The Giants bullpen has rapidly disintegrated since July 31.
They traded away Sam Dyson, Mark Melancon, and Drew Pomeranz at the deadline, released Nick Vincent in early August, then returned Rule 5 pick Travis Bergen to the Blue Jays.
After that, the injury bug they had mostly avoided in 2019 finally bit, claiming Trevor Gott (Grade I UCL sprain), Tony Watson (right wrist fracture), Reyes Moronta (torn right labrum) and elite closer Will Smith (back tightness) in the span of just 11 days. All but Smith are likely done for the season.
And so it was that Tyler Rogers, Fernando Abad (L, 0-2, 5.19 ERA) and Jandel Gustave (BS, 1.80 ERA) failed to protect Madison Bumgarner‘s (ND, 9-8, 3.77 ERA) two-run lead in the ninth against a team that entered Monday’s contest 19 games below .500, handing a 6-4 victory to the Pirates (63-81).
This story has been updated with quotes and post-game material from the Giants clubhouse at Oracle Park.
Bolstered by yet another quality MadBum performance and an offense posing as the small-ball Giants (69-75) playoff teams of yesteryear, San Francisco looked a shoo-in to take this series opener.
Bumgarner tossed seven dominant innings against Pittsburgh and was economical with his pitches. He threw just 62 through the first five frames, allowing only three hits.
He gave up a fifth-inning solo bomb off the bat of Jacob Stallings (5) and back-to-back doubles to open the sixth — the only blemishes on his outing.
Giants manager Bruce Bochy said Bumgarner and Jeff Samardzija have been invaluable to the team this season as innings-eaters:
“Another solid seven innings, it’s a shame we couldn’t hold on to get him a win. But a nice job he did and you look at the body of work, he’s been the savior.”
Bumgarner leads the National League in innings pitched and is 11-1/3 innings shy of the 200 innings-mark with at least three more possible starts remaining to him this season.
Two-hundred is a milestone not many pitchers will see in this new era of baseball where the roles of starters and relievers are merging in many ways, but Bumgarner takes pride in reaching it:
“I’m not a big goal-setter with stuff like that, but that is a benchmark, at least it used to be, so that’s important to me — 200 innings — I feel like we got a pretty good chance of getting there.”
San Francisco bats kept the lead out of the visitors’ hands with the leadership of two rookies and a veteran in Mike Yastrzemski, Mauricio Dubon and Brandon Belt.
Yastrzemski scored twice after earning his way on base with a pair of walks — once leading off the first and the second with one out and a man on first. In the first, his base on balls set the stage for a sacrifice bunt from Buster Posey. In 1,248 previous plate appearances, Posey had never once executed a sac bunt.
But Buster said he wasn’t aiming for a sacrifice, rather he’s fed up with infield defenses playing him so deep and hopes to bunt more often to keep them honest:
“I think it was the Oakland series when I looked back and I saw [Matt] Chapman like two feet on the outfield grass, so [I’m] not even [bunting] necessarily trying to get a hit — I mean, if that happens, that’s nice — but when they’re playing that deep, it just really cuts down the angles that you can get a hit on.”
He said it’s a new strategy he’s considering, particularly with his offensive struggles in 2019:
“I don’t know how often it will happen but it would be nice to have ’em in a little bit closer. I think I’ll have to do it some more before they did that. I think you gotta pick and choose the right spots.”
Excluding Posey’s seven-game 2009 cup of coffee, he’s posting career-lows in just about every offensive category, new-school or old. He has an 85 OPS+ and a slash line of .257/.324/.371, so it’s a safe bet he could use any edge he can get.
Of his down year, Posey said:
“If you look at my numbers, you can tell I haven’t had the greatest year so confidence is probably not going to be at all-time high.”
Even so, he said this isn’t the first time his confidence has suffered, and he’s weathered the ups and downs of baseball for a long time. He’s not worried.
After the beginning of Posey’s new experiment, Belt teamed up with Evan Longoria for back-to-back singles against Trevor Williams (ND 7-6, 5.21 ERA) to score Yaz. Belt went 3-for-4 in the No. 2 hole against the Pirates Monday night, knocking in two runs.
But with two on and only one out, the Giants failed to take further advantage of a shaky Williams, something that would come back to haunt them.
They added on in the fifth with help from the rookie Dubon, who led off with a single before Yastrzemski earned his second free pass to put two on with one out a batter later.
Stallings seemed to pretty clearly commit catcher’s interference with Posey at the plate on a 1-1 pitch, but home plate umpire Chad Fairchild disagreed despite argument from Posey and Bochy.
Posey said he was most frustrated with the fact that they had no recourse:
“I thought I caught his glove, that’s what I felt on the bat. My only gripe on that is just — why can’t it be replayed? I don’t understand the reasoning. If you can look at a hit-by-pitch why can’t that be reviewed? And if you can’t tell, then you leave it the call on the field. I’m sure there’s some type of reasoning that I haven’t thought of, but I haven’t thought of it yet.”
On the very next pitch, Buster whiffed.
Belt picked him up, though. The first baseman swatted an 83-mph slider up against the wall in right center for a bases-clearing double to put the Giants up 3-1.
Bumgarner allowed back-to-back doubles to former Giants farmhand Bryan Reynolds and former Giant Melky Cabrera in the sixth to put the Pirates within a run, but that was all the damage they did.
San Francisco added an insurance run in the sixth, chasing Williams from the game when Kevin Pillar led off with his 36th double of the season and scored after he was moved to second on a single and scurried home on a groundout from rookie right fielder Jaylin Davis. But ultimately, they needed a bigger policy.
Rogers pitched a clean eighth frame in support of Bumgarner’s solid outing, but after allowing a leadoff single to open the ninth, Bochy hooked him for Abad.
Abad coaxed a ground out, but then allowed a walk and a single prompting Bochy pulled the plug and replaced him with Gustave.
With the bases loaded, Gustave allowed singles to Kevin Newman and Reynolds that put Pittsburgh up 5-4. They added one more on an error and a Jose Osuna sac fly, but it didn’t matter. The Giants went down quietly in the bottom of the ninth at the hands of Richard Rodríguez (S, 26, 3-5, 1.71 ERA).
Bumgarner said he wasn’t dismayed by the sheer wave of attrition the Giants bullpen has faced in the last five or six weeks. He has faith in the guys who have been charged with plugging the holes:
“Everybody’s doing our best to stay on the field it’s a long year so things are gonna happen there’s no doubt about that. It’s about guys stepping up and filling their spots. I feel like we got guys that are more than capable, tonight was just one of those nights it didn’t work out.”
Johnny Cueto (0-0, 0.00 ERA) will make his first start Tuesday since undergoing Tommy John surgery last August. He made six rehab starts with the River Cats last month and his return to the big leagues was delayed by a few days due to some back stiffness, but at last he is ready to go, according to Bochy. The skipper said Cueto topped out at 75 pitches in his final rehab start August 31, but they believe they can stretch him out a little beyond that Tuesday.
Cueto faces Pirates righty Mitch Keller (1-3, 8.18 ERA) for the 6:45 p.m. contest at Oracle Park.
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.