SAN FRANCISCO – It appeared that Ryan Vogelsong’s season couldn’t possibly get any more torturous.
Then Monday night happened, and the look on the right-hander’s face said it all as he addressed a crowd of reporters gathered around his locker after the Giants’ 8-0 victory over the Washington Nationals.
[REPLAY: Giants 8, Nationals 0]
Vogelsong was enjoying by far his best start of 2013 when he was struck on the right hand by a fifth-inning pitch from the Washington Nationals’ Craig Stammen. He suffered a dislocated knuckle on his pinkie and two fractures above and below the dislocation.
The initial diagnosis from Giants manager Bruce Bochy is a four-to-six week period for recovery, but Vogelsong expects to know a clearer timetable after he has surgery Tuesday.
It’s the cruelest of blows for Vogelsong, who entered the night with an 8.06 ERA and had spent the past two weeks working to iron out several mechanical flaws in his delivery. He was finally reaping the benefits, holding the Nationals to three hits over five innings and spinning what was potentially a springboard start to brighter days ahead.
Now he’s sidelined indefinitely, hoping that whenever he returns he’ll be able to pick up where he left off Monday.
“It stinks,” Vogelsong said quietly, “especially because it’s been so rough. To go out there and feel like my old self again and be throwing like that … it’s tough.”
“It’s really a shame because tonight was the Vogey that we know,” Bochy said about the 2011 All-Star. “It’s a tough one. You feel bad for him.”
Vogelsong spoke with confidence that he’ll be back on the mound as quickly as possible. The pressing question is how his team copes with the loss of a pitcher that’s won 27 games over the past two seasons.
The Giants’ rotation entered Monday with a 4.87 ERA, the most baffling area of a team considered to have some of the major leagues’ best starting pitching. Vogelsong’s showing through five innings Monday appeared to be a huge morale booster.
Now it’s up to Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Tim Lincecum and Barry Zito to collectively raise their performance, and for someone else to step forward and fill Vogelsong’s shoes.
Who that individual is remains a mystery. Bochy confirmed that long reliever Chad Gaudin is being considered as a starting candidate, but the manager stressed that he’ll be discussing the situation moving forward with general manager Brian Sabean.
Because of Thursday’s day off, the Giants can get by with four starters until May 28.
The best option from the minor leagues might be Triple-A Fresno’s Mike Kickham, a lefty who has a 4.72 ERA but has come on strong of late. Or the Giants could look outside the organization and explore a trade.
Vogelsong’s injury sheds light on just how fortunate the Giants have been from a health standpoint regarding their pitchers. Last season, five pitchers made 30-plus starts. In 2011, four made at least 28 and in 2010, four made 30-plus.
That’s remarkable durability that most major league teams could only envy.
Now the Giants have a hole to fill.
First baseman Brandon Belt is confident he and his teammates will overcome the loss of Vogelsong.
“This team tends to have people step up at the right time,” he said.
Time will tell.