MIAMI — Derek Law did his best to downplay the significance of the full inning he pitched Wednesday, saying he doesn’t care when he pitches.
“I’ll do whatever they need,” the rookie reliever said, smiling. “If they put me in the first, I’ll be happy with it.”
Law didn’t need to magnify his appearance. The box score did it for him. Bruce Bochy turned to two young right-handers — Law and Hunter Strickland — to get the ball to his closer, and they were once again dominant. The surging bullpen got 10 outs in a 1-0 victory over the Marlins that clinched the first series win of the second half. As other problems have popped up, the relievers have found a collective groove. At this point, they’re Bochy’s most consistent group.
“They really have grown through this,” Bochy said. “You look at Strickland and Law’s work, but really, all of them are throwing well.”
The Giants went 4-5 on the three-city trip and lost their firm hold on first place in the West, but Bochy at least flew home Wednesday feeling confident in a bullpen he’ll use often in tight games down the stretch. The relievers pitched 30 1/3 innings on the trip and allowed just 21 hits and one homer. They struck out 29, combining for a 2.37 ERA and .196 opponents average. Over the past seven games, the bullpen ERA is 0.99.
“Everyone is confident and everyone is healthy,” Strickland said. “We know the stakes and what we have to do. That’s what it’s all about, that’s what we’re looking forward to — the grind, the run.”
Strickland’s eyes lit up when he was asked about pitching in close games in September. He wants to be in those tights spots, and Bochy will certainly use him often. Before Wednesday’s game, Bochy noted that Strickland is so strong physically that the staff doesn’t worry much about his workload. Strickland then went out and got two outs in the seventh, extending his scoreless streak to nine games. Over his last 24 appearances, Strickland has a 1.58 ERA. His highlight of the trip came Monday, when he struck out Giancarlo Stanton on three straight breaking balls.
“It’s huge for me,” he said of the ability to mix it up. “Obviously guys are going up there looking for the fastball.”
Strickland sits at 98-99 mph most nights and Law is a few ticks below that. But he’s been just as stingy while mixing it up with four pitches. Law is working on a scoreless streak of 17 appearances.
“He’s unbelievable,” Strickland said. “The numbers speak for themselves.”
Law has gradually moved up the pecking order, and Wednesday felt like a day you circle on the calendar for future reference. Bochy sent Law out for the eighth with a one-run lead and nobody warming up. Javier Lopez got loose as Christian Yelich’s spot approached, but Law got two quick outs so Bochy stuck with him against one of the game’s best left-handed hitters. Yelich grounded out to second.
“He’s throwing the ball so well and he’s got the weapons to get lefties, too,” Bochy said. “We did have help for him if a couple guys somehow got on, but he really has gained confidence and is on with all his pitches. He’s just really throwing the ball so well.”
Bochy didn’t publicly say that there’s been a change in the way he’ll handle the late innings, and that’s really not his style. But it’s clear that Law is now an eighth-inning guy in front of Santiago Casilla, who locked up his 14th save in the last 15 chances.
“He’s going to be a big part of the late-inning situations,” Bochy said, adding that he'll use others in the right matchups.
It seems likely that the two right-handers will split the eighth and ninth innings in some form next year. For now, Strickland and Law are charged with getting leads to Casilla, and they’re looking comfortable in that role.
“They’re locating their pitches right now, both of them,” shortstop Brandon Crawford said. “Strickland was upper 90s today and locating the fastball away, and the slider kind of makes him unhittable at times. Law throws anything at you and will throw it for a strike. That’s big with young guys, the location on both sides of the plate.”
Crawford continued his red-hot stretch with the only offense of the day. He hit a solo homer off David Phelps, who played a season at Notre Dame with Jeff Samardzija. The struggling right-hander had his best start in weeks, allowing just three hits in 5 2/3 innings. In the biggest spot, Samardzija came through with a good approach. Giancarlo Stanton pinch-hit with two on in the fifth and Samardzija fed him a steady stream of breaking balls away.
“One bad pitch and you’re looking at a hole in the wall,” Samardzija said of Stanton.
A 3-1 slider was flied harmlessly to center and the Giants would cruise to the finish. They still are not firing on all cylinders, not even close. The lineup scored one run over the past two games and the rotation has been a question mark over the past month.
But the Giants have a much-needed off day to regroup and then a long homestand. They are hopeful they can iron out the rest of their issues. At the very least, it appears that the bullpen is ready for the stretch run.
“We’ve got some pretty fearless guys down there,” Samardzija said, “And that’s good.”