Don’t be misled by the three good games pitched by Giants starters this week. Two of them were by the two reliable starters, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner. Beyond them, the rotation is still a problem. And now, after his one good outing of the season, Ryan Vogelsong is out because of an injury to his right hand when he was trying to hit. Can anybody please explain why the National League owners continue to resist adding the designated hitter?
Beyond Cain and Bumgarner is the abyss. Tim Lincecum has had great games and terrible ones. Nobody knows which Lincecum will show up, including Tim. Barry Zito has been great at home — 3-0 with only two earned runs in 33 innings. But on the road: 0-3 with 28 runs (20 earned) in 17²?³ innings. In Zito’s last outing, Sunday in Denver, he pitched valiantly to get out of frequent trouble, but still gave up five runs in 5²?³ innings.
Perhaps Giants manager Bruce Bochy should adopt the strategy used by Alvin Dark in 1962 with veteran left-hander Billy Pierce, using him primarily at Candlestick, where he could neutralize left-handed power hitters. Pierce was 16-6 that year, but 12-0 at the ’Stick.
With the loss of Vogelsong, Bochy has a spot to fill in the rotation. He has Chad Gaudin, who has been a starter in the past, but prefers to save him for long relief, a role which has been especially important this year with starters often getting shelled in early innings.
There is one possibility for promotion within the Giants system: Michael Kickham at Fresno. Kickham is a tall left-hander who, according to scouting reports, throws a 94 mph fastball with good movement. After a long drought, the Giants lately have been successful in developing pitchers, with Cain, Bumgarner and Lincecum, so possibly Kickham could be another. He’s worth a try because it’s really difficult to pick up veteran starters. Derek Lowe is currently a free agent, but has not received any offers, which indicates other teams don’t think he has much left.
It is essential the Giants get their rotation figured out because there is a ripple effect throughout with the relievers exhausted from overuse after the road trip. Bochy left Zito in during the sixth inning simply because he didn’t want to go to the ’pen any earlier than he had to, but he had to make a move when Zito gave up two more runs.
Though fans got excited when the Giants hitters had big comebacks against the Diamondbacks in their last series in Phoenix, pitching is always the base for success and that’s especially true for the Giants playing in a pitcher-friendly park. Good pitching is much more consistent than hitting. Giants hitters have had some high-scoring games, followed by ones where they seem to disappear.
The good news is that there are no super teams in the NL West to challenge them. The Diamondbacks and Rockies look like slightly above .500 teams. The Dodgers have been hobbled by injuries and lack team chemistry.
So, the division is there for the Giants taking once again, but only if they strengthen their starting rotation.
Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.