SAN FRANCISCO – The hype surrounding the Giants starting rotation follows this team everywhere it goes, and for good reason.
But nights like Monday serve as a reminder of just how crucial the bullpen will be if the Giants are to make another drive for the postseason.
Look no further than the relief corps for why the home team pocketed a 4-2 victory over the Colorado Rockies at AT&T Park.
Madison Bumgarner turned in a decent starting effort but wasn’t nearly as sharp as he’s expected to be.
The offense made a splash early courtesy of Hunter Pence’s three-run homer, but then disappeared until Buster Posey managed an opposite-field RBI single in the eighth inning to increase San Francisco’s lead.
Enter relievers Santiago Casilla, Jeremy Affeldt and Sergio Romo, who combined for 3 1/3 shutout innings, six strikeouts and zero walks.
“Unbelievable,” Bumgarner said. “They did a really good job.”
The starting five undoubtedly is the Giants’ foundation, but just seven games into the regular season, we’ve seen the rotation isn’t untouchable. Ryan Vogelsong gave up five runs in his first start Saturday, and Matt Cain was blitzed for nine runs Sunday.
As masterful as Bumgarner was in his first start, blanking the Dodgers over eight innings, his bumpy outing Monday was typical of what you expect time to time from any 23-year-old major league pitcher.
The lefty walked five over 5 2/3 innings, including three straight frames in which he issued a free pass to the leadoff man. Bumgarner allowed just two runs, but he admitted afterward he wasn’t dialed in.
“Physically, everything felt fine,” he said. “There were a few mental lapses. I didn’t feel like I had the same trust in myself, which I had the last time out. You’re not going to feel that way every time. That was the only thing for me, not trusting when I should have.”
He handed the ball to Casilla in the sixth with the tying run on second and two outs. Casilla got Yorvit Torrealba to chase strike three to end that threat and then set the Rockies down in order in the seventh.
Affeldt, the lefty who the Giants re-signed to a three-year, $18 million contract in November, retired Colorado’s 3-4-5 hitters in order in the eighth. Then closer Sergio Romo, after surrendering Josh Rutledge’s leadoff double in the ninth, struck out Chris Nelson and pinch hitters Todd Helton and Wilin Rosario to end it.
Affeldt was asked if the relief corps takes extra satisfaction from a victory in which it has to carry so heavy a role.
“That’s what this bullpen is built for,” Affeldt said. “We have several guys in our ‘pen who can throw multiple innings.”
Bochy singled out Affeldt’s versatility and importance to the bullpen.
“He’s not a guy I just use against lefties,” the manager said. “He’s got great stuff. That’s why he (was re-signed). We needed him.”
The bullpen’s performance will be even more important until the Giants find themselves offensively. Posey struck out twice Monday and is just 5 for 24. Despite his run-scoring single, he admitted he’s not comfortable yet at the plate.
“We’re not clicking offensively, we know that,” Bochy said.
It’s not like everyone in the ‘pen has found their groove either.
George Kontos has surrendered three runs in two of his four outings. Javier Lopez is looking for his first clean inning.
But the Giants like the group of relievers they have, and nights like Monday show why.