SAN DIEGO – Over the past couple years, even after some of his most dominant outings as a Giant, Ryan Vogelsong would meet with reporters and make an admission.
It might have looked calm and composed on the surface. But beneath the water, he was kicking for his life. He was fighting himself, scrapping one pitch, trying another, fiddling with the radio in the fast lane, doing anything he could to execute one offering after the next.
It was a struggle to keep air in his lungs again Sunday afternoon. But now the flailing and the fighting is right out in the open for all to see.
Vogelsong allowed three home runs, matching his career high, and the Giants once again came out on the losing end of what passes for a San Diego slugfest in a 6-4 loss Sunday at Petco Park.
The Giants have lost five consecutive, and is there a stopper in the house? Not long ago, you could take your pick from their five starting pitchers. But Vogelsong failed to throw a quality start for the fourth time in his five assignments.
And now it’s up to Matt Cain to break the streak Monday at Arizona. The Giants are 0-5 in Cain’s starts.
Vogelsong, for one, is no less optimistic.
“Absolutely,” he said, asked whether the thought of Cain on the mound still quickens his heartbeat. “I know he’s working his butt off every day to straighten himself out, too. Hopefully it translates tomorrow and we get back on the winning track.”
It isn’t often that Cain and Vogelsong are searching for answers at the same time. But they’ve probably parked themselves next to each other in the video room a time or two over the past couple weeks.
Both Vogelsong and Cain have cited the same issue while combining for a 6.41 ERA in their 10 starts. (The other three starters, Madison Bumgarner, Barry Zito and Tim Lincecum, have a 2.88 ERA among them.)
“I’m just off, man,” Vogelsong said. “I can’t really get anything going. As soon as I feel I’m getting in a little groove, it goes. It comes back and it goes. I just can’t get anything consistent going with my delivery.”
Vogelsong is looking at video and trying some tweaks that worked in the past. The Giants had no choice but to let him turn Petco Park into his own Petri dish on Sunday. Their bullpen was limited after Chad Gaudin and Jean Machi each pitched multiple innings in Saturday night’s 12-inning loss.
“It was a battle from the start with Vogey,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “He didn’t have good stuff or command, and we were caught in a tough situation as much as we’ve used our bullpen.
“The ball was up quite a bit and they didn’t miss ‘em. This is a ballpark that is usually forgiving, but it was carrying today.”
Vogelsong called his changeup to Alexi Amarista a bad pitch. The other two-run homer he allowed, to Nick Hundley, came on a fastball “where he likes it.”
Now Vogelsong has four days to watch more video, take a side session and see if he can find a way to keep the ball down in the zone.
For all his postseason heroics, this is not a new issue. If you add up these five starts with his last 10 regular-season starts from last season, this is what you’d get: a 6-7 record, a 6.08 ERA, 97 hits in 77 innings and just four quality starts out of 15.
I asked Vogelsong: Is the search for answers similar to what he had to fight through down the stretch last season?
“I actually feel I’m better off now,” he said. “Just by the way the pitches are coming out of my hand, I don’t feel I’m as far off as I was last year, at points.”
That’s good for the Giants, since they can’t afford for Vogelsong or Cain to figure it out at the last minute.
“The starters struggled the last two days and that’s our game, getting quality starts,” Bochy said. “It got away from us here.”