In the first inning of Game 1 of Sunday’s doubleheader, Chris Stratton allowed one hit, a single to Anthony Rendon. That hit made me a tad angry because a) it wasn’t hit very hard, and b) I only half-jokingly wrote “Stratton might throw a no-hitter” in my notes. His first pitch to Rendon was a tailing two-seamer that hit Nick Hundley right in the danged mitt. The rest of the inning was more of the same thing.
Oh, I thought. I get this whole Chris Stratton thing. I get it.
That is, I get why the Giants have been patient with him, even if he hasn’t had the traditional path to the majors that you would hope from a first-round starting pitcher out of college. Stratton is just a year younger than Madison Bumgarner, yet he’s still trying to find himself, not just in the majors, but in the upper minors, too. He’s a 26-year-old rookie and still exceptionally erratic.
In this game, though, he was electric. He was throwing the ball where he wanted to throw it, I’m guessing because his mechanics were clean. And because his mechanics were clean, his curveball was diving below the strike zone and making a lot of good hitters look helpless. It might surprise you to know that Chris Stratton has one of the best spin rates in the National League on his breaking stuff, comparable to curveball wizard Rich Hill. You’ll notice that some of the pitchers on that leaderboard have struggled this year, including Sergio Romo, who pitched poorly enough to get designated for assignment. So spin rates aren’t synonymous with pitching effectively.
But I’ll take the spin rate first and figure the rest out later. It beats having a 26-year-old rookie with an erratic professional career and a breaking ball that’s unremarkable in every way. Here was proof of concept. The curveball made hitters flail — we’re talking about Ryan Zimmerman, who might win the batting title — at the sinkers. The sinkers made sure the hitters couldn’t sit on the curveball.
Because I hate fun, I would like to point out that this doesn’t mean that Stratton has leveled up, that he has proven he’s a long-term solution for the Giants. If you want perspective, you can look back at 10-strikeout games from someone like Roger Mason. If you want seriously sobering perspective, you can remember that Stratton isn’t even the first older rookie pitcher named Chris ____ton to strike out a bunch of hitters while featuring superlative stuff. Chris Heston did it twice within a month in 2015.
It’s perfectly okay, however, to look at this outing and get why the Giants are still curious. Stratton probably wouldn’t be in the majors if Tyler Beede weren’t hurt, Joan Gregorio weren’t suspended, and Andrew Suarez weren’t off the 40-man roster. That’s not a slight against him; it’s just an educated guess. What he can do about that is impress the absolute hell of everyone while he’s up here.
That ... that will do. If you didn’t see it, just watch the first inning on MLB.com. I would make GIFs, but that might make you more interested in baseball, and we shan’t have that. The first inning was a rousing statement. I’ll admit to being less than curious when Stratton pitched because I had him pegged for a short reliever if he was going to be valuable to the Giants. I’m curious, now. Oh, how I’m curious.
(Also, just imagine the bullpen if Stratton couldn’t make it through the first three innings of a doubleheader. What a sloppy mess this whole day could have been.)
Jarrett Parker got the Golden Sombrero on Sunday, although one of them came against a tough left-handed specialist at the end of the game. Still, we’ve now seen the pros and the cons of Parker since he’s returned. He’ll rope doubles. He’ll hit dingers. And he’ll strike out four times in a game.
We knew this already. So put him in center field and tell us something we don’t know. It seems like a rational, simple wish. I don’t understand what the Giants are learning with Gorkys Hernandez in center and Parker in left. I get the school of thought that demands you put your best defensive alignment in place for a rookie starting pitcher.
At the same time, this is when the team needs to experiment. There are three people in the club right now, and none of them are label execs. Start the free jazz up and see if you stumble over some inspiration.