Bochy trying to 'steer clear of a couple guys' in the bullpen.
Giants relievers are 1-5 with a 4.14 ERA and just 4-for-9 in save opportunities this month. (USA TODAY IMAGES)
SAN FRANCISCO – For proof that Tim Lincecum is in better shape this season, look no further than the triple he hit in the sixth inning Friday night.
He cruised around the bases and was hardly out of breath when he arrived at third base.
The Giants’ bullpen, on the other hand, is gasping for air at the moment.
“They’ve been used a lot,” said Giants manager Bruce Bochy, after the Miami Marlins scored three times in the eighth inning to take a 6-3 victory at AT&T Park. “It’d be nice to stay away from a couple guys (on Saturday), and give them a break.”
[RECAP: Marlins 6, Giants 3]
The Giants are having a particularly rough time from the right side. Santiago Casilla is on the DL for at least another two weeks. George Kontos, who was so promising last season, is at Triple-A Fresno – and will have to serve a three-game suspension upon his next call-up.
And let’s not forget that their wipeout right-handed specialist in past years, Sergio Romo, is being held in reserve for save situations as the club’s closer.
The Giants managed to avoid this kind of bullpen thinning last year, after they lost Brian Wilson to the scalpel before the club played its home opener. Everyone slid back an inning -– Casilla handled closer duties at first, and then Romo -– and it all worked out fine.
But the bullpen is out of sorts now. While still ranking in the upper third of the majors with a 3.12 ERA in relief, the numbers don’t look so good of late.
The Giants bullpen combined to go 12-7 with a 2.84 ERA through the end of May, and they were 15-for-19 in save opportunities. (That’s as a whole, not just Romo.)
This month, the relievers are 1-5 with a 4.14 ERA and just 4-for-9 in save opportunities. Jeremy Affeldt has blown leads in three of his last four appearances.
It’s the bullpen that factored so prominently in the Giants being able to post a winning record in May (14-13) despite one of the worst months by the rotation in recent memory. But all those innings took a toll, and Chad Gaudin is in the rotation now –- not in long relief, where all those shutout innings he threw in the sixth and seventh gave the offense a chance to rally.
The Giants are at the point where they pressed Jake Dunning, a rookie making his fourth career appearance, into a tie game in the eighth inning. Dunning gave up a hit and hit a batter to set the stage for the Marlins’ three-run inning. Jean Machi allowed singles to all three batters he faced.
It’s GM Brian Sabean’s M.O. to get a reliever or two at the deadline, but getting a starter might accomplish the same thing if it moves Gaudin back to the bullpen or Lincecum, eventually.
For now, the Giants have just one more day off until the All-Star break. So this is a bullpen that must keep on pushing. And if the starters can get deeper into games, it’ll make it a heck of a lot easier.
Lincecum has a 2.92 ERA in four starts in June. One more decent outing and he’ll finish with his lowest ERA in a month since August, 2011.
Perhaps more telling is that in two of Lincecum’s four starts this month, he’s allowed under a baserunner per inning. The Marlins had four hits, a walk and a hit batter in his seven innings Friday night.
It appeared to me that Lincecum’s delivery was a lot smoother. He wasn’t snapping across his body or overthrowing -- something that commentator and former ace Curt Schilling noted several times while working Sunday’s game at Atlanta.
Lincecum needed to back off and let his pitches work for him, Schilling said. He couldn’t expect to hit spots otherwise.
I asked Lincecum if he felt he was overthrowing in the past. He said in a sense, yes, but only when he felt it was necessary.
“I go by how the ball comes out of my hand,” he said. “If it doesn’t feel right, then I feel I’ve got to throw it with a little extra oomph.”
Against the Marlins, Lincecum said he felt he had his rhythm together. His changeup and slider were moving as they should, and he didn’t have to guide his fastball.
“I wasn’t trying to overthrow pitches,” he said. “I know overthrowing won’t make a difference.”
In case you missed elsewhere on our site, Pablo Sandoval was 1-for-3 and hit a home run from the right side while playing five innings at third base for Single-A San Jose at Stockton. The Giants can’t get Sandoval’s presence back in their lineup soon enough.
[RELATED: Panda Watch: Sandoval off to smashing start]
He’s eligible Monday at Dodger Stadium.
One other note from San Jose: Top prospect Kyle Crick returned from the oblique injury he sustained April 18 and lasted four innings. He set a season high with 10 strikeouts.