It’s been three months since the San Francisco Giants had any sort of success against the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the struggle to match up well against them continues to be a glaring issue.
At one point, the Giants (69-76) were leading the season series three games to two after a June sweep at Oracle Park. Since then, the Dodgers (100-44) have played out of their minds against their arch rivals and did so again on Saturday night, defeating the Giants 7-2 and lifting the Los Angeles to their 100th victory of the season.
Since the fateful mid-June sweep, San Francisco has lost 12 of 13 to Los Angeles and been outscored 95-52.
The Giants turned to another bullpen game, with righty John Brebbia getting the nod for his sixth start as opener. The plan was to unleash rookie right-hander Sean Hjelle as the bulk-innings arm for the night and, after Brebbia evaded the top of the Dodgers lineup – a severely dangerous bunch – Hjelle ran in from the bullpen, all 6-foot-11 of him.
Hjelle, sporting a 4.92 ERA in 22 starts in Triple-A, was lit up for six earned runs. He faced 12 Dodgers hitters and nine reached base safely.
The right-hander said the effort wasn’t his greatest, failing to have a feel for any of his secondary pitches:
“It’s a little bit mechanical. It’s a little bit mental. It’s just a little combination of everything and it’s one of those things where just kind of the small things add up and turns into six, seven runs. They’re small things –– they’re easily addressed and easily worked on moving on to the next one (start). So just small things, go back, look at the film and identify what it is and just keep moving forward.”
Los Angeles center fielder Trayce Thompson had the big swing, launching a two-run shot into a sea of blue over the left-center field wall. With 40,171 in attendance Saturday night, it was hardly a reach to assume that more than half were Dodgers fans.
An atmosphere, indeed.
The third inning consisted of a more keep-the-line-moving style offense for the Dodgers, leading off the frame against Hjelle with five straight singles and a walk to Thompson. It was 5-1 by the time Giants manager Gabe Kapler took the ball from Hjelle. Kapler noted:
“He was he was in the middle of the plate with his fastball. I’m not that concerned about that, that’s going to happen. And in particular, teams like this are going to hit fastballs and they’re gonna hit everything. So you’re gonna have some of that. … We do like that he threw strikes, that’s important.”
Kapler has now unleashed 15 bullpen games throughout the year, in which his is 6-9 overall.
The Giants opened scoring in the first inning against left-hander Julio Urias. Thairo Estrada reached on an infield hit and advanced to second when Wilmer Flores reached on a rare error from Los Angeles Turner at shortstop, who bobbled a ball fielding far to his right.
With runners at first and second, Estrada swiped second without contest. The second baseman’s team-leading 19th stolen base of the season single-handedly led to a run when J.D. Davis was able to beat out what looked to be an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play ball. Instead, the relay from second baseman Gavin Lux was low and Freeman was unable to dig it out cleanly, making it 1-0.
Flores snapped an 0-for-14 funk with a solo homer off Urias in the third to make it 6-1. Flores now has 19 homers on the year, a career-high. Friday night’s loss against the Dodgers marked Flores’ 1,000th career big-league game. Over nine-plus seasons, the infielder has played 581 games with the New York Mets, 89 with the Arizona Diamondbacks and 330 with the Giants.
2022 has been a career-year for Flores, not just in the home run department. The 31-year-old has set career-bests in doubles (26), runs batted in (66) and walks (50).
Kapler raved about Flores postgame:
“You don’t have to ask me twice to rave about the work that Wilmer has done. I think we all know that. But really happy for him. It’s nice to see him set a career high in home runs. I don’t think it’s going to be his last home run of the season and it’d cool to see him get to 20 as well.”
‘The Reverend’ returns
The Giants honored two-time World Series champion Hunter Pence with a plaque on Oracle Park’s Wall of Fame ahead of Saturday’s matchup against the Dodgers.
In a pregame ceremony on the field, the four-time All-Star right fielder rolled out from the left field corner – with a blazing fog machine – on his trademark scooter and took a lap around the warning track before joining his family, friends and teammates on the infield.
Pence, using the intensity and emotion that helped cement his legacy as a Giants icon, took the microphone and took the opportunity to speak about seemingly everyone besides himself. He spoke about Gregor Blanco’s unsung accomplishments during the 2012 and 2014 World Series runs. He joked about Michael Morse’s light-tower power. George Kontos even led the crowd into Pence’s famous “Yes! Yes! Yes!” chants.
Even with his unorthodox way of playing the game and quirky personality, Pence’s capabilities on the field shouldn’t be ignored. In parts of eight seasons in San Francisco, Pence blasted 95 homers and knocked in 415 runs. Before injuries rattled the tail end of his tenure with the Giants, he proved his durability by appearing in all 162 games two seasons in a row – 2013 and 2014.
The postseason, however, was Pence’s moneymaker. Aside from his motivational dugout speeches, Pence hit .444 across seven games of the 2014 World Series and would’ve been the series MVP if a certain left-handed pitcher didn’t decide to play Sandy Koufax for a four-week stretch.
Pence is now a color analyst for Friday Night Baseball on Apple TV+. He also works select road games in the broadcast booth for the Giants, a role he says he wants to expand in future years.
Pence’s return prompted one fan – attending her first big league game – to add a creative element to the evening, emulating the Hunter Pence signs that used to roam around ballparks around the league.
Alex Cobb (6-6, 3.48 ERA) has been terrific in his last five starts, notching a 1.80 ERA in 30 innings of work while striking out 28. He’ll toe the slab against Dodgers left-hander Andrew Heaney (3-2, 2.84 ERA), an arm San Francisco homered against four times the previous time they faced him on Sept. 5 at Dodger Stadium. First pitch is 4:08 p.m. on ESPN.
Prior to the game, San Francisco recalled Hjelle and outfielder Heliot Ramos. Newly acquired Willie Calhoun and righty Luis Ortiz were optioned to Triple-A Sacramento. … Kapler noted “it hasn’t been great” for Ramos this season despite a decent chance to become a regular at the beginning of the season. In 445 plate appearances at Triple-A, he has notched just a .637 OPS with nine homers and 35 runs driven in. … Outfielder Austin Slater (hand sprain) swung a bat on Friday and is preparing to face velocity off a machine on Sunday. He could come off the injured list on Monday or Tuesday, prompting a likely Ramos option ahead.
Steven Rissotto has covered the San Francisco Giants for SFBay since 2021. He is the host of RizzoCast, a baseball interview show featuring players, coaches, media and fans. He attends San Francisco State University and will major in Journalism and minor in education.