 ERA) as an opener did little to alter the outcome. Vincent wilted in the first inning and the Giants (17-24) failed to do damage against rookie Trent Thornton (W, 1-4, 4.81 ERA), falling 7-3 to Toronto (17-24) in familiar style.
This story has been updated with quotes and post-game material from the Giants clubhouse at Oracle Park.
The Giants drew it up so that Vincent was set to start on the mound, and rookie Tyler Beede would take the ball next, carrying the majority of the weight for San Francisco’s arms.
Manager Bruce Bochy said he planned to make pitching changes based on how things went, not on any defined formula or script, though. He was optimistic before Vincent took the mound to throw the first pitch Tuesday night:
“We decided to go with the Vincent to break things up here a little bit more than anything. I think you look at our track record the last couple weeks and it’s not very good in the early go. So now you do things to shake it up.”
Vincent said he tried to go through the motions as normally as possible in getting ready, but there’s only so much you can do. He had allowed all of six earned runs in 24 innings going into Tuesday’s outing, but against the Jays he bowed under the unfamiliar circumstances. He said:
“I tried to keep it just like I would if I was coming out of the bullpen. I stretched out there, threw after the anthem and kept it as simple as possible….[But] today it just didn’t work out for us.”
He coughed up three runs in the first on a single, a pair of doubles and Vladimir Guerrero Jr.‘s first major league round-tripper (1), putting Toronto up 3-0.
But Vincent said the ugly outing had nothing to do with the fact that he was working as an opener, a role he said he’d filled in Seattle, too. He said:
“I missed pitches over the plate. When I do that I’m not gonna have a good day no matter if it’s in the seventh inning or if it’s the first inning. If you miss pitches over the plate, they’re gonna get hit.”
He also noted that Guerrero Jr. is all he’s cracked up to be:
“Obviously he can hit the fastballs away so next time we’ll probably change the approach on that but he’s been a good hitter in the minor leagues he’s gonna keep doing it in the big leagues.”
Vincent’s inning was reminiscent of many frames Giants starting pitchers have muddled through recently. Bochy would not send him back out for a second stab at it and instead forged ahead, handing the ball to Beede.
Beede has been fighting to find his footing in a big league uniform in 2019. In a May 3 start in Cincinnati, he allowed seven earned runs on seven hits and two home runs over 2-1/3 innings. In a relief appearance in Colorado on May 9, he allowed two runs on three hits over two innings. Tuesday night he was marginally better, despite lasting just 2-2/3 innings after Bochy hooked Vincent.
Beede recorded two quick outs upon taking the mound before having to pitch through some traffic. He allowed singles to Eric Sogard and Guerrero Jr. and a walk to Justin Smoak before getting the Giants off the field with a strikeout.
Beede carried the momentum from the strikeout to end the second into the third when he put on a show, striking out the side on 16 pitches and offering a display of the reason the Giants view him as so valuable to their future.
Beede says he weighs the educational value of innings he struggles in as just as important as those in which he is dominant, though:
“To have an inning like that it does build confidence and vice versa to have an inning like my third inning doesn’t put me in a position where I lose confidence either just as a learning opportunity, I say that over and over again, it’s an opportunity for me to learn from what I did and to grow from it next time out.”
In his third inning of work — the fourth in the game — Beede notched his fifth strikeout to open, but things quickly unraveled. He said he wishes he would have taken a breath between pitches and had better faith in his stuff:
I think in that situation I get a little bit more anxious about making a great pitch as opposed to just executing a good pitch. I wish I would have noticed that in the midst of it, but it took me coming out and watching some tape and seeing how quick my tempo was between pitches to know that’s what I need to do next time out.”
He allowed Thornton’s first big league hit, a single to right, and another single to Sogard before allowing back-to-back walks to Guerrero Jr. and Smoak. Bochy had seen enough and Trevor Gott came in to put out the fire without further incident.
As consistent as the Giants shaky pitching has been in early innings of late, their anemic offense has been similarly constant. Stuck in the deficit created in the opening frame, San Francisco clawed their way partly into the game in the third with the help of two of the few Giants who have been making any noise with the bats of late.
Joe Panik led off the inning with a single and Pablo Sandoval walloped a one-out dinger (5) that measured 419 feet over the wall in deep center, to make it 3-2.
In his last seven games, Sandoval is batting .389 with three homers and seven RBI and Bochy said he’s taken notice:
“[Sandoval’s] swinging well, isn’t he? He’s doing a real nice job wherever you put him, that’s why he was out there tonight.”
Toronto added on against Reyes Moronta in his third poor outing in a row. Before Saturday’s relief appearance, Moronta had taken the ball 11 straight times allowing neither a hit nor a run, but like in his two appearances over the weekend, he failed to resume his usual dominance.
Moronta put two on for Guerrero Jr, allowing Thornton his second career knock and hitting Sogard. With that “Vladito” launched an 89-mph changeup left over the plate over the center field wall for a three-run jack (2) to give the Jays a 7-2 lead.
The Giants would add one more run on a pair of doubles in the eighth from former Jay Kevin Pillar and Mac Williamson, but it was window dressing.
Bochy had never attempted the new-fangled opener strategy until Tuesday, and in this, the last season of his quarter-century career in the bigs, he said he didn’t plan to set it aside after only one attempt, despite the poor results.
“That’s one game. It’s not a big enough sample for somebody to say that doesn’t work. I don’t know if we’ll do that again or how many times we’ll do it again but we’re not gonna let one time dictate that [decision].”
Right-hander Shaun Anderson will make his big league debut Wednesday facing veteran righty Edwin Jackson in the season-series finale with the Blue Jays. Toronto acquired Jackson from Oakland Saturday in a bid to compensate for a spate of injuries to their rotation and Jackson’s debut with the Jays will make him the first-ever player to suit up for 14 different big league teams. Anderson is 2-1 with a 4.11 ERA in 35 innings with the River Cats in 2019 and is averaging 9.5 strikeouts per nine.
Erik Kratz was designated for assignment Monday. He was hitting .125 in 32 at-bats with three RBI and one home run.
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.