SAN FRANCISCO – Michael Morse rounded the bases, descended the dugout stairs, made a straight path for strength coach Carl Kochan and wrapped his long, tattooed arms around him.
“See?” Kochan told him. “I told you that you can still hit home runs.”
Morse’s solo shot in the second inning Tuesday night was his second since June 4 and his first at AT&T Park since May 15 -- 38 home games ago. It came at a time when Morse was beginning to stress about the weight he lost while battling a respiratory illness and had him dabbling with a sampler platter of lighter bat models that his manufacturer sent to him.
Albert Pujols. Jose Bautista. Freddie Freeman. Carl Crawford. He even had an Angel Pagan model, with “Pag-Man” engraved above the barrel. Morse hit a homer in batting practice with the Pujols bat, and almost switched to it for the game. But when he barely pushed a pitch off a fan’s belly as it nearly hung over the outfield wall, the bat he used still said Morse.
“I’ve still got it,” said Morse, who unfortunately was talking about his illness and not his home run swing.
“I don’t blame it or anything like that, but any time you’re sick, it doesn’t help. I’m playing every day. It’s not like it’s stopped me from playing.”
The Giants’ offense started and stopped with that swing in the second inning, though. In case you think this story is one big misdirection play, let’s note here that the Giants lost 3-1 to the Pittsburgh Pirates, they’re winless five-sixths of the way through this homestand, they are 6-21 at AT&T Park since June 9 and their offense, which has been broken at home since Pagan went down, has scored five runs in five games.
By now you’ve probably heard the Bruce Bochy patter after games like this: “Keep fighting, keep grinding, you have no choice.”
“This is a good group. These are the guys that put us in a pretty good position here. We’ll get it going.”
But there’s also this: “A few guys have lost confidence and you’ve got to get your swagger back.”
Brandon Crawford is batting .155 in his last 26 games. Morse was getting his hits on the last road trip, but with one homer in June and two in July, the lack of pop is weighing on him. Dan Uggla is hitless in 11 at-bats as a Giant. Adam Duvall, Andrew Susac and Joe Panik can’t be relied upon to save the lineup.
Buster Posey had three of the Giants’ six hits, but they are dealing with a bigger glut of lineup vacancies than a Caribbean resort in hurricane season.
Bochy viewed the 11 strikeouts against lefty Francisco Liriano, mostly as a result of expanding the zone, as evidence that his hitters are pressing. Morse entered a guilty plea. He struck out in each of his last three at-bats, including the ninth as the tying run at the plate.
“Me personally, my two-strike approach needs to be better,” said Morse, who notably is hitting just .094 in 32 at-bats that have gone to a full count. “I had a great two-strike approach early in the year and lately I’ve been giving in and swinging at pitches off the plate. That’s what I’ve got to do. I think everybody in here knows what they have to do to turn this around.”
If you’re looking for positives, well, see if this is wearable: The Giants are likely to get Brandon Belt back early on the next road trip, a 10-gamer, that begins on Friday. They’re hoping like heck Angel Pagan feels good enough to return before that trip ends, too.
So it’s possible that Wednesday afternoon’s series finale against the Pirates might be the last home game they have to negotiate without their leadoff hitter and starting first baseman.
Then again, the Red Sox scratched Jon Lester. And even if he isn’t coming to the Dodgers rotation, someone else probably is.
Borrowing players tends to make a bigger impact than borrowing their bats.