The best part of Opening Day wins, other than the winning, is the cologne of invincibility you get to slap around your face. Sure, there hasn't been a 162-0 team in history, but you haven't seen this team lose yet. It's like how we're all aware of our own mortality, yet there's still something that seems theoretical about it. This opening paragraph got dark. Let's start over.
The first loss of the season will that to a person.
The Giants lost a frustrating game, 4-3, doing that thing where they somehow make you feel disappointed that they took only two games out of three. It's called "avoiding the sweep" around here, and this was a definition-worthy example. It was a game that made you think the Giants should have won (1-for-8 with runners in scoring position! hard hit balls in the eighth after a leadoff walk!). It was a game that made you think the Giants should have lost by five or six runs (seven walks!). It was the best of times. It was the most frustrating of times.
Jeff Samardzija was the most compelling part of the game, of course. After Johnny Cueto delighted the masses on Tuesday night, it was the other new guy's turn. Would Samardzija ease our concerns just as much as Cueto did?
Nope. This doesn't have to work just because Samardzija still throws hard. The book on him this offseason was that his arm was fresh, see. He didn't play baseball at Notre Dame, and the Cubs took it easy on him and eased him into a relief role in the majors. He entered Wednesday's game with 50 fewer starts in his career than Madison Bumgarner. The arm is fresh.
Samardzija’s medical records are so clean, his arm looks like it is "right out of the womb," one executive told me in September.
Still a creepy quote! But there's a corollary to this fresh-arm theory. If Samardzija has the arm of a 25-year-old because of his limited workload, he might pitch like a 25-year-old because of his limited workload. As in, he doesn't have the same muscle memory, the same repetition that other starting pitchers his age might.
It looked like it on Wednesday, at least. There were beautiful pitches, fastballs that darted and swooped, and sliders that broke hitters down. But there were also fastballs down the middle of the plate, like they were shot out of a pneumatic tube. There were also breaking balls that weren't finished and command problems in general.
It was an enigmatic start from an enigmatic pitcher. It's why the $200 million arm cost just $90 million, and it's why $90 million made a lot of us say, yeeps, that seems like a lot.
Not that it was a disaster start, mind you. Perhaps if you flip-flop Chris Carter's strikeout with his dinger, it would have felt like one, but it was almost a quality start. It was almost workmanlike and efficient. And the Giants were a couple well-timed hits away from tying the game or taking the lead at different points.
Samardzija doesn't have to pick up Cy Young votes. He doesn't have to make the All-Star team again. The Giants are paying him to help the team win more game than the Dodgers, Rockies, Diamondbacks, and Padres. This start showed you why that's possible. This start showed you why it's not guaranteed.
It was kind of the perfect introduction, really.
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You've already seen the pros and the cons of this pitcher-hitting-eighth business. It was fantastic when Angel Pagan walked in his first plate appearance of the season, stole second, and scored when Denard Span singled. That's how it's supposed to work. Hooray for the second leadoff hitter!
On Wednesday, there was darkness. The Giants had the pitcher's spot come up in the ninth, down by a run, and they didn't have a quality pinch-hitter left. Instead of Gregor Blanco, it was Ehire Adrianza. Which isn't optimal.
Since the Giants announced their decision to hit the pitcher eighth, I've been pretty indifferent about it. You'll gain a couple runs, you'll lose a couple runs, and it probably won't make a substantial impact on how many runs the team will score all season. However, there is a new wrinkle, and this game highlighted it:
Bringing the pitcher's spot up earlier in every game is a problem for a team with a really weak bench.
It's weak in numbers, with the absurd 13 pitchers (a total that will hopefully shrink after Coors Field), but it's also weak in talent. Considering the understandable reticence to use their second catcher in a pinch-hitting role, and considering that Trevor Brown hits like a backup catcher's backup catcher, the Giants have three pinch hitters of the bench.
- Whichever outfielder doesn't start
- Kelby Tomlinson
- Ehire Adrianza
Denard Span, feverish and woozy, was burned early. That left a choice of Tomlinson and Adrianza to face a hard-throwing closer in a one-run game. Don't complain about Bochy using the wrong one; complain about there being two wrong ones.
Hitting the pitcher eighth makes it likelier that the Giants will need to use a pinch-hitter. That's a problem when there aren't any pinch-hitters worth trusting.
Again, not a huge deal. It'll mostly even out over the season. But I'm leaning against the idea of hitting the pitcher eighth after this game. The weak, shortened bench is the leading reason why.
* * *
The Giants probably won't have 13 pitchers for long. That means it's something of an audition for Cory Gearrin, who is out of options, and Josh Osich, who isn't. Would the Giants lose Gearrin, just to have that second lefty out of the pen? Especially when that second lefty's best attribute might be that you don't have to use him against lefties? Or is that second lefty a security blanket Bochy isn't willing to give up yet.
Dunno, but Gearrin showed both the upside and the downside on Wednesday.
Upside: He sneers like he's the boss at the end of the level, and that's always fun to watch. He has funky stuff that zips and zorps.
Downside: The command isn't there quite yet. And he might miss the occasional sign.
Not sure what the right answer is, but it's only fair to point out that a funny thing happened to Osich becoming the new Jeremy Affeldt just because that's what was on the job description. His command isn't quite there yet, either, and he pitched himself into some sticky situations, as well.
Call this round a draw, then. Both were more impressive than concerning, but that doesn't mean the concerns aren't real. The Giants are likely to have more tinkering left with this bullpen