PHOENIX – You can imagine the Giants clubhouse being a somber place after the bullpen blew two saves and wasted Madison Bumgarner’s record-setting performance in a 6-5 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks on Sunday.
Nobody was doing cartwheels, that’s for sure. But the mood after the season-opening loss wasn’t as downbeat as you might have expected.
“A lot of good things happened,” Bochy said. “You’ll take the good with the bad, and it’s just one game.”
This wasn’t like Game 4 of the NLDS last October. The Giants get to play another day. They get to play another 161 days.
So even in the immediate aftermath of Derek Law’s blown save in the eighth inning, and Mark Melancon’s blown save in his Giants debut an inning later, Bochy hardly managed a grumble as he sat behind his desk in the visiting clubhouse.
Here are a few of the reasons why:
–Madison Bumgarner flat-out dominated on the mound.
The bullpen failures might have taken some of the focus away from the fact that Bumgarner became the first pitcher in major league history to homer twice on opening day. But those home runs also took some of the focus away from how well Bumgarner pitched.
Bumgarner became just the second major league pitcher in the last 13 seasons to record at least seven innings and 11 strikeouts on 88 pitches or fewer. (The Mets’ Dillon Gee was the other, in 2013. Hall of Famer Randy Johnson owned the previous such start, in 2004.)
The key was a livelier fastball that topped out at 94.6 mph – firmer than any pitch he threw all last season.
“His fastball was jumping and the command of it was really good especially being his first start,” catcher Buster Posey said. “And same with the cutter, and he expanded with the curveball when he wanted to.”
Consider this: Bumgarner complained all last year that he was searching for his optimal mechanics, even as he set career bests in innings and strikeouts while finishing fourth in the NL Cy Young Award balloting. It is downright scary to think what Bumgarner could accomplish in a year when he’s this locked in this early.
“That’s the best I’ve felt in a long time,” Bumgarner said. “That’s just the adjustments in the delivery I’ve been working on for a long time. It was definitely coming out good today. … I’m definitely a lot closer than I was. The struggle is once you get it, to keep hold of it, to not lose it.”
If Bumgarner pitches like that all season, his starts could become almost as automatic as Clayton Kershaw starts have become for the Dodgers.
–Melancon might have blown a lead in his Giants debut, but he’s the same pitcher who blew four saves in 51 chances for the Nationals and Pirates last season.
Baseball is a weird game and the universe is a random place. Nobody expected Melancon to chalk up every save chance. He just happened to do it on the first day. And maybe he and Posey will be better for having experienced it.
“It definitely gets easier the more you get to work with a guy,” Posey said. “I thought his stuff looked pretty good overall. That’s just a tough outing. There was nothing I saw that looked off. Everything looked crisp. It’ll get better as we get going.”
–Ty Blach came through when used in short relief, getting a double-play grounder from Jake Lamb to help preserve the tie in the eighth inning. And Hunter Strickland showed good composure while retiring Yasmany Tomas on a comebacker to strand the go-ahead run at third base.
It’ll be especially important that Blach can pitch in every bullpen role, since he’s the only left-hander down there for the time being.
–Eduardo Nuñez went 3 for 4 with a pair of stolen bases, and looked healthy and equipped to be a difference maker over a full season.
Bochy never relented from his stance that Nuñez would be his everyday third baseman, even after Conor Gillaspie became a force of nature down the stretch last season and Jae-gyun Hwang showed he was more than capable of competing at the big league level this spring. Impatient voices from the stands will continue to clamor for 22-year-old top prospect Christian Arroyo, too.
In the opener, Nuñez showed how he can disrupt an opponent. He provided the Giants their first run when he reached on an infield single, stole second base, moved up on Jarrett Parker’s ground out to the right side and then scored on Joe Panik’s sacrifice fly.
He later added a double and a second stolen base, and also beat the throw while trying to advance on a wild pitch. (He was called out on the first replay challenge of Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo’s career; he overslid the bag and there was a brief instant when his hand came off before his leg reached the base.)
Nuñez has never been shy about pressing the issue, and hitting lower in the order should free him up on the basepaths. But Bochy said he plans to move Nuñez around the lineup quite a bit.
It’ll be interesting to see what Bochy does Tuesday against left-hander Patrick Corbin. He could bat Nuñez at leadoff and move down or sit Denard Span. My hunch is that he’ll bat Nuñez second and move Brandon Belt lower in the order.
–The Giants worked consistently tough at-bats. They made Zack Greinke throw 92 pitches in five innings, which compelled the Diamondbacks to use their first relief pitcher before they had achieved their first baserunner.
It stings to lose a game like that. But over the long haul, working deep counts and getting to an opponent’s bullpen early will reap benefits.
–They already recognize that the offense is just as complicit in a game that ends with a blown save. They were 1 for 10 in scoring position, and caught a bad break when Brandon Crawford’s chopper off the plate was ruled a fair ball with the bases loaded in the ninth.
This is a team that gave away too many at-bats last season, and made too many outs on the bases. So it’s good to hear Bochy mention the lack of a put-away hit in his postgame comments.
–They didn’t beat themselves. They did not issue a walk or commit an error. You don’t want to constantly tip your cap to the other side. Do it too many times, and you’re probably not playing baseball in October.
But for one day, the Giants could point to Lovullo’s team and give them credit.
“It wasn’t like we walked guys or made errors,” Bochy said. “They got the base hits. They earned it.”
–The best part? Johnny Cueto gets to take the mound on Tuesday. That’s an opportunity he didn’t get last October, when he awaited the Cubs in a Game 5 that never happened.