SAN FRANCISCO -- When he's going right, Ryan Vogelsong walks slowly off the mound, staring ahead and staying locked in as he inches back to the dugout. Vogelsong was going right Tuesday, but he broke from character after getting out of a jam in the sixth inning.
Vogelsong, a very religious man, looked up at the sky as he approached the dugout. As the sellout crowd thundered, he pointed both hands up and briefly smiled.
"I was thanking God," he said later. "I leaned on him a lot this week. It was, 'Thanks for getting me through this.' It's been a tough week."
Not for the Giants, winners of five straight, but Vogelsong was going through his own personal rough stretch after giving up four homers in Los Angeles in his last start. He has pitched lately knowing that his hold on a rotation spot is loose, even with two starters hurt, but as he tried to bounce back from the start against the Dodgers, Vogelsong looked to more than just his faith.
“I worked on some stuff in between starts here with Rags and Gardy,” he said, referring to Dave Righetti and Mark Gardner. “I felt good about the adjustments we made during the week. I felt like in LA I was trying to force the ball to places instead of just throwing it and trusting it. I was just trying to force the ball instead of letting it work and move.”
Whatever specific tweaks were made led to seven shutout innings and the latest dominant start by a Giants pitcher. The staff has three straight shutouts for the first time since 2012 and has a 2.09 ERA over the last seven games, a number brought up by Vogelsong’s start in Los Angeles. Manager Bruce Bochy said he knows this is too good to last, but he’s not surprised, either.
“Some things are hard to explain,” he said. “The best way I can start it is: It’s a talented staff. That early go, that’s not who they were. We’ve had a lot of success here because of the starters and it’s nice to see who they are and how they can pitch.”
The Giants have won a lot of games over the past five years when the starters feed off each other, and Vogelsong said that was certainly the case after he watched Chris Heston, Tim Hudson, Tim Lincecum and Madison Bumgarner get the homestand off to a rocking start.
“You don’t want to be the guy, you know, who is not holding your own,” he said. “You definitely don’t want to be the guy giving up the first run in a couple games.”
It doesn’t take much offense when the starters are going like this, but the Giants got a big night from Brandon Crawford, a continued breakout from Brandon Belt and contributions from up and down the line. Even Justin Maxwell, a late addition to the lineup because of Angel Pagan’s sore finger, had an RBI single.
As Bochy said, though, “It starts with the pitching. They set the tone.”
Vogelsong was the latest to set the tone, and his personal push actually started before that bullpen session, or before he pitched well enough to be able to give thanks. It went away from the biblical theme, but Vogelsong grabbed a razor on the off day and shaved a beard he had cultivated since the offseason.
“I figured after you give up four homers in a game, it’s probably time for it to go,” he said.
--- Brandon Belt had two hits last night and a hit, two walks and two runs tonight. He has three doubles in the last three games, but you can take almost as much away from his outs, because he’s hitting the ball hard and hitting it the opposite way.
“I feel like I’m getting into a rhythm,” he said.
Bochy thought Belt got a little messed up by the shifting in April, and Belt said that may have played into his early struggles. Of course, he was also hurt early on.
“I did hit into (the shift) a couple times and I might have tried to overdo it the other way,” he said. “That creates more problems. Line drives beat the shift pretty much all the time.”
He’s lining the ball all over the field right now, but he’s still missing that first homer. That doesn’t bother Belt, but it must be noted that he now lockers right next to Joe Panik, who has two in four games. Will there be some trash talk?
“Yeah, probably,” Belt said. “This is not a great position for me to be in.”
--- Crawford was bumped up to fifth after the Pagan change, and he responded with three hits and a walk. He’s the leading HR and RBI man on the team right now, but somehow always ends up back in that eight-spot eventually.
“He looks determined to fight his way out of that eight-hole,” Bochy said, before noting, “But he does such a great job out of that spot.”
--- Bochy said Pagan was “pretty sore” and he’ll be listed as day-to-day with that finger laceration. Pagan had trouble tying his shoe before the game, so this might be one that keeps him out at least through Wednesday’s day game.