The Giants bullpen imploded yet again Wednesday night, coughing up seven runs over two dismal innings of a 10-5 loss to the Dodgers at Oracle Park.
Nearly all of San Francisco’s issues this series have revolved around Max Muncy. The Dodgers third baseman arrived with a long and detailed history of being a Giants killer, which he continued with his second multi-homer game of the series. A solo shot in the fifth and a mighty, three-run blast in the sixth put the game out of reach at 8-3.
Muncy is the first opposing player to rack up 11 or more RBI in a three-game series against the Giants (5-7) since Jeffrey Hammonds May 12-15 in 2000. Muncy has now creamed 24 homers in 75 games against them.
Muncy’s final homer topped a disastrous sixth inning for Giants reliever Taylor Rogers, who faced four Dodgers – walking them all. His fourth was a bases-loaded free pass for Freddie Freeman to take the lead after a 15-pitch plate appearance.
Manager Gabe Kapler labeled it a “tough one” for Rogers:
“He [Rogers] just couldn’t throw strikes and then when he was able to throw strikes, Freeman put a tremendous at-bat on him and forced him to get in the zone over and over and over, which he did. He just wasn’t able to finish obviously – that was just a Freeman win. Before that, I think, is where the challenges were coming in.”
Starter Alex Cobb kept the Giants in the game by allowing two earned runs through 3-2/3 innings of work, but the rest of the bullpen showed no desire to stop the bleeding. Scott Alexander, Rogers (L, 0-1, 18.90 ERA), John Brebbia and Ross Stripling combined for eight earned runs.
Cobb said the homestand wasn’t what the team wanted:
“We’re trying to not ride the rollercoaster this year. It’s still early – I know. fans hate hearing that, but we still feel like we can put together a good stretch. We’re in striking distance.”
Wilmer Flores notched a 3-for-4 game in the two-hole, cranking RBI singles in the second and seventh. Thairo Estrada cranked his second homer of the year to left in the ninth to make it a five-run game.
It isn’t an understatement to say the Giants have struggled heavily against left-handed pitching this season. Entering Wednesday, they were held to a .533 OPS against them – 29th in baseball and sandwiched between subpar offenses like the Detroit Tigers and the Oakland Athletics.
San Francisco has been the complete opposite against right-handers, with their .864 OPS standing as second-best to only the undefeated Tampa Bay Rays and their staggering .976.
To address this disparity, the Giants have turned to their organizational depth. San Francisco called up Darin Ruf, who signed a minor league pact with the club on April 8 after being let go by the New York Mets. San Francisco called up Ruf after only 10 at-bats in extended spring training games for the string of left-handed starters ahead. Kapler noted Ruf’s bat speed and timing seemed strong enough to call him up, even after limited time.
Ruf contributed right away against Clayton Kershaw (W, 2-1, 3.50 ERA) in the first by smashing a double off the wall in left-center field – mere feet from becoming a two-run shot – to knock home a run. He singled again in the eighth.
Kapler said Ruf’s return felt “pretty exciting”:
“Obviously the feel good moment in the night for for our side. He’s had a tough go up until today and I think there’s feelings of relief from him. In addition, I think people are just really happy for him. He’s as well-liked as anybody we’ve had here over the last couple of years. He’s performed really well for our team and as I mentioned, we saw his at-bats in spring training – or in extended spring – and it looked like Darin Ruf and his at-bats tonight looked like Darin Ruf.”
Ruf, 36, played with the Giants from 2020 to 2022 and impressed by recording an .814 OPS with 32 homers and 99 RBI in 247 games. He was traded last August to the Mets for minor league pitchers J.D. Davis and lefty Thomas Szapucki – a fleece of a trade if there ever was one. The change of scenery seemingly “compromised” Ruf, Kapler says, and left him in a rough mental state.
“The hugs I got to give today were a lot better than the hugs I got to give in August.”
Ruf’s specialty, being a force against left-handed pitching, looks to deliver playing time as a DH as the club awaits the returns of Mitch Haniger and Austin Slater to their outfield, an area seeing its depth tested early in the year.
The outfield depth test will continue as Michael Conforto left Wednesday’s matchup after three innings with left calf tightness. Kapler says his right fielder wanted to stay in the game, but the team wanted to proceed with caution. He’s regarded as day-to-day.
Conforto was replaced by Bryce Johnson, who was greeted right away by the center-field wall trying to grab J.D. Martinez’s leadoff triple in the fourth.
Los Angeles tacked on two in the fourth when James Outman singled home Martinez from third before Mookie Betts doubled to left to make it a one-run game at 3-2. The swing knocked out Cobb, and the Giants countered with Alexander to face Freeman with two runners in scoring position.
Freeman blasted a deep drive to center for Johnson, who leaped at the wall to rob extra bases and preserve the lead. The crash had Johnson sitting up to take inventory at the warning track before being paid a visit by the trainer. Johnson gingerly left the game and was later diagnosed with a concussion, according to Kapler.
The Giants will breeze through an off-day on Thursday before embarking to The Motor City to take on the Detroit Tigers for a three-game set. Sean Manaea (0-0, 4.50 ERA) is expected to start Friday against veteran right-hander Michael Lorenzen (0-0, 0.00 ERA), who will be making his season debut after an injured list stint.
As a corresponding move to Ruf’s call-up, Sean Hjelle took the stray bullet and was optioned to Triple-A Sacramento. He’ll continue his role of eating up bulk innings out of the bullpen with one clear message: throw more strikes. Hjelle walked four batters in his six big-league innings. Hjelle was a clear candidate to be sent down because of his minor league options remaining, which almost always works against a young player if they have them.
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.