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Rodriguez solid, but Braves youngsters steal show as San Francisco Giants drop ninth straight

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San Francisco Giants pitcher Dereck Rodriguez delivers to home against the Oakland Athletics at Oakland Coliseum on Friday, July 20, 2018. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

AT&T PARK — For the 13th time this season, San Francisco Giants rookie right hander Dereck Rodriguez allowed two runs or fewer in an outing of six innings or more, and for the fifth time — all coming since July 26 — the Giants couldn’t come away with a win. 

On Monday, against the Atlanta Braves, Rodriguez went 6 1/3, holding the Braves to just one earned run, but his opposite number — 25-year old Sean Newcomb — held the struggling Giants at bay.

Newcomb and three relievers kept San Francisco without a baserunner over the final six innings, as the Giants lost their ninth game in a row, 4-1. Over those nine games, San Francisco is hitting just .187 (56-for-299), and managed just three hits on Monday, as the Braves retired the last 20 in a row.

“He pitched a great game,” manager Bruce Bochy said of Rodriguez. “Shame we couldn’t get some runs for him. We’ve got guys that are cold against lefties.”

As poor as the offense was for the Giants, Rodriguez still looked like a pitcher worthy of Rookie of the Year votes, and he even shut down another likely candidate, Atlanta’s Ronald Acuna Jr.

Acuna has eight leadoff homers, but grounded out on a cutter on the very first pitch of the game. He went 0-for-4 with a walk. Twenty-one year old Ozzie Albies — who hit a seventh-inning double and scored to break a 1-1 tie, and then helped add insurance with a triple in the ninth — exceeded his rookie eligibility last year, leaving some potential for Rodriguez and Juan Soto of the Washington Nationals.

While Acuna is a 20-year-old outfielder and Soto is just 19, Rodriguez, a 26-year-old who bounced around the minors for years, has taken a completely different route but has managed to throw himself into the conversation with the blue-chip prospects.

Rodriguez yielded five hits and a pair of walks on the night, but he would have needed to be spotless to get a win.

Austin Slater knocked in the game’s first run with a chopper that beat a drawn-in Johan Camargo with one out in the third, San Francisco (68-77) went without another baserunner.

Rodriguez would be denied a shutdown inning in the fourth when Freddie Freeman singled, advanced to second on a wild pitch, moved to third on a Nick Markakis groundout and scored on a sharp single up the middle by Kurt Suzuki.

Newcomb struck out eight and didn’t allow a walk over his six innings, and none of the three hits he allowed were particularly well-struck. Brandon Belt flipped an opposite-field single in the first and Gorkys Hernandez dropped in a blooper to open the bottom of the third. He took second on a Rodriguez sac bunt and stole third, leading the Braves to bring the infield in and allow Slater’s bouncer to get past third base.

“Even our hits weren’t really smoked,” Bochy said. “[Newcomb]’s got good stuff and pitched a very nice ballgame. We were late on our swings, and he’s got good life on his fastball.”

The National League East-leading Braves broke the 1-1 tie thanks to Albies in the seventh.

The lightning-quick Albies snuck a sharp grounder under a diving Kelby Tomlinson to lead off the seventh, and as he rounded first, Hernandez hesitated to throw back to the infield. Albies broke for second, Hernandez threw behind him and airmailed first baseman Belt. Once the ball went out of play, the Curaçao native stood at third base. A sacrifice fly by Dansby Swanson put Atlanta (80-64) in front.

Scotts Valley High School alum Shane Carle pitched the bottom of the seventh and Johnny Venters, survivor of three Tommy John surgeries, took care of the eighth. Suzuki led off the ninth with a ringing double off Hunter Strickland — one that would’ve likely cleared the fences in the daytime — and Albies tagged a ball into Triples Alley to bring home an insurance run. Swanson dropped a squeeze bunt to score him and provide a three-run cushion.

Save for a couple of hard-hit grounders snared by Swanson, there were very few close calls for the Giants offense to give the crowd, which looked considerably smaller than the announced 35,996, any reason to cheer. In fact, the loudest reaction of the night went to actor Kristian Nairn, in attendance for Game of Thrones Night.

Had it not been for Albies sneaking one past Tomlinson to open the seventh, Rodriguez would have at least avoided the loss. He took the mound in the seventh having already thrown 102 pitches, but he had certainly earned that opportunity with the way he had handled the heart of the order in the sixth inning, including a strikeout of Freeman.

“I felt good in the sixth,” said Rodriguez. “It’s awesome to have [Bochy] confident in me having thrown so many pitches.”

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