SAN FRANCISCO – The Giants’ scheduled day off couldn’t come at a better time, according to Bruce Bochy. San Francisco’s skipper watched his hitters flail at R.A. Dickey’s virtually unhittable knuckleball all day in a 4-0 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays.
“I’m glad we’re off tomorrow so we can wash this off and not even think about that knuckleball, because there’s times when it can throw a hitter into a slump,” Bochy said. “It can throw you out of synch a little bit because it’s a little different approach. You have to let the ball travel and it’s breaking a different way than you’re accustomed to.”
With three games looming against the first-place Arizona Diamondbacks, now is not the time for the Giants to go into an extended slump. They’ve scored just seven runs in their last five games, including two shutouts, and are lucky to be 2-3 over that span.
Dickey worked into the ninth inning Wednesday and allowed just four baserunners all afternoon. The reigning N.L. Cy Young Award winner, who led the league in strikeouts with 230 while with the New York Mets last season, also struck out 10 Giants in a 10-6 Blue Jays win in Toronto on May 14.
Dickey didn’t just do it with his arm, though. His “Butcher Boy” double off Giants starter Barry Zito drove in Toronto’s first run and sparked a four-run inning. Blue Jays catcher Henry Blanco drew a walk ahead of Dickey after taking a very close two-strike pitch earlier in the at-bat.
“I think we got that pitch earlier, but I always talk about the human element,” Zito said. “It’s what makes this game great. I got nothing wrong with that. I should’ve come back and thrown a strike after that.”
The fifth inning got uglier for Zito and the Giants when the Blue Jays started running wild on the basepaths. After Jose Bautista drove in Dickey for a 2-0 lead, he stole second, then took third as part of a double steal with Edwin Encarnacion. Buster Posey’s throw to third arrived in time to get Bautista, but Pablo Sandoval’s tag was deemed off-target.
“Buster made a great throw and it beat the runner, we just didn’t get the tag on the runner,” Bochy said. “The correct call was made.”
Former Giant Mark DeRosa followed with a two-out, two-strike single up the middle to make it 4-0.
“You’re down two runs at that point and it’s a different ballgame two runs or four runs, so these are the little mistakes that we have to stop,” Bochy said. “Defense is as important as offense. We made more mistakes; we know it. We’ve just got to get better.
“We’re a team that needs to keep the game close and stay out of the big inning. Z threw pretty good, but the four-spot there hurt us.”
The Giants hadn’t lost a home game that Zito started since August 2, 2012, but he was no match for Dickey and his knuckleball Wednesday.
Both Bochy and Gregor Blanco, who had just one of the two hits against Dickey Wednesday, pointed out that a good knuckleball can affect your approach at the plate when you face a more prototypical pitcher.
“It’s a pitch you don’t see a lot and for hitters, it throws their timing off,” Bochy said.
Blanco said after the loss in Toronto, it felt like the next starting pitcher the Giants faced was throwing 150 miles per hour.
That pitcher was Ramon Ortiz, a 40-year-old journeyman who spent time in the Giants’ organization. In reality, Ortiz averaged 88.6 miles per hour on his fastball this season before sustaining a potentially career-ending elbow injury on Sunday.
In his best start since 2007, Ortiz allowed just one run in seven innings the day after Dickey mowed down 10 Giants.
If the day off doesn’t do the trick, the Giants will be in for a challenge Tuesday against the Diamondbacks, as Patrick Corbin has averaged 91.5 miles per hour on his fastball this season en route to a 9-0 record and 2.06 ERA. It doesn’t get any easier after Arizona, as three-game sets in Pittsburgh and Atlanta are next on the schedule.
“It’s time to hunker down,” Bochy said. “We’ve got a tough road trip playing some very good teams.”
That’s not just hyperbole from Bochy. The Diamondbacks, Pirates and Braves own three of the five best records in the National League.
Meanwhile, after losing 10 of their last 17 games, the defending World Series champions are just three games over. 500 and three and a half games behind the Diamondbacks in the N.L. West standings.