PHOENIX — Chris Heston got the first Giants beer shower since Madison Bumgarner made it a post-clinch tradition last October, so it seems only fitting that it’s now Heston who is in line to start when the World Series champions raise their banner on Monday.
Heston threw six strong innings in a 5-2 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks on Wednesday, impressing teammates, coaches and the man who may hand him the ball for the home opener.
“That’s how it’s falling into place,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “We’re not moving him. We need him right now. It was a nice shot in the arm for us.”
[RECAP: Heston shines in Giants win over D'Backs]
Heston left camp last month thinking he would start Triple-A Sacramento’s opener on Thursday, but when Matt Cain came down with a flexor strain, the Giants put Heston on a flight back to Phoenix for a spot start. They had high hopes, knowing Heston is a different pitcher than the one they saw last September, one with better stuff and increased confidence. The whole package was on display Wednesday.
Heston got off to a rough start, hitting his first batter and then making a two-base throwing error that led to a run. He admitted to some jitters but settled in nicely, giving up just three hits and striking out five while earning his first MLB victory. Along the way, Heston got eight grounders with a repertoire headed by a hard sinker that rode up to 93 mph, and baffled the Diamondbacks with a sweeping curve and diving changeup. He’s a true four-pitch pitcher, and at the moment looks like one of the few reliable arms in the rotation.
“Oh man, what a job he did,” Bochy said. “Good for Chris, he really pitched well. Good stuff, good movement on his fastball and secondary pitches. He was a little amped up in the first inning, that first batter he threw it away, but he really settled down and did a nice job.
“He had it all working tonight.”
Heston stuck to his game plan, one formulated with Hector Sanchez, his catcher way back in rookie ball and A-ball. He retired 10 straight at one point and didn’t allow a hit until there was one out in the fourth. Heston was pleased with his breaking ball and said he could notice hitters were a tick late on a fastball that used to be 91-92 but is a sinking 93 now that he put on some good weight in the offseason.
“It’s huge,” he said. “Just that split second … they have to make a decision earlier. That makes my breaking stuff better and my changeup better.”
The 26-year-old hasn’t thought much about the possibility of starting the first game at AT&T Park, but called it a “once in a lifetime chance.” Asked if Wednesday’s accomplishment had sunk in, he smiled.
“I’m just on Cloud Nine right now,” he said. “I’m ecstatic.”
He was also soaked. There’s a tradition in the clubhouse, and so it was that Heston was dragged into the shower for a Bud Light dousing.
“Lots of it,” he said, beaming. “It was very cold.”
And well earned. It’s early in the season and one win is just one win, but as the Giants headed for the plane to San Diego, you could tell this one meant a lot to a veteran group that was reeling a bit after a series of injuries.
“It’s never good to have guys get banged up,” third baseman Casey McGehee said. “But you’ve got Heston step in and we didn’t miss a beat.”
— McGehee had two hits in his Giants debut but then struck out twice in Game 2 and twice in his first two at-bats Wednesday. The first whiff came with the bases loaded. He admitted he was “trying to do too much” and said he might have “tried to get a little greedy with the bases loaded.” McGehee more than made up for the temporarily slide, doubling in his third at-bat and giving the Giants a big insurance homer in the ninth. It was his first bomb with the Giants. He credited teammates for helping him stay positive.
“Guys have been really good about being supportive,” he said.
You can bet Hunter Pence was one of those guys. Pence is still looking at another three weeks or so of rehab, but he was the first Giant in the dugout this evening, sitting there with a cup of coffee as players prepared back in the clubhouse. Pence misses the game, but he’s doing his best to be a good cheerleader while he’s hurt.
“His energy is infectious,” McGehee said. “He’s the ultimate positive person and it’s not corny or fake or anything. You can tell it’s authentic and he really cares about everybody.”
— Meant to link to this a couple days ago. Oh well. I sat down with Madison Bumgarner over the weekend and asked him if he really dated Madison Bumgarner. The answer is here.
— Worth noting: Gregor Blanco stayed in on a double-switch, replacing Nori Aoki for the final two innings. Aoki has been fine out there but Blanco is the superior defender. Will be interesting to see if Bochy does that more often when he has more roster flexibility. Aoki, by the way, had six hits in his first series with the Giants.
“He got us started,” Bochy said. “He was on base it seemed like every inning.”
Also on the Aoki front: I got a kick out of the fact that Jean Machi has learned how to say goodnight to Aoki's reporters in Japanese.
— Brandon Belt may be available as a pinch-hitter tomorrow. He won’t start, but you still might see a Brandon hitting fifth. Bochy said he’s considering moving Crawford up because of the way he’s scalding everything thrown his way. It’s a nice reward for a shortstop/DJ who put together one hell of a postgame victory soundtrack.