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Through their first 16 games, the San Francisco Giants struggled to play a clean, mistake-free game and cost themselves several opportunities to secure big victories with late-inning collapses.
In their series finale at Dodger Stadium on Sunday, Gabe Kapler’s squad finally paired the quality start they’ve been waiting for with the clutch hit they so desperately needed and entered the bottom of the seventh with a chance to secure an unlikely series win over their rivals from Los Angeles.
Then Kapler’s bullpen management –a hot-button topic in his two seasons managing in Philadelphia and his first two-plus weeks in San Francisco– came back to haunt the Giants in a crushing 6-2 loss.
Kapler chose to remove starter Kevin Gausman with one on and one out in the bottom of the seventh and replace him with Tyler Rogers, the Giants’ leader in appearances who had also thrown two innings in Saturday evening’s game.
“It was a hot day, seventh time up, third time through the toughest part of the order, (Gausman) had done a tremendous job,” Kapler said. “He had carried his stuff into that inning, he had carried his location into that inning and it just felt like the right time to keep him healthy and strong and safe all the way through the season based on getting into the seventh for the first time.”
Minutes later, Dodgers slugger A.J. Pollock drilled a 3-2 slider over the left field fence, giving the Dodgers a 3-2 lead they wouldn’t relinquish in the type of defeat that has come to define the 2020 Giants this season.
“I fell behind Pollock 3-0 and battled back to 3-2 and I was really just trying to go after him with the slider,” Rogers said. “We were one pitch away right there and unfortunately it just didn’t work out.”
Any hopes the Giants had of roaring back slipped away in the bottom of the eighth when Dodgers right fielder Mookie Betts greeted reliever Shaun Anderson by crushing a three-run home run out to left field on the first pitch he saw.
Gausman turned in 6 1/3 innings and was fresh off his hardest pitch of the afternoon, a 99.3 mile per hour fastball that Dodgers slugger Cody Bellinger drilled up the middle for a single, when Kapler came to the mound. Despite Gausman’s pitch count sitting at 80, the Giants manager replaced him with Rogers, who gave up a single and recorded a strikeout before leaving a pitch in Pollock’s hot zone.
“We had a reliever ready who we felt confident could get us a groundball with a runner on first base and get us out of that inning,” Kapler said.
In an instant, Gausman’s shutout was gone and the Dodgers were on their way to a series victory against a Giants club that fell back to three games below .500 on the season.
“I definitely felt like I had more in the tank,” Gausman said. “My limit is not 80 pitches, but Kap’s job is tomake those decisions. That’s his job description. I’m not the one that’s calling down to the bullpen, getting guys loose and that type of thing. Obviously I thought I pitched well enough to warrant getting a couple more guys out, but it’s trying to win a series and it was a hot day so maybe those were factors into (Kapler’s decision).”
Bullpen management will remain the focus for Giants fans throughout Kapler’s first season with the club, but a disappointing day from the team’s lineup didn’t help its chances.
Prior to the eighth inning, the Giants only had one hit, but it was enough to give them a promising 2-0 lead in the top of the fifth.
After Dodgers starter Walker Buehler issued a pair of walks and fired a wild pitch to advance Pablo Sandoval and Austin Slater into scoring position, center fielder Mike Yastrzemski kept his hands back on a two-strike, two-out curveball on the outside corner and looped it in front of Bellinger in center field.
Yastrzemski’s two-run single off his college teammate at Vanderbilt gave him 12 RBIs on the year, inching him closer to second baseman Donovan Solano (14) in a race for the Giants’ team lead.
Yaz. Clutch. pic.twitter.com/IyZSygPoH8
— SF Giants on NBCS (@NBCSGiants) August 9, 2020
Yastrzemski’s single turned out to be the Giants’ lone offensive highlight on a day when Gausman deserved much better.
With a 99.0-mile per hour fastball to Dodgers left fielder Joc Pederson in the bottom of the third, Gausman hit 99 miles per hour on the radar gun for the first time since July 7, 2017 when he fired a 99.2-mile per hour heater while pitching for the Baltimore Orioles in the fourth inning of a game against the Minnesota Twins.
It’s been four seasons since Gausman occasionally topped 99 and even 100 miles per hour, but the velocity spike appears as if it’s here to stay for the Giants’ top free agent signee.
What’s more encouraging for the Giants is that Gausman has maintained his fastball command while throwing harder than he has in recent seasons, giving the starter the confidence to attack a Dodgers lineup loaded with several elite hitters who have a history of pouncing on mistakes.
Aside from missing bats, Gausman also benefitted from some nice plays from a Giants defense that’s been lackluster at best this year. At the end of the fifth, the Giants turned a 3-6-1 double play on a grounder hit by Dodgers first baseman Matt Beaty that required shortstop Brandon Crawford to throw toward first base while Gausman was still working his way over to cover the bag.
In the bottom of the sixth, Crawford made another impressive play by ranging into left center field to snare a Will Smith pop-up over his shoulder on a play that TV broadcaster Duane Kuiper said was reminiscent of a wide receiver running a post pattern.
Instead of having the chance to work his way through the middle of the Dodgers order in the seventh, Gausman got the early hook.
“The goal is not to have (Gausman) be at his best for one outing, it’s to be at his best for multiple outings and as long as we can have him fresh and strong, we want to do that as well,” Kapler said. “It’s striking a balance between now and the future and at the same time, my job is to make a decision on who is the best option to get the next one, two and three hitters out.”
Kapler decided Gausman wasn’t the best option on Sunday, and the decision ultimately backfired.
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Author: Kerry Crowley