This is the story of two things that the San Francisco Giants are counting on to win them a lot of games in 2022: big flies, and Carlos Rodón.
A year ago the Giants finished second in the Majors — and first in the National League — in home runs with 241. That’s about one and a half dingers per game, which stands in stark comparison to the recent seasons in which it felt like triples were more common than home runs.
A year ago Rodón finished fifth in Cy Young voting and eighth in pitcher WAR, despite 76 pitchers throwing more innings than he did. The Giants signed him as soon as the lockout ended, banking on him filling — and perhaps overflowing — the Kevin Gausman-sized hole in their rotation.
The Giants are a deep team, and a team comfortable with beating opponents in a variety of ways. Yet I don’t think I’m being pessimistic when I say that if they don’t hit a lot of home runs, they won’t win a lot of games, and that if Rodón struggles they will have an uphill battle to climb.
So with that in mind we head to Ohio, where the Giants were visiting the Cleveland Guardians for their first home game since unbranding their problematic name and mascot, and restarting with a new name and mascot that Jon Miller informed us was named after ... statues designed to guard the traffic.
Truly inspirational stuff.
The sarcasm may be dripping out of my mouth when I call the Guardians inspirational, but it is with utter seriousness that I say Rodón was. In his first start since a dazzling 12-strikeout Giants debut, the lefty faced a lineup that had scored 44 runs in the last four games and made them look like they need to return to Spring Training for some more reps.
Here is a wholly incomplete list of the cool things Rodón did:
- Needed just 47 pitches to get through five innings.
- Had a four-pitch inning despite hitting a batter.
- Hit 99 mph on consecutive pitches in the seventh inning.
- Looked so dominant against an offense so good (Cleveland entered the game with a team wRC+ that was virtually identical to what Juan Soto posted last year) that Gabe Kapler let him stay in the seventh inning after allowing runners at the corners with no outs in a 2-0 game.
- Rewarded Kapler by getting out of the inning with just one run scoring.
Rodón’s line on Friday: 7 innings, 2 hits, 2 walks, 1 earned run, 9 strikeouts.
Rodón’s line on the season: 12 innings, 5 hits, 4 walks, 2 earned runs, 21 strikeouts.
He’s faced 45 batters. He’s struck out 21 of them. I’m trying not to overreact after two starts, but given that this is essentially who he was all of last year, all I can say is...
But, as long time devotees of Matthew Thomas Cain will be quick to point out, a brilliant start is only as enjoyable as the offense that surrounds it.
The Giants only waited until the second inning to get on the board, and they did it courtesy of a booming blast off the bat of one Brandon Crawford, who not only had been hitting poorly to start the season, but had missed the better part of the last two games with wrist soreness.
The severity of his injury wasn’t really known, but I’d say it’s fine.
But even with Rodón on the mound, a one-run lead is not safe against a team with José Ramírez, Steven Kwan, and Owen Miller, who are apparently the three greatest hitters in the history of this silly sport.
And while the Giants had a few intriguing rallies and fly balls that fell just short, it wasn’t until the sixth inning that they finally tacked another run on the board. This one came courtesy of Joc Pederson, who found his dinger swing against Wil Myers, and is now bringing it to his at-bats against actual pitchers.
Pederson seems happy to be on the Giants, and looks fully comfortable playing the platoon role, even if that means getting removed from an RBI situation — after hitting a towering home run, no less — in favor of Austin Slater.
This team is acting like an incredibly selfless group of lovable dinger mashers and strikeout artisans, and I’m fully here for it.
But it wasn’t all fun and games. Tension arose. Rodón allowed the run that cut the lead to 2-1, and received his hugs when he returned to the dugout. You knew that the Giants bullpen would need to hold a lead for two innings, and the Giants sported the smallest possible lead: the one-run variety.
So when Thairo Estrada reached on an error with one out in the eighth, your eyes perked up (that’s the expression, right?). There was a chance for insurance.
And then Steven Duggar’s fly ball — it had the sound! — fell dead on the warning track for out number two, and you resigned yourself to two innings of fretting through torture and potentially heartbreak. Why do I entertain this, you asked yourself.
And then Joey Bart stepped into the box and turned the baseball into a bag of exploding spaghetti (I have no idea what this means, but you know it’s weirdly accurate) and that was that.
BART has reached a new top speed of 109 mph pic.twitter.com/Vt3mdXi1wJ— SFGiants (@SFGiants) April 16, 2022
A 4-1 lead still feels like a one-run lead against Cleveland, but at least there was some wiggle room. New dad Tyler Rogers didn’t need any of that wiggle room, as he set down the side in order in the eighth on just eight pitches.
He had that new dad glow, and while his inning was nice, it was nothing compared to this delightful exchange in the broadcast booth:
Dave Flemming: He’s still got the submarine delivery.
Shawn Estes: That didn’t change after having a kid?!
The ninth belonged to Camilo Doval, and his third save attempt was his smoothest, despite the competition. Sure, he allowed a double to Ramírez, but who among us hasn’t? And yeah, he needed a lovely diving play by Slater to end the game, but that’s why you put your best defenders in the game.
It was save number two for Doval, and it looks like the closer role is once again his.
And more importantly, it was win number five for the Giants, after dispatching the hottest-hitting team in baseball 4-1, guardians of the traffic be damned. San Francisco certainly does not have any of them. Could probably use some.
Dingers and Rodón, y’all. It’s an infallible strategy.