Giants 'opener' experiment backfires in loss to Blue Jays

Kerry Crowley, The Mercury News on

Published in Baseball

SAN FRANCISCO -- The San Francisco Giants are wading their way into a new era, and on Tuesday against the Toronto Blue Jays, they took another big step into uncharted waters.

Manager Bruce Bochy called on reliever Nick Vincent to serve as an "opener" against Toronto, adopting a modern pitching strategy that maximizes the impact of a strong bullpen.

As soon as Bochy, Vincent and the Giants took the plunge, they were wiped out by the first-inning tidal wave that arrives wherever they play on a daily basis.

Vincent gave up three first-inning runs including two on the first homer of Vladimir Guerrero Jr.'s career as the Giants suffered a 7-3 defeat.

Right-hander Tyler Beede was initially scheduled to start against Toronto, but Bochy opted to join a revolution sweeping across baseball as the Giants have posted the worst first-inning numbers of any pitching staff or lineup. Through 40 games, Giants starters owned a 9.00 first-inning ERA and by turning to Vincent, Bochy felt the club could reverse its horrendous first-inning fortunes.

Vincent hadn't allowed three earned runs in his last 40 appearances, but even a Giants relief pitcher isn't immune to what's ailing the Giants in the first inning. The right-hander needed 31 pitches to navigate the frame, and by the end of the inning, Bochy had already sent Trevor Gott to warm up in the home bullpen.

Through 41 games, the Giants have now been outscored 45-5 in the first inning, as no club has yielded more runs or scored fewer in the first than San Francisco.

Beede said pregame that he was comfortable pitching in relief after appearing behind Madison Bumgarner for a handful of outings in spring training, and after the Giants fell behind 3-0, Bochy turned to the right-hander at the start of the second. Beede lasted 2 1/3 innings and gave up one run before Bochy began to cycle through additional relievers.

Regardless of who was pitching for the Giants on Tuesday, the club had no answer for Guerrero, who matched his Hall of Fame father's career home run total at Oracle Park in his first game in San Francisco. The Blue Jays third baseman finished the night with three hits that left the bat with exit velocities above 111.3 miles per hour, including a 113.7 mile per hour three-run shot that put the game out of reach in the top of the sixth.


Only one Giants player, third baseman Pablo Sandoval, has hit a ball harder than 111.0 miles per hour this year.

Guerrero's two home runs were the first two of his major league career as both traveled 438 feet and 451 feet, marking two of the three farthest balls hit at Oracle Park this season.

Sandoval homered for the second straight game, launching a two-run shot to left center field to pull his team within a run in the bottom of the third. Sandoval's fifth homer of the season preceded his first walk of the year, as his four-pitch free pass from Toronto starter Trent Thornton in the fifth snapped a streak of 99 consecutive at-bats without a walk that dated back to July 20, 2018.

Though a one-game experiment is not nearly enough of a sample size to judge whether the Giants can enjoy long-term benefits from using openers, it's possible a traditionalist such as Bochy and a clubhouse filled with veterans will be reluctant to embrace the idea again in the immediate future.

The Giants have a handful of relief candidates who could thrive in the opener role, but Bochy acknowledged it will be more difficult to get starters aside from Beede to buy into the concept.

(c)2019 The Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.)

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