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Giants get vintage performances from surprising regulars to down Nationals, 9-5

Stephen Strasburg debuted on this date in 2010. Tonight, Pablo Sandoval and Hunter Pence had 2010-esque performances of their own.

San Francisco Giants  v Washington Nationals Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images

Stephen Strasburg made his major league debut eight years ago today. Where has the time gone?! What’s happened! The Giants wouldn’t face him until a month after that debut, and it’s a game I remember pretty well because Strasburg already had an air of invincibility about him which Andres Torres pierced immediately.

Of course, the Giants went on to lose that game in a big way, because the Nationals were already a stellar team before Strasburg’s debut, but no matter what’s happened in his career or between him and the Giants, he’s retained that quality of being an implacable foe.

So, it was a surprise when Pablo Sandoval and Hunter Pence hit booming doubles off of him in the top of the 2nd inning. Batters were slugging .378 against him heading into the game — he’d allowed only 9 doubles in 12 starts to that point. In the first inning, Andrew McCutchen nicked him for a booming solo home run, which might be another reason why I thought of that Torres home run from 2010.

It was a bigger surprise when Strasburg exited a game after that 2nd inning. Baseball’s better with formidable talent like Strasburg, and the news of shoulder discomfort is alarming and just plain sad. This is a double whammy of a day after the news that Shohei Ohtani might need Tommy John surgery. I wish we lived in a world where Strasburg had simply removed himself from the game because he couldn’t stand giving up two booming doubles in the same inning to Pablo Sandoval and Hunter Pence. I’ll take a petty superstar over an injured one every time.

Despite the shoulder pain that might’ve led to Sandoval and Pence’s big hits, let’s think about how we haven’t seen those types of swings from those particular hitters in years. Pablo Sandoval is taking pitches and taking what the defense gives him when he swings.

Hunter Pence’s booming double was hit to right center field. It didn’t have the crazy amount of slicing spin he’s been able to put on balls in the past, but it’s good to see that his new swing has helped him retain enough of that opposite field power to match his unorthodox approach.

Both guys have atypical plate discipline because of their athletic abilities. Being young enough to use wrist speed to get the head of the bat anywhere around the plate taught them they could swing at any pitch they wanted. Time robs us of physical skill, but it’s more difficult to retrain muscle memory and just plain batting philosophy than it is to just learn a new swing, and it’s fun to see when players adjust in a way that doesn’t totally change who they are as players. Controlled wildness still makes them unpredictable hitters, and a little patience could go a long way.

It wasn’t all Hunter Pence and Pablo Sandoval, though. The Giants scored 9 runs for the fifth time this season. They scored that many eight times all of last season (oddly, but not surprisingly, the Giants didn’t have their first game of 9 or more runs until June 2nd). The Nationals’ bullpen had a 0.98 ERA over their last 15 games, but gave up 6 runs tonight. 8 of the Giants’ 15 hits went for extra bases, too, including an Alen Hanson triple, who started the game at third base.

Who knows if the Alen Hanson Project will continue this torrid pace or if his defense will hold up wherever Bruce Bochy decides to play him, but for now, let’s just enjoy the spark he’s provided. It’s not an empty sizzle, either. His 2nd inning single off of Strasburg came after he swung over two sharp curveballs down and in. Strasburg threw a third that he barely fouled off. He then managed to foul off a 95 mph fastball, take a changeup in the dirt, and readjust to not be fooled again on the curveball to, like, 12-hop it past Wilmer Difo at second base to drive in Pablo Sandoval.

His 4th inning triple was at least 80% hustle, demonstrating that his hamstrings are fine. Of course, with a speed player, we’re always a turn around the base from that not being the case, but he’s simply a dynamic talent the Giants have lacked for the past several years. He’s like a switch-hitting Eduardo Nunez, but way younger.

The youngest player on the field tonight was Washington’s Juan Soto, whom you’ll recall Kenny designated as the hitter to watch this series:

Hitter to Watch

Prior to this year, Juan Soto had not played a game above Class-A. He’s still never played a game in AAA. Soto made the jump from AA to the big leagues and in 61 plate appearances he’s hit .346/.443/.538 with a 167 wRC+. He’s buoyed by a .390 BABIP, but he’s also walking as much as he’s striking out.

Also, he’s 19. When I was 19, I was top DPS in my World of Warcraft guild.

He hit a booming home run to left field. He’s a left-handed hitter. And, again, he’s 19 years old.

Baseball Gods, if we can’t have Ohtani or Strasburg, at least let us have Soto.

And let us have Andy Suarez, too. This kid came into the game with a plan. He was going to use his fastball away to setup his curveball away to setup a 93-94 mph fastball in and just above the hitter’s hands.

When it worked, he was able to blow it by Anthony Rendon and Michael Taylor and get Wilmer Difo to fish on a curve away. He mixed in a changeup and later maybe a slider, both right down the middle, to get the free-swinging Mark Reynolds. When it didn’t work, it leaked out to the middle of the plate for Juan Soto, who used bat speed and strength to hit his home run.

But he pitched with confidence, even when he couldn’t throw his curve consistently. The velocity held, and if it weren’t for some balls that managed to get through the infield in the fifth inning, we might all be marveling at what a great start he had to lead a beautiful offensive showing. He hasn’t been a revelation like Alen Hanson, Gorkys Hernandez (who hit his 7th home run tonight), or Reyes Moronta, but he’s been a pleasant surprise.

The Giants have more wins than losses (32-31) for the first time since May 15 (22-21).