Hunter Strickland

Giants continue to find few right answers as they try to build a better bullpen

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AP

Giants continue to find few right answers as they try to build a better bullpen

SAN FRANCISCO — It is generally a terrible idea to wade into free agency with the belief that you’re going to fix your bullpen. Free agent relievers are older, with too much mileage on their arms and salaries that are out of whack with their limited roles.

For years, the Giants avoided paying big bucks in that sinkhole-filled market. They developed from within and turned to reclamation projects, and if those players panned out, they were rewarded with big deals and kept in the fold. Last season, the Giants had no choice. They turned to Mark Melancon, giving him what was at the time a record deal ($62 million) for a reliever. Melancon has a mysterious arm injury that at some point this month will require a shutdown and medical procedure that will sideline him for six to eight weeks. 

The Giants do not want to go down that path again. The thing is, what other choice do they have? As scary as free agent relievers are, this current group is a nightmare that no manager should have to deal with. 

Bruce Bochy once again tried to pull different levers Friday night. Just about every choice left Bochy and pitching coach Dave Righetti staring out at the field in disbelief. 

Eight different members of the bullpen took the mound. Four of them gave up runs, including the three pitchers — Melancon, Sam Dyson and Hunter Strickland — who are supposed to control the final third of the game. Another, Josh Osich, continued his trend of walking the first batter he faces. He was done after that. The other clean sheets belonged to two relievers called up Friday morning — Derek Law and Steven Okert — and one — Kyle Crick — who has been a rare bright spot. 

The Giants gave up nine runs in the final three innings. They lost 11-6 to the Cardinals, wasting a huge night from Brandon Crawford and a solid return from Johnny Cueto. 

Bochy has been dealing with this problem for two seasons. Rarely has the collapse been so all-encompassing. 

“I can’t recall one that was as tough for us as tonight,” he said. “You look at the extra-base hits (the Cardinals) had — six there in the last three innings against our setup guys and closer. You’re probably not going to win ballgames like that.”

Strickland gave up two in the seventh to get the Cardinals going. Melancon was charged with one in the eighth. Dyson was charged with five runs after coming into a tied game in the ninth.

Melancon is locked in here long-term, and the Giants expect big things once he gets his arm fixed up. Dyson has been a revelation, and this was just one bad night. But for the rest of the relievers, this is audition time, and it would be hard for Bochy to look around Friday night and see many pitchers he wants getting high-pressure roles next season. He called the final month “critical” for some of his younger pitchers and vets who want to return. 

“We’re evaluating and trying to figure out what we need to do to get back where we were,” he said. “These are big games for everybody. We’re going to look at everything and see where we can improve. It’s not a lot of fun to be in this situation when you’re used to being in important games, but because of that, these are important games.”

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Strickland reacts to raining boos at Nationals Park: 'I don't blame them'

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AP

Strickland reacts to raining boos at Nationals Park: 'I don't blame them'

WASHINGTON D.C. — When the Giants arrived at Nationals Park on Friday, Bruce Bochy was asked if he would let Hunter Strickland face Bryce Harper in this series. He said that without a doubt he would, if the situation called for it. 

Harper was lost before Strickland ever took the mound, suffering a knee injury in Saturday night’s series opener. A few hours later, Strickland did end up facing the heart of Washington’s order, and the home fans showed they haven’t forgotten a fight that occurred earlier this season at AT&T Park. 

Strickland was booed as soon as the bullpen door opened up, and the chorus became overwhelming when he was announced as the pitcher for the eighth inning. The grumbling continued throughout the inning. After giving up a two-run homer in his frame, Strickland walked off to 30 seconds of additional boos. 

“I don’t blame them,” Strickland said. “They’re obviously pulling for him and didn’t like how things went down (in San Francisco). I didn’t expect anything different.”

Asked about the boos, Bochy smiled. 

“I thought it would be a standing ovation,” he joked. “I was a little surprised.”

Harper wasn’t around to try and get revenge, but the Nationals’ No. 3 hitter got a piece. Anthony Rendon hit a two-run shot that cut the deficit in half. The Giants went on to win 4-2. 

“Obviously I made a mistake on one pitch and he got the best of it,” Strickland said. 

The right-hander said he hopes to get another shot in the nightcap of the doubleheader. As for Harper, the Nationals got good news Sunday. What initially looked like a devastating injury is just a hyperextension and bone bruise. The Nationals expect Harper back in the lineup at some point this year. 

“That’s huge for them, and huge for him in his career,” Strickland said. “You don’t wish injuries on anyone, no matter what.”

Instant Analysis: Five takeaways as Giants lose marathon in extras to Padres

Instant Analysis: Five takeaways as Giants lose marathon in extras to Padres

BOX SCORE

SAN FRANCISCO — A few hundred, maybe a few thousand, stayed to watch the Giants late Friday night. The Giants did not make it worth the effort. 

Conor Gillaspie’s two-out homer in the ninth sent the game to extras, but the Giants lost 12-9 in a game that lasted nearly five hours. The Giants had trailed by three with two outs and nobody on in the ninth. They tied it. Instead of carrying that momentum over, they suffered yet another demoralizing loss. 

They have dropped both games of this series and they trail the Padres -- who had 20 hits -- by six games in the race for fourth place. Those are facts. Here are five more, mostly from earlier, when a young man harbored dreams of leaving a ballpark before 1 a.m. … 

—- Hector Sanchez took Jeff Samardzija deep to lead off the fourth, and at this point it’s flat-out hilarious. Sanchez has seven homers this season and three have come against his former team. He hit two homers at AT&T Park in 296 plate appearances as a Giant, and the fourth-inning blast gave him three in 11 plate appearances as a Padre. He also doubled in a run and singled. It’s an all-time revenge tour. Just go along for the ride. 

—- There were a ton of scouts on hand to watch two starting pitchers who could move in the next 10 days, and they left disappointed. Trevor Cahill gave up six earned on seven hits and four walks and lasted just 3 2/3 innings. Jeff Samardzija gave up eight hits and five earned in 4 1/3 innings. 

—- I dunno man, it’s really hard getting to five of these every night. Sam Dyson was good again. 

—- Gillaspie's pinch-hit homer was the sixth of his career. He's a hero around these parts, but perhaps Bobby Evans should see if a team out there was watching Friday and remembers his October run. Gillaspie could help a contender. 

—- When MLB inevitably introduces a pitch clock and pitchers start complaining, this will be the game I tell them to sit down and try to watch start to finish.