SAN FRANCISCO – Giants manager Bruce Bochy identified some key factors for his team Sunday morning as it prepares to tackle one of the most challenging portions of its schedule.
He wants the Giants to start commanding leads early so they’re not always battling from behind. He wants his starting pitchers to go deep into games on a consistent basis. And he’d like his normally air-tight defense to stop kicking the ball around like a hacky sack.
Seems like stuff from Baseball 101, no?
But it’s proven a challenge for the defending World Series champs, who nonetheless pocketed a 7-3 victory over the Colorado Rockies on Sunday and took two of three from a team they began the day tied with for first place.
Give credit to the Giants. They found a way to win despite Matt Cain needing 107 pitches to get through five innings. They fell behind early – as they did in every game of this three-game series – yet pulled through for their 15th come-from-behind win out of 28 victories.
Bochy is quick to pat his team on the back for showing such grit. He’d just like his players to make things easier on themselves.
“It’s going to start with our pitching as it normally does,” Bochy said. “I’d like to see us (play) more like the team that we are -- get some quality starts and score early.”
Now would be a good time to start doing that on a regular basis.
The Giants play 14 of their next 18 games on the road, and they’ll match up with some of the majors’ best teams. It starts Monday with the four-game Bay Bridge Series against the A’s (28-23). Then they play three at St. Louis (32-17) before coming home for two against Toronto (21-29), which has disappointed but entered the season expected to be an A.L. East contender.
Following that is a nine-game road trip against Arizona (28-22), Pittsburgh (31-19) and Atlanta (30-18).
That’s a tall order for any team, but especially one sporting a 9-13 road mark as the Giants are.
“It’ll be a good challenge for us,” catcher Buster Posey said. “That’s something everyone embraces. To get where we want to go, we gotta beat the good teams.”
Cain put together one of the oddest pitching lines you will see, going five innings and allowing two runs on just two hits with a season-high five walks. Bochy had reliever Sandy Rosario warming up as early as the second inning, and even Cain was thinking “I might run out of pitches sometime in the third.”
He was at 65 pitches through two innings, but he righted himself and retired 11 of his final 12 hitters, twice stranding a runner at third base.
“He was close to coming out in the first and second innings, (considering) the number of pitches,” Bochy said. “It shows you how tough the makeup is of Matt Cain. And how strong he is, to log that many pitches in the first couple innings and make it through five.”
Cain said he takes comfort knowing that his hitters show a knack for digging out of holes, but he added:
“They’d probably really enjoy it if we would not get behind as much as we’ve been doing.”
He was referring to a starting rotation that carries a 4.66 ERA, 13th out of 15 N.L. teams.
But any pitching success will go hand-in-hand with consistent glove work, and the Giants need to support their pitching with better all-around defense.
“We’ve got to really tighten up this defense,” Bochy said. “We’re still not where we need to be.”
There’s no time like the next 18 games to start putting it all together.
Center fielder Angel Pagan, who sat Sunday with a sore left hamstring, said he was questionable to return Monday against the A’s. Pagan hurt his hamstring chasing a ball in Saturday’s game and aggravated it making his historic dash around the bases on a walkoff inside-the-park homer in the 10th inning. Pagan said he stumbled between second and third base and hurt the hamstring more.
On Saturday, Pagan said he wasn’t going to rush to a TV so he could see highlights of his inside-the-parker. But he wound up watching it with his family.
“My kids were really proud of Daddy,” he said. “That’s the only reason why I watched it many times.”