MILWAUKEE — The Giants have gone to great lengths to try and keep their stars healthy, adding members to their traveling training staff and new recovery techniques behind the scenes. The easiest solution, though, might end up being one you can find simply by turning on a basketball game: The Steph Curry plan.
Get a big enough lead, even in baseball, and you can pull some of your key veterans. It has worked beautifully all season for Curry, who rarely plays the fourth quarter of blowouts, and on Monday the Giants pulled it off in the eighth. With a nine-run lead, Trevor Brown entered at catcher, Ehire Adrianza at short, and Gregor Blanco in center. Buster Posey, Brandon Crawford and Denard Span got an Opening Day breather.
An hour later, Span was asked about the Curry method. He nodded.
“And they’re doing pretty good this year,” he said, smiling. “They’re doing alright.”
It’s easy to see how a 12-minute break can benefit a basketball player. But can two innings really be such a boost in a sport where you might not take an at-bat or see a defensive chance over that time?
“That’s huge,” Span said. “Coming out of an inning or two doesn’t seem like a lot from the outside, but it’s just saving your legs. It goes a long way over the course of the season.”
Manager Bruce Bochy is planning on it, and it looks like he’ll have more chances for rest than in the past. The Giants showed glimpses of this the rare times they put the lineup together during spring training, and the full squad scored 10 runs in the first two innings in its debut last month. This -- a 12-3 win over the Brewers -- was validation, then. The hitters know that it’s not going to be this easy. They might not have another game like this for weeks, but they know what they’re capable of.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Span, Duffy power Giants to Opening Day win]
“It’s ‘potential,’ but I think we understand that we can hit top to bottom,” third baseman Matt Duffy said. “It’s a matter of everyone going out with the same focus every day and not taking it for granted.”
Duffy was the early star, driving in four runs in the first five innings. He became the first Giant since Barry Bonds in 2002 to drive in four on Opening Day — until Span got to five RBI with an eighth-inning homer. Span’s homer came in the middle of a sequence that showed just how dangerous the new-look lineup can be.
The eighth started with Duffy, who made an out, and then turned to the bottom third of the order. Brandon Crawford, a reigning team homer leader who will hit seventh, drew a walk. Pinch-hitter Gregor Blanco lined a single. Angel Pagan, a former leadoff hitter who will hit ninth, flied out on the sixth pitch of his at-bat. Span worked Ariel Pena hard, too, and on the eighth pitch he blasted a three-run homer to right.
“You feel like you’re a part of the team once you help your new team win,” he said. “I couldn’t ask for a better start.”
Span was barely through the high five line when Joe Panik homered. Panik and Duffy scrapped last season’s Tortoise Race (most homers), opting instead for a Hare Race to see who can get more hits. They think that’ll be more fair. Naturally, they both homered on Day 1. After his homer, Panik went up to Duffy.
“I guess we’re doing a Tortoise Race and a Hare Race this year?” he joked.
Panik still had his helmet in his hand and his back to the field when Posey made it back-to-back-to-back shots. The Giants are the first team since the 1997 Padres to hit three straight homers on Opening Day. Span, Panik and Posey are the first Giants trio to pull it off in a game since Barry Bonds, Ray Durham and Pedro Feliz in 2006.
“Just a couple of power guys — Denard and myself,” Panik deadpanned.
Span has more pop than you would think, and Panik is growing into his power stroke. It makes the lineup that much more formidable, and while the Giants know they likely won’t have anyone near the top of the league's home run leaderboard, the team should have more than enough combined power. It all added up to a blowout win on Monday, the run total being the most by a Giants team on Opening Day since the 1983 team kicked the season off with 13 runs.
Bochy said he’ll stick with the new look for now. Pagan will hit behind the pitcher, acting as a "second leadoff hitter."
“The more I see it, the more I like it, to be honest,” Bochy said.
He likes the cascading effect, too. With a good bullpen, Bochy won’t hesitate to get his starters off their legs when a game gets out of hand. It’s working on the hardwood, and the Giants think it’ll help on grass.
“It really couldn’t have worked out better today,” Bochy said.