SAN FRANCISCO -- For so long, through thick and thin, Bruce Bochy could rely on one group. The starting rotation has been remade and the lineup looks great one day and awful the next, but the bullpen has always been a steadying hand at AT&T Park.
Well, times have changed.
Sergio Romo and Santiago Casilla were hit around in the ninth as the Giants fell 3-0 in a lifeless performance at AT&T Park. Romo put two runners on before departing with no outs, and when both scored, his ERA jumped to 4.97. The setup man has given up seven runs and 12 hits in his last 11 relief appearances. Casilla, once a decent bet to be named an All-Star, gave up the go-ahead two-run double after taking over for Romo and was charged with a run of his own. Casilla was pitching for the first time since July 1 because of a tired arm, but he didn't look fresh.
Is there any concern in the manager's office?
"A little. I'll be honest, a little," Bochy said, going about as far down the concern meter as he ever will in public. "It's been our strength, but the bullpen is struggling a little. They got our setup guy and our closer tonight. That's something we've been so good at. We've definitely got to tighten up this bullpen and get back to who we are. The long ball has been killing us but today they just got base hits. They're throwing out good at-bats against our late-innings guys."
[INSTANT REPLAY: Giants burned by Monell, lose seventh straight]
"They" were the Mets on Monday, and the Mets have a lineup so bad that their fans are just about ready to storm the general manager's office. But the lineup got a single from Michael Cuddyer and a double from Kirk Niuwenhuis to send Romo back to the dugout. Cuddyer looked like he might have scored if not for a hold sign at third base, and a few minutes later he scored anyway. Casilla gave up a two-run double to former Giants farmhand Johnny Monell, who has played with practically this entire Giants roster and was one of Chris Heston's teammates all the way back in A-ball. Monell spent much of his pre-game time catching up with old teammates and exchanging hugs and handshakes. Then he got the night's biggest hit.
"It was good seeing those guys and some of the coaches but at the end of the day you've got a job to do," Monell said.
Juan Lagares followed with a run-scoring single that capped the Giants' seventh straight loss. In those seven games, the bullpen has allowed 12 earned runs in 17 1/3 innings. There are other problems, of course. Without Brandon Crawford and Joe Panik (rest), the Giants managed just three singles. They've scored 17 runs during the skid that has dropped them back to .500 for the first time since May 13.
"We're sputtering," Bochy said. "We got five runs last series, shut out today. That's not going to work."
The lineup made Jonathon Niese throw just 81 pitches in eight innings, but Bochy refused to blame Monday's trip home from Washington D.C. The Giants wanted to avoid a red-eye flight back after their Sunday night game, but it ultimately didn't appear to help.
"It's part of the schedule," Bochy said. "You've got to deal with it. I can't answer (if the flight hurt). We had to give a couple guys a day off. (Joaquin) Arias (replaced Panik and) had two of the three hits. It's a tough grind but we're professionals. That's something you've got to deal with, the schedule. Their pitcher threw well."
So did Bochy's. Facing the team he no-hit, Heston allowed just three hits in 7 1/3 innings and lowered his ERA to 3.51. Later, he found a silver lining. The Giants lost eight games in a row in April and fought their way back to first place.
"We've done it already this year," Heston said. "We came back and played some pretty good baseball for a while there. It's just a part of it. You're going to have ups and downs."