SAN FRANCISCO — If George Kontos is playing his cards right, he won’t pay for dinner when the Giants arrive in Seattle tonight. He won’t pay after Saturday’s afternoon game in Los Angeles, either, and hell, he might as well find a starter to pony up for a nice brunch before Sunday's late game at Dodger Stadium.
Kontos, a former starter, has helped the Giants’ five keep their numbers down. After stranding two of Tim Lincecum’s runners in the sixth inning, Kontos has kept all 16 inherited runners from scoring this season.
“I’ve been on the other end as a starter, and now being in the bullpen, when you do cash in a starter’s run, you feel way worse than when it’s your run,” Kontos said.
Only three big league relievers have inherited 10 or more runners this season without allowing any to score, but Kontos isn’t the only member of the bullpen saving starters’ runs in the middle innings. Javier Lopez has often paired with Sergio Romo and Santiago Casilla in the late innings, but more and more this season, Bochy is turning to him for extended duty. Lopez is tied for the Major League lead with 29 inherited runners, and only three of them have scored.
Lopez pitched an inning in Tuesday’s 6-2 win that broke a nine-game losing streak at home, lowering his ERA to 0.96 and his WHIP to 0.64.
“It’s nice to know that 84 (mph) can still play in the league,” he said, smiling. “It doesn’t have to be 94-95. That 84, if you locate it, can still get you outs.”
Lopez is piling them up, and not just against lefties. He has been labeled a lefty specialist, and for good reason: Left-handed hitters are hitless in their last 26 at-bats against Lopez. While he still has plenty of one-batter outings, Lopez has been stretched out a bit recently. He pitched two innings on Sunday and was left in to face right-handed slugger Mark Trumbo on Tuesday, getting a weak grounder to short.
“It’s nice to know (manager Bruce Bochy) has faith in me to go out there and get those outs,” he said.
Bochy has always had that faith in Lopez, one of the Core Four. Kontos had to earn it, and he had to earn a job this spring. The Giants seemingly had one spot for Kontos and Jean Machi, both out of options, and other teams started sniffing around in mid-March thinking that Kontos would be traded by the end of the spring.
“We’re fortunate,” Bochy said. “We were a little crowded there at the end of spring training but he threw the ball so well and we felt we needed him. I’ve used him a lot.”
Kontos and Machi made the team, but while Machi is on a rehab assignment and possibly in limbo when he’s ready to return, Kontos has been indispensable in the middle innings. He’s thrown 34 2/3 relief innings, second in the NL to Milwaukee’s Michael Blazek. Only Atlanta’s Luis Avilan has made more appearances than Kontos’ 32. The last dozen Kontos appearances have been scoreless, lowering his ERA to 1.56.
“George had his own little mission this spring,” Lopez said. “He knew he was out of options and had to do things to make the team, and he did it. He continues to do it and impress.”
Kontos and Lopez helped build a bridge to Romo and Casilla on Tuesday, and the Giants walked away with a needed win. Tim Lincecum, who allowed just two runs in 5 2/3, improved to 7-3. Lincecum handed the ball to Kontos with runners on the corners and the Giants holding a one-run lead. Kontos got Mike Zunino to fly out to right.
“Obviously he’s got a lot of confidence in all his pitches, and that helps anybody in the bullpen,” Lincecum said. “The confidence he has in his stuff is the biggest separator for the success he’s had.”
Kontos said he also has confidence in his body thanks to all the work he puts in with the training staff. He feels fresh despite having pitched in nearly half of the first 66 games, and he has adjusted his off-field lifting and throwing routine to make sure that doesn’t change.
“My body feels good,” he said. “My arm feels good.”
--- Lincecum beat his hometown team and has allowed two runs or fewer in five of his seven starts at AT&T Park this season. He also gave us the best description of the day. Asked about Matt Duffy’s sixth homer, Lincecum said Duffy at the plate is “just kind of whippy.”
--- Brandon Belt looked like, well, a left fielder while chasing down a ball to the corner early in the game. We had to give him a chance to talk about it.
“That was my closing speed right there,” he said. “I kinda impressed myself there.”
The other infielders were all smiling and some gave him golf claps. On a serious note, Belt said he feels comfortable in the outfield.
“I’ve always been a capable outfielder,” he said. “I feel like I’m athletic enough to go out there and do a good job. It’s always fun to make tough plays like that.”
So, will Belt get more outfield time as Hunter Pence heals?
“Next stop: Shortstop,” he said.
--- Angel Pagan was ejected two strikes into his last at-bat and Jarrett Parker entered and took another rough call for strike three. Bochy said Pagan was ticked over the first called strike.
“It was a ball,” Bochy said. “I know Angel didn’t cuss at him. With a one-run game, you hate to lose your center fielder. Angel, he’s fiery and competitive. He was told to stop (complaining) and he didn’t. In that game, you’ve got to tolerate it a little. I think we can handle that a little better.
“If the hitter is looking at you or cussing at you (OK) … but if he’s just up there venting, you’ve got to tolerate it, I think.”