Bruce Bochy has a thing now, and I'm not sure if it's a new thing. There's no easy way to search for it, no box to toggle on Baseball-Reference. But it's been pretty noticeable for the first two months of the season, and it goes like this: When Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto, or Jeff Samardzija finish the sixth, seventh, or eighth inning around 100 pitches, maybe a little above or below, they get to start the next inning.
A decade ago, maybe even more recent than that, this was heresy. A pitcher throwing 100 pitches was a pitcher who was wound as far as he could go. Any more winding would break him. There were pitcher abuse points to consider. Managers still did it all the time, but the nerds yelled enough, and teams stopped being so cavalier about it.
The pendulum has swung back into the practical zone, though, so it's not too weird that Bochy is sending pitchers back out with 100 pitches or so. It's just not what we're used to seeing. We're used to seeing a sweaty Tim Lincecum on a hot day, finally having a good outing, or Ryan Vogelsong grinding his way to a solid quality start. When the turkey timer pops out, get that thing out of the oven, and thank it for its sacrifice.
With the front three of the rotation, though, Bochy feels like he has horses. Guys who won't mess around for 20 pitches in the seventh or eighth when they're already at 100 digits, but who can handle another dozen if their mechanics are sound.
I'm not wizened enough to know if this is destructive or positive when it comes to a pitcher's stamina or health -- pitch-count agnostics, mount up -- but I understand why Bochy is so keen on it. It's an inning that Daily Gearrin doesn't have to throw. It's an inning where the Ghost of Sergio Romo doesn't haunt us from beyond the disabled list.
It's a fresher bullpen for the next Jake Peavy start.
So hats off to Jeff Samardzija, guy who can throw eight innings. He's had more dominant stuff in a Giants uniform, and there were at least a couple hard-hit outs that shortened his innings some, but he can sure throw baseballs in an appropriate manner. The best sequence of the night, at least late, was when he opened the eighth inning with three straight balls to a guy hitting .350. One more ball, and he was gone.
Three fastballs, with the last one boring in on the hitter's hands. The rest of the inning wasn't so complicated, and Samardzija finished the game with 112 pitches over eight innings, which is fantastic on all accounts.
Is this a new strategy for Bochy, with a nod to the back end of the rotation? Or has he just lacked the horses in recent years?
Don't know, don't care. All I know is that the Giants have three starting pitchers who are pretty good at getting into the late innings. They paid just a ton of money for it, so it's not like we should be surprised. But now, at least, everything is as advertised.
* * *
Here's a question someone asked me on Twitter.com: "Did you ever think Panik would hit with this much power?"
Ha ha ha ha, no. I mean, no. No, a thousand times, no. And I was a huuuuuge Panik booster back in the day. Even though I probably would have traded him for Howie Kendrick or something back in the day, THAT'S NOT THE POINT, I've always been bullish on him. Even when he was constantly slapped around with the utility-player label, he was someone who could start on a good team for me. A good team with lots of help. The kind of help that could carry a .340 SLG somewhere in the lineup. He was going to be Darwin Barney with the ability to hit .280, which was going to be huge.
The thing that always stuns me when I look back at the 2015 Giants was that Panik slugged .455 last year. I know that some of that was average-dependent, with his .312 average being a part of it, but he hit 27 doubles in 100 games in his age-24 season. The orthodoxy of young players suggests that some of those doubles fly over the fence when the player fills out.
Fly over the fence like this!
I'm just not sure if there's anything better than home runs that are clearly gone off the bat. There's nothing quite like it in sports. What, a running back seeing the hole in the defense? Meh. Maybe. A glorious dunk? Very thrilling! But it also happens in a second. This kind of homer is an instant YESSSSSS with a victory lap as it sails over the fence. You watch tens of thousand pitches in a season, but only a couple dozen end in an instant dinger. There's no will-it/won't-it to this one. It's gone if it's fair, and Duane Kuiper's call indicated that it wasn't too in danger of going foul.
The best part? It came on a 3-0 count. My guess is that the take sign was off because Panik could get a run without a hit. A solid fly ball would do just fine, and with a fastball coming, why not?
It was the first time he's ended a 3-0 at-bat without a walk or a strike. I would hazard a guess that means it's the first 3-0 pitch he's swung at in the majors.
This ... this was good timing.
Shelby Miller wasn't just beating the Giants. He was beating back his own demons, nasty things that were tearing away at his confidence. The Giants can't have that. There were implications for this game and implications for the next four seasons. Panik decided to rip at a 3-0 fastball, and after the ball bounced off the moon ...
... it probably meant that he'll try it again one day. As a secret admirer of the 3-0 hack in the right situation, I'm all for that.
* * *
Santiago Casilla looked great, and I told you so. Don't @ me.
* * *
Welcome back, Angel Pagan. A 1-for-2 night with a walk and a run scored? Outstanding. You know I'm a huge Gregor Blanco fan and always will be, but he hit .179/.200/.205 in 40 plate appearances in Pagan's absence. The homestand of offensive decrepitude wasn't just a Posey/Panik/whatever thing. There was help up and down the lineup.
I don't expect Pagan to hit .300 with an OPS over .800 for the rest of the season, but I didn't expect him to be more than a fill-in for 2012, either. I'm always okay with Pagan surprises. They're usually pleasant. And you could feel the #FullSquad vibes from here. Maybe if the Giants have their full lineup back, maybe they'll score more than two runs a game?
Here were three! Three whole runs. More games like this, please. Without the stupid double plays.