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Pitching reigns

The bats broke through against Framber Valdez in the 6th in support of an excellent Logan Webb...despite a familiar late-inning hiccup. Oh, and I also talk about Dubón.

MLB: San Francisco Giants at Houston Astros Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Logan Webb couldn’t quite pull off Disco’s 8 inning shut-out performance from last night, but he came close.

Tête-à-tête with Houston Astros starter Framber Valdez for 7 innings, Webb took the mound in the 8th against the bottom of the order and started to fray at the seams. The San Francisco Giants starter nearly skated free before his old foe, bad-breathed and foul Late-Game Homer, took the form of Alex Bregman and lifted a 2-out 2-run homer to put Houston within one run.

Scott Alexander closed out the 8th with a 3-pitch strike out against Yordan Álvarez, Wilmer Flores sneaked an insurance run over the Crawford Box wall in left, and Camilo Doval brushed off a lead off walk to retire the next three hitters and close out the 4 - 2 win and the series against the reigning World Series champions.

The Giants bats were able to break through against a dominant lefty in Valdez in the 6th. Joey Bart, who has had a great couple of games, started off the inning with a single. After advancing to second on a sacrifice bunt, he scored from second on an RBI single off the bat of Austin Slater.

The run wasn’t a gimme—Slater hit the ball hard and Kyle Tucker fielded it quickly. But Bart read the ball perfectly, rounded third without hesitation and scored standing well ahead of the throw. Two batters later, after Thairo Estrada walked and Slater stole third, Mitch Haniger, still recovering from a stomach bug, spun a single up the middle on the first pitch of the at-bat for the Giants second run.

The inning could’ve gone sideways for Houston but they caught a break when a hard hit line drive from J.D. Davis deflected off Valdez’s back directly to Dubón who started the inning ending double play.

In the 7th, with Michael Conforto on first with two outs, Joey Bart launched a double that rattled around the warning track in left past the Crawford Boxes. Conforto scored from first to pad the Giants lead. Believe it or not, the RBI was Bart’s first steak dinner of the season.

Pre-season, if we were to learn that Bart wouldn’t drive in a run in the entire first month of the season, we’d be panicking. Turns out, it’s not really a problem. There isn’t a riot of villagers outfitted in pitchforks demanding his head each night because there’s nothing to be upset about. He’s hitting for average, running well, and framing pitches spectacularly while quietly taking foul tips and over-the-top backswings off his mask each game. Maybe San Francisco’s record might be a little less rugged with some more power from the backstop, but he’s doing a hell of a lot right now.

Webb’s start didn’t start out promising. Houston put 5 runners on board in the first two innings with 3 singles, a walk, and Jake Meyers reached on a fielding error by first baseman LaMonte Wade Jr that pushed Webb to throw nearly 50 pitches. He settled down in the 3rd, throwing 38 pitches across the next 4 innings.

After catcher Martin Maldonado’s walk in the 2nd (and David Hensley reaching on an error by David Villar in the 5th), Webb kept Houston off the base paths until the 8th.

Over 7.2 innings pitched, Webb induced 3 double-plays, K’ed 5, walked 1 and allowed 2 runs. He also kept the momentum in San Francisco’s bats by logging quick shutdown innings in the 6th and 7th, after the Giants scratched 3 runs off of Valdez.

Webb’s night ended unfairly, and similarly, to recent outings. In his most recent start against the Cardinals, a 7th inning home run shattered a shut-out performance. Two starts before that against the Marlins, Webb’s one run lead in the 7th was flipped by a 2-out, 2-run shot by Jorge Soler.

That 7th inning in Miami was eerily akin to Webb’s 8th in Houston.

With the pitch count elevated and against the bottom of the lineup, Webb needed to attack the zone and avoid traffic on the basepath. He had a 3-run cushion, but with the Astros sluggers poised to light-up Minute Maid Park like a book of matches, there was little margin for error…

A lead off walk and subsequent single brought the top of the lineup and tying run to the plate in recent bridge burner Mauricio Dubón.

Similarly to how it went down in Miami, Webb magically finagled a double-play on a first pitch change-up. But innings generally 3 outs—and gosh darn that 3rd out. With the heavy-lifting done, Alex Bregman yanked a significantly more-cheesy changeup to left for a 2-run homer.

Well actually both change-ups to Bregman and Dubón were bad. Both elevated. Both center-cut.

Huh…one hitter does damage with a mistake and the other doesn’t.

I’m being mean…but he started it. I always liked Dubón. But I thought his comments on Monday about feeling slighted by management and not getting enough playing time came off as a tad cynical and too pointed.

Monday’s game clearly meant a lot to him. He had certainly circled this series on the calendar before even the season began as a highlight, an opportunity to clear the air, or rather, air some grievances.

Having played well, factoring heavily into the win, Dubón felt he emboldened to say something that was on his mind. More power to him—but that doesn’t mean everyone has to agree on his perspective or how he went about delivering that message. The Bay Area’s social media heavyweights certainly didn’t.

Was Dubón was slighted or rightly cast-off? Could San Francisco have found a role for him on a mediocre 2022 club and would they be benefiting from that show of faith presently? Dubón is athletic, young-ish, fast and a great, flexible defender. Whether Dubón got caught up in the chaff in the constant I-80 Sac to S.F. churn is a valid concern, but was he mistreated? Clearly Dubie felt spurned by the club, though the rawness feels misdirected.

From 2019 to 2022, Dubón logged 522 plate appearances in a Giants uniform. With only 2 MLB at-bats to his name, San Francisco pulled him from the Milwaukee milieu and gave him 109 plate appearances the same season. (i.e. immediate opportunity).

In the COVID-shortened 60 game season, he played in 54 games. In the illustrious 107-win 2021, he appeared in 74 games with 187 PAs and 49 PA in 24 games in 2022.

You don’t just roll out of bed and put together a six minute highlight reel out of 70 games in a big league season without having some talent—or having some opportunities Dubón was often a blast to watch, especially in the field, but his plate discipline and his sometimes costly mental mistakes hurt his claim to at-bats.

In 2021, he hit .655 OPS. His numbers didn’t improve in 2022 while becoming known for a liability on the basepaths. He was 27 years old in his 4th calendar season in the big leagues and he was always below league average with a bat.

Without options, Dubón either had to play in a limited role as glove-first platoon while taking up a roster spot or be traded. Sure there were a lot of players affiliated and not affiliated with that Houston deal that were not necessarily compelling alternatives to Dubón that came through a donned the orange-and-black. But if Dubie was still on the Giants, he’d be taking at-bats away from players like Thairo Estrada, Wilmer Flores, J.D. Davis, David Villar, and Austin Slater.

I wouldn’t know because it’s never happened to me, but I assume nobody really likes being traded. Hurt pride, embarrassment, some disappointment and regret—those last crappy feelings are always the stickiest. But sometimes a change of scenery is what a player needs. The Giants gave Dubón the opportunity to develop across 4 seasons and when push came to shove in 2022, the team did neither but gently ushered him into a winning atmosphere in Houston where he got to be apart of World Series championship team.

I’m not convinced Dubón didn’t get his fair shake and it doesn’t feel like the organization mishandled him, but as a fan, outside of a lot of the daily decision making, I recognize that’s how he feels it went down. He and Kapler definitely shared words on multiple occasions—but again, with good reason. Dubón often got in his own way.

What I do know is that Dubón called out manager Gabe Kapler in everything but name, and that irked me.

It’s pretty dang nearsighted when it was not that long ago that a struggling Dubón had drawn the ire of most of the Major League Baseball community for bunting with a 10-run lead and his manager defended him.

Kapler and the Giants coaching staff certainly put their time in with him. He was young and talented but that raw ability only gets you so far. As the seasons pass, players start to get assessed differently. There’s a lot less grace involved, and at a certain point you start to be viewed a bit more of a replaceable part weighed more critically against cost. Dubón doesn’t hit for power, his ability to get on base is wholly contingent on getting a hit, and swings freely. Whether he would or wouldn’t make the Giants better now is impossible to answer. For better or worse, he didn’t fit the profile San Francisco was, and is still, looking for and they moved on. Maybe in the end, that’s what got his goat.

The last thing I’ll say is that I was impressed by our manager’s response to the criticism.

Kap was probably a bit stung by it, but his response was measured and gracious. He complimented Dubón on his success, didn’t get sucked into the dated archaeology of their relationship, was honest and firm on how the Giants handled the situation before zooming out with the lens and turning sage about his tenure in professional ball and the mental state of players on the daily grind.

It might not be the trait in a manager that wins the most ball games, but I appreciate Kapler’s ability to see the bigger picture in these moments.

I got sidetracked.

Webb has pitched well and consistently deep into games, but by jeezus, he needs to really really stop giving up home runs. He doesn’t get enough run support to consistently give up crooked number dingers in the 7th or 8th innings.

Bregman’s homer tonight was the 8th allowed by Webb in 7 starts. His game against Chicago has been the only outing so far in which the opposing team hasn’t taken Webb deep (he still lost that game, allowing 4 runs on 9 hits over 5 innings).

It feels a little ungrateful to be this nit-picky. Giants had back-to-back starting pitchers reach the 8th inning. Giants had back-to-back games in which Camilo Doval recorded a save. Giants had back-to-back wins to close out a pretty grueling road trip.

All we have is our health anyway.