Bochy's bullpen acumen will be tested down stretch

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Bochy's bullpen acumen will be tested down stretch

BOX SCORESAN DIEGO When the Giants hired Bruce Bochy almost sixyears ago, club officials lauded his ability to move chess pieces in hisbullpen.

Bochys skills have never been tested the way theyll beover these next six weeks.

The Giants are trying to hang onto first place with thedreaded closer-by-committee approach, and it ended with jitters followed by handshakesin an 8-7 victory over the San Diego Padres at Petco Park Saturday night.

Jeremy Affeldt wasnt hit hard in the ninth inning, when hefollowed two quick outs with a walk and a pair of singles. One hit came on abroken bat. The other was an end-of-the-bat flare. Even the walk came after a borderline,two-strike pitch.

In other words, Affeldt wasnt hit hard as the Padres scoreda pair of runs against him. But Bochy shook the Yahtzee cup anyway. He went toClay Hensley, knowing the Padres would counter with left-handed pinch hitterMark Kotsay.

The matchup worked. Hensley got ahead with sinkers whiletrying for a ground ball, then fluttered a change-up through Kotsays swing tostrand the tying run at first base and keep the Giants in first place foranother day, a half-game ahead of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
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Can they stay there without an oversized presence in theninth inning? Can they stay there if whenever the bullpen phone rings, seven differentguys reflexively jump up? Can this bullpen finish out tight games without anestablished closer?

I dont think its been too different, Hensley said. Everybodyjust has the mindset to throw up a zero whenever you pitch. I think the rolesare all out the window, so everybody from the fourth inning on is pretty muchgetting ready to pitch.

Lets not forget Bochys other big decision on the pitchingside Saturday night: He pulled Barry Zito after just four innings, sending uppinch hitter Ryan Theriot to start the fifth. Theriot singled to start afour-run rally that gave the Giants a 5-4 lead.

Bochy agreed that its deep enough in this pennant race tostart making snappier decisions. But he also credited Matt Cains eight-inningeffort Friday night with allowing him to turn to his bullpen in the fifthinning.

At that point, were down three, and you hate to take yourstarter out, but weve got 13 pitchers, Bochy said. Thats what they allowyou to do. And we have the luxury of plenty of guys who are accustomed topitching out of the bullpen.

Somewhere among those eight guys, Bochy will have to pick a closer on a given night. The Giants already have four relievers with at least three saves, after Hensley recorded his third. And whether you play chess or Yahtzee, you always want to have an endgame strategy.

Early offense, six strong from Cueto lift Giants past Braves in finale

Early offense, six strong from Cueto lift Giants past Braves in finale

BOX SCORE

SAN FRANCISCO -- The blisters on Johnny Cueto's middle and index fingers that limited his effectiveness in his last few starts haven't yet completely healed.

But the two-time All-Star is learning to pitch with them.

Cueto threw six strong innings and Brandon Crawford drove in three runs as the San Francisco Giants defeated the Atlanta Braves 7-1 on Sunday.

Cueto (5-4) bounced back from his roughest stretch as a Giant. He was 0-3 with a 4.33 ERA in his previous four starts.

"They're not bothering me like they were before," Cueto said through a translator. "I'm just getting used to it but I have to continue pitching until they get better."

The Giants won their third straight home series and posted their 11th victory in 18 games overall.

Crawford's two-run single highlighted a four-run second against R.A. Dickey (3-4) that made it 6-0.

Matt Kemp had three hits for Atlanta. But the Braves couldn't get much going against Cueto, who allowed one run on six hits and a walk. Cueto struck out eight, including five in a row at one point.

"He did what he needed to do to get us out," Kemp said. "We had chances to score runs and we didn't. I think in this series we really didn't do a good score of scoring runs."

Dickey allowed a season-high seven runs (six earned) on six hits and five walks in six innings.

"This can be a challenging place to throw because of the wind because it swirls so much," Dickey said.

Eduardo Nunez and Gorkys Hernandez each had two hits for the Giants. Joe Panik tripled to start the second-inning burst.

Cueto had two productive at-bats, bunting a runner to second in the second inning and driving in a run with a sacrifice fly in the third.

"It's always nice to have a lead and I thought Johnny was the sharpest he'd been this year," Giants catcher Buster Posey said. "Hopefully it's something he can build on. The changeup was working really well and his command of the fastball was really good."

Posey was 0 for 2 with two walks. He hasn't struck out in 55 consecutive plate appearances.

FUN FACTOR:
The Giants scored the game's first run when Nunez came around from third when a knuckleball glanced off catcher Kurt Suzuki glove in the bottom of the first. The play was ruled a passed ball. Asked if he had any empathy for the plight of his counterpart, Posey said "Yes, no question. It's not fun to hit, it doesn't look fun to catch, either."

FANCY FIELDING:
Hernandez made a diving catch in the gap in left-center robbing Emilio Bonifacio of an extra-base hit with one out in the seventh inning.

TRAINER'S ROOM:
Braves: 2B Brandon Phillips left in the fifth for pinch-hitter Jace Peterson. Phillips fouled a ball off his foot in his last at-bat in the third.

Giants: LHP Madison Bumgarner will start his throwing program on Friday, manager Bruce Bochy said. Bumgarner will start out playing catch and make five rehab starts. The 2014 World Series MVP suffered a separated left shoulder in a dirt biking accident. "The progress is happening," Bochy said. "I think he sees light at the end of the tunnel." ... Slumping rookie INF Christian Arroyo was out of the lineup on Sunday and his playing status appears uncertain. Arroyo, who turns 22 on Tuesday, is 0 for 19 in his last five games. "I'll talk to him, about what his situation is," Bochy said. "I'm definitely planning on giving him a couple of days" off.

UP NEXT:
Braves: RHP Julio Teheran will make his first career start against the Angels in Anaheim on Monday. He is 3-9 with a 5.63 ERA in 15 career interleague starts.

Giants: LHP Matt Moore will face the Nationals for the second time in his career. He was with Tampa Bay when he gave up two runs in five innings against Washington in 2012.

Giants lineup: Posey catching, Nunez at third base against Braves

Giants lineup: Posey catching, Nunez at third base against Braves

The Giants look to win two straight against the Braves and Bruce Bochy has made a few changes to the lineup Sunday.

Atlanta Braves (21-26)

1. Ender Inciarte (L) CF
2. Brandon Phillips (R) 2B
3. Nick Markakis (L) RF
4. Matt Kemp (R) LF
5. Matt Adams (L) 1B
6. Kurt Suzuki (R) C
7. Rio Ruiz (L) 3B
8. Dansby Swanson (R) SS
9. R.A. Dickey (R) P

San Francisco Giants (21-30)

1. Denard Span (L) CF
2. Eduardo Nunez (R) 3B
3. Brandon Belt (L) 1B
4. Buster Posey (R) C
5. Brandon Crawford (L) SS
6. Justin Ruggiano (R) RF
7. Joe Panik (L) 2B
8. Gorkys Hernandez (R) LF
9. Johnny Cueto (R) P