SAN FRANCISCO — It was a meaningless play in a throwaway game, but for Matt Duffy, the hard chopper was still a bit of a landmark.
Matt Kemp scalded a ball to third late in a 9-1 Padres win and it took an awkward bounce after hitting the sun-scorched dirt near third, but Duffy’s hands took over, easily adjusting as he got his feet in position for a strong throw to first. On a day the Giants had their five-game winning streak snapped, they could take away this positive: Duffy looks more and more like a third baseman, and the Giants may need him.
“When you’re able to do something you work on constantly, that’s definitely a good feeling,” Duffy said. “It happened so fast. I didn’t think about it. Something clicked — yeah, that’s definitely a good feeling. It’s one of the first balls that was really scorched right at me.”
Duffy has been put through hours and hours of drills before games this season as bench coach Ron Wotus tries to turn the middle infielder into an option at third. Some days he just takes normal grounders, others he gets on his knees and fields dozens of grounders in a row. He has worked on slowing the game down, so it was gratifying when he stayed true to the bounce on Kemp’s grounder, completing another strong day over at third.
“I went down and looked at it,” he said. “It’s about getting low and slowing the ball down with your eyes.”
His other contributions in two days starting for Casey McGehee: Four hits, a run and an RBI. Manager Bruce Bochy was noncommittal when asked who would start at third base on Thursday. He said he would talk to his staff and to his players, but it sure sounded like Bochy is thinking about extending what was supposed to be a two-day “breather” for McGehee, who is hitting .178.
“The kid is playing well,” Bochy said of Duffy. “He’s doing a good job at third, got two hits today. It’s nice to see a guy step in and take advantage of playing time. He’s a nice player. Until we get Casey in the right place, it’s nice to have a guy like Duffy or even Joaquin (Arias).
“It’s fair to say (Duffy’s) doing a nice job. It was off a tough pitcher, too. He’s a tough out. He can play anywhere. We know what a great job he did for us last year.”
--- For the second time in three starts, Chris Heston gave up 11 hits. It was easy to shake off the start at Coors Field, but today showed that there are issues there that need to be ironed out. The good news? Heston knows exactly what he’s doing wrong.
“I have to pitch inside, honestly,” he said. “With the sinker, they’re already thinking the other way. I’m doing them favors by throwing them out there (over the plate).”
Seven of the 11 hits came on Heston’s go-to sinker, and he noticed that left-handed hitters in particular were hanging way out over the plate. Heston is still a rookie, though, and he was throwing to a young catcher (Andrew Susac), and the two probably took too long to adjust.
“It’s more of a mental thing, realizing what guys are trying to do and combatting that as much as I can,” he said. “They’re going out there and getting (the sinker). I fall into patterns and they’re diving out there and shooting it out the other way. It’s about knowing that and seeing it earlier than I did and making adjustments earlier.”
--- Really random thing: Joe Panik knew right away that Austin Hedges had picked up his first career hit, and when the ball made its way back to the infield in the third inning, Panik looked to the Padres dugout to find a place to throw it. Random, but shows you that Panik is paying attention to the details, which is always nice to see from a young player.
--- There was a time when the Giants thought they would have to choose between George Kontos and Jean Machi, and they still might if others ever get healthy. Right now it’s no contest. Kontos has been better since the start of the season, and you can bet Bochy wasn’t thrilled Wednesday when he had to bring Jeremy Affledt in to pitch the eighth when Machi couldn’t mop up some innings in a blowout. He mentioned that he had hoped to stay away from Yusmeiro Petit.
--- Brandon Belt’s last four games: 6 for 13, four doubles, one triple. He’s getting locked in, and he really should have a chance to keep it going. The Marlins are coming to town and throwing four right-handers at the Giants.