BY MARKO UKALOVIC
Dereck Rodriguez, yet again, pitched lights out and the Giants used some timely offensive production to defeat the Pittsburgh Pirates, 4-3, Sunday afternoon at AT&T Park. The win earned the Giants a split of the four-game series. It was just their third win in their past 12 home games.
In a season that’s featured lost of injuries and disappointment in San Francisco, Rodriguez continues to be a bright spot. He mowed through the Pirates lineup on Sunday, allowing just one earned run on two hits and a walk in seven innings of work. Fanning four batters, the rookie earned his sixth win of the season and lowered his ERA to 2.25.
Despite the success on the mound Sunday, Rodriguez admitted he didn’t have his best curveball. “My curve wasn’t, today, how it’s been in the past, but it was still effective. I was still getting swings there, just giving them a different look. I felt fine with everything else,” he said.
In his past eight starts, Rodriguez has allowed two runs or less in each outing. During that eight-game span, he’s allowed eight earned runs in 53 1/3 innings pitched for an impressive 1.36 ERA. His numbers at home continue to standout. In eight starts at AT&T Park, he owns a 1.91 ERA in 47 2/3 innings of work. He owns the third-lowest home ERA in the NL this season among pitchers with at least six starts at home behind Madison Bumgarner (1.71) and Jacob deGrom (1.60). “He finds a way. He’s such a competitor too and you see how poised he is out there,” Giants’ manager Bruce Bochy said. “He’s just been so consistent getting us deep into games. What a job he’s done since he’s come up. It’s a great story and a great sign by our baseball ops and scouting department.”
With his emergence this season, Rodriguez has put himself into the NL Rookie of the Year conversation. The last Giants rookie to win the award was Buster Posey back in 2010. Six other SF Giants have taken home the honors including Posey, John Montefusco, Gary Matthews, Willie McCovey, Orlando Cepeda and Willie Mays. “I think without question,” Bochy said when asked if Rodriguez should be considered for the award. “You look at the body of work. You just look how consistent he’s been, you look at the numbers, so I think without question he’s got to be in that talk and consideration.”
Not bad company for a player that was drafted as an outfielder in 2011 and didn’t begin pitching in the minor leagues until 2014. “That was a long time ago, as you can see I don’t swing the bat quite as well as I use to,” Rodriguez said jokingly. “It’s been crazy, you know, going from an outfielder to a pitcher and being in the spot I am right now.”
The lone run that Rodriguez allowed came in the top of the second inning. Josh Bell led off the inning with a double and was later chased home when Elias Diaz hit a double. Rodriguez locked in after that and didn’t allow another hit the rest of his outing. He also retired the last nine batters he faced.
On the offensive side, the Giants failed to produce a base runner in the first two innings, but in the bottom of the third, Steven Duggar led off with a single and Nick Hundley drove him home with an RBI three-bagger into triple’s alley. They put together two more runs in the bottom of the fourth. Brandon Crawford started the rally with an opposite-field double. Gorkys Hernandez followed with an infield single. Crawford then scored on a sacrifice fly by Joe Panik. Later in the inning, Hundley came through again. This time, with an RBI single that scored Hernandez. “Nick’s got a lot of big hits for us,” Bochy said. “Got us on the board, after getting shutout last night, that’s big. He’s a threat up there. He’s got pop…he’s a clutch hitter.”
The Giants added their fourth run of the game in the bottom of the sixth inning. Joe Panik delivered his second RBI of the game when he drove in Gorkys Hernandez with a single.
When Bochy turned the ball over to the pen in the top of the eighth inning, Reyes Moronta entered the game and allowed the first two batters to reach. Pirates’ manager Clint Hurdle sent up David Freese to pinch-hit but Moronta struck him out. After the strikeout, Tony Watson took over and allowed a two-out double to Starling Marte, which cut the deficit to one.
Will Smith took the ball in the bottom of the ninth and turned in an easy 1-2-3 inning to earn his eighth save of the season. The Giants improved to 59-60 on the season. They remain six games back of the Arizona Diamondbacks for the NL West lead and trail the Philadelphia Phillies and Milwaukee Brewers by seven games for the second NL Wild Card spot with 43 games left to play. “It’s going to be a wild ride,” Hundley said about how close the NL division and wild card races are. “It’s a lot of fun to see. It’s got to be great for the fans. It’s going to be a great finish.”
After finishing their homestand with a win, the Giants head on the road for 10 games. They start their road trip with a three-game series against the Los Angeles Dodgers Monday. The series starts with a bang as Madison Bumgarner (4-4, 2.69) and Clayton Kershaw (5-5, 2.58) oppose each other on the mound. Monday’s game is slated for 7:10 p.m. at Dodger Stadium.
Brandon Belt, who continues to recover from a hyperextended right knee, played in a rehab game for triple-A Sacramento Saturday night. He went 0-2 in the outing. Bochy said before Sunday’s game that they expect the first baseman to return to the Giants sometime during the upcoming series in L.A.
Hunter Strickland is also currently rehabbing in triple-A Sacramento. He remains on the DL with a fractured right hand. The reliever is eligible to return from the DL on August 18.
Bochy said before Sunday’s game, that starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija will throw a 40-pitch bullpen on Monday. Samardzija hasn’t pitched since July 14 as he’s dealt with right shoulder inflammation. “I expect it to go well,” Bochy said about Samardzija’s bullpen. “I know he’s going to be excited because he’s getting close to getting back to pitching in a game. I know it’s been a frustrating year for him, but I will say this time around it does look a lot better.”
With their win on Sunday, the Giants are now 46-14 when they score four runs or more.