BY ANTHONY SOSA
A strong outing from St. Louis Cardinals’ starting pitcher Carlos Martinez and timely hitting proved too much for the San Francisco Giants to handle as they lost the third game of the series 3-2 Saturday afternoon at AT&T Park. The Giants have now dropped five out of their last six games.
Martinez, who struggled throughout June (1-4 with a 6.75 ERA), provided both his second win and quality start of July in Saturday’s outing. The 26-year-old dominated the Giants lineup and cruised throughout his start, making few mistakes. Martinez finished with seven innings pitched, allowing just one earned run on six hits. Despite his effectiveness on the mound, he managed to strikeout just three batters, earning his sixth win of the campaign.
Giants’ starter Jeff Samardzija returned from the DL Saturday and made his first start since May 29. In his previous eight starts this season, the right-hander didn’t fare well. In those starts, he owned a 1-4 record with a high 6.56 ERA. He got off to a great start Saturday, retiring the first six batters he faced. However, he ran into some trouble in the third and fourth innings.
In the top of the third, Kolten Wong singled and stole second base during the next at-bat. Two batters later, Carlos Martinez helped his own cause when he hit a hard chopper over the head of Pablo Sandoval. The chopper carried down the line in left field and allowed Wong to score as Martinez to raced into second with an RBI double.
Samardzija managed to limit the damage to just one run in the third, but in the top of the fourth, the Cardinals added two more runs. Back-to-back singles by Marcell Ozuna and Paul DeJong set up a first and third situation. Dexter Fowler tookcadvantage and hit an RBI sacrifice fly. After a Wong single, Francisco Pena delivered an RBI single into shallow right field. “These last three starts, all of them, coming back from rehab to Triple-A and then today were all free and easy,” Samardzija said about the health of his arm and shoulder. “Mistakes aren’t because of the arm, they’re just because of the execution of the pitch.”
St. Louis threatened again in the top of the fifth inning. With one out, Tommy Pham worked a walk and Jose Martinez followed with a single. After a groundout put runners on second and third with two outs, Samardzija got out of the jam by getting DeJong to fly out to center field.
Manager Bruce Bochy decided to pinch hit for Samardzija in the bottom half of the frame. The Giants’ starter pitched five innings, allowing three earned runs on seven hits and a walk. He also punched out three batters, taking his fifth loss of the year. “Five innings, gave up three, (but) could have been two, kept us in the game. Overall I thought it was a pretty good job, a pretty good effort,” Bochy said about Samardzija’s performance. “Looked more like the Jeff that we know and should only get better.”
Struggling to do anything against Martinez, the Giants finally pushed across a run in the bottom of the sixth inning. Gorkys Hernandez led off the inning with a seeing-eye single into left field. Three batters later, with Hernandez on second, Brandon Belt came through with an RBI double down the right-field line.
With Cardinals’ manager Mike Mathany pulling Martinez after seven innings, he turned the ball over to hard-throwing rookie Jordan Hicks in the bottom half of the eighth. With one out, Alen Hanson dribbled a ball on the right side of the infield and beat it out for a single. A wild pitch allowed Hanson to get to second, and once again Belt delivered a clutch two-out RBI hit with a single up the middle to trim the deficit to one. Belt finished the game 3-for-4 with two singles, a double and two RBI. He also recaptured the team lead in RBI with his 41st.
Despite the Giants late attempt to comeback, Bud Norris shut the door and earned his 17th save of the season. Another strong effort from the Giants’ bullpen kept them in the game. Derek Holland, Sam Dyson, Cory Gearrin and Mark Melancon combined for four innings of work without allowing a run and striking out four batters. “The bullpen just did a great job,” Bochy said. “Kept us right there at three and gave us a chance to comeback… (Holland) looks like he’s comfortable out there. That’s going to help us.”
Over the past six games, the Giants’ offense has endured a tough stretch. They’ve scored three runs or less in each of those games and have scored 10 runs total during that span. “I think it’s something we do need to consciously make an effort to step this up a little bit,” Belt said about the lack of offense over the past few games. “You know, we’re kind of getting down to crunch time. (We) need to make sure that we are playing good baseball. Like I said, we know what this team is capable of and we’ll get it back for sure.”
After their loss Saturday, the Giants look to finish the series off with a win and a series split as they complete the four-game set with the Cardinals Sunday. Madison Bumgarner (1-3, 2.58) toes the rubber for San Francisco in the final game of the series. In his last three starts, Bumgarner’s allowed just two earned runs in 21 innings of work. He’s provided a quality start in five of his six outings this season. Facing off against the Giants’ ace is Cardinals’ rookie starter Jack Flaherty (3-4, 3.19). The game is set to start at 1:05 p.m. at AT&T Park.
Before Saturday’s game, the Giants announced multiple roster moves. They activated Samardzija from the 10-day DL. Joe Panik hit the 10-day DL due to a left groin strain. Chris Stratton was optioned to triple-A Sacramento, and the Giants purchased the contract of Chase d’Arnaud from triple-A Sacramento.
Stratton, who started off the season as the Giants most consistent starter, has struggled since the start of June. In his last seven starts, Stratton owns a 3-4 record and a 4.97 ERA. In his most recent start, he surrendered eight earned runs in 5 2/3 innings against the Colorado Rockies. “We had to create a spot for Jeff,” Bochy said about the move to option Stratton. “Stratton’s last couple starts, he hasn’t quite been as sharp. This gives him a chance to kind of catch his breath, work on a couple of things… He’s pitched some big games here for us, important games (that) felt like we had to win those games, and he came through for us. He’ll be back up here.”
With the return of Samardzija, and Johnny Cueto earlier in the week, the Giants have their top three starters healthy for the first time all season. The three starters missed a combined 183 games, with Cueto out 70, Bumgarner sidelined for 60 and Samardzija injured during 53. “I like to think we’ll get some consistency,” Bochy said about the return of his main starters. “Really, the pitching has been doing a good job, to be honest. Now we’ll have our guys back, and have this rotation set like we thought we’d have coming out of Spring Training… We will get consistent with the starting pitching and that’s what gets you in position where you can get on a roll.”