AT&T PARK — It’s not easy being green. You tend to blend into the grass and get stepped on. That’s what San Francisco Giants starter Derek Holland told NBC Sports Bay Area during an off-day on-camera interview earlier this season, in his best Kermit the Frog impression.
Holland, signed this February to a minor league deal, has a history of doing anything but blending into the background. From his graphic t-shirts to his wrestling-themed walk-up music to his seemingly boundless sense of humor (remember Derek Lastname? It’s going on his Players’ Weekend jersey), Holland has been whatever the Giants have needed this season.
When the rotation needed an extra spot for Jeff Samardzija, Holland went to the bullpen, and in his first outing, struck out seven in 3 1/3 innings. On Tuesday, just over a week later, San Francisco needed him back in the rotation, against the National League’s highest-scoring lineup in the Chicago Cubs, Holland threw his best game of the season. The Giants, though, scored two runs or fewer for the seventh time in the last 10 games, and fell 2-0.
“We needed him to get us deep in the game with our bullpen where it was,” Bochy said. “He did everything he could. He pitched a beautiful game. Unfortunately, we just got shut down completely.”
The Giants have now held the fourth-best offense in the major leagues to just three runs in 20 innings, but have only one win to show for it. On Tuesday, San Francisco had its leadoff man on twice — in the fourth and the sixth — but hit into double plays both times. The Giants (48-46) have now scored two runs or fewer in 35 of 94 games this season.
Holland threw 6 1/3 innings, struck out eight and scattered five hits in his first walk-free start of 2018. Tuesday was the second time this year he’s gone at least 6 1/3 with eight strikeouts. He’s done it twice within the last two weeks, and he spent one of those weeks as a reliever. Before that, he hadn’t done it since 2015.
“After seeing some of these guys (relievers) pick each other up, I feel like I need to be a part of that as well and do that,” Holland said. “Whatever the situation brings, I’m going to go out there. If [Bochy] tells me to go out there and pitch one inning, I’m going to go out there and give hime one inning. Whatever Boch’ and the guys come up with, I’m going to do it. I’m OK either way, if I’m in the pen or I’min the rotation.”
It was just the third time in his career that he went at least 6 1/3, struck out eight and didn’t walk a batter. The last time he did that was a complete-game, 11-strikeout performance on Aug. 30, 2015.
“What a great job he did tonight, huh?” manager Bruce Bochy said. “He’s worked pretty hard here, this past week. Threw 50 pitches in relief, came back and pitched again and goes out there and gets us deep in the game. Just a terrific job. He gave us every chance to win that ballgame.”
After Holland had exited in the seventh following a one-out double to Addison Russell, reliever Sam Dyson wasn’t able to hold the line. Dyson threw a pitch in the dirt to Kyle Schwarber as Russell broke for third. Catcher Nick Hundley threw wide left of the bag, allowing Russell to score. Dyson then walked IanHapp and gave up a run-scoring double to first baseman Victor Caratini, meaning a run that scored on an error became an earned run for Holland.
“I’m sure if he had it to do over, he holds that ball,” Bochy said.
The loss is particularly tough given how much Holland has boosted team morale and kept the mood in the locker room light as the Giants have had to weather a raft of injuries to almost their entire starting lineup and three-fifths of their starting rotation.
“He just has all the fun,” Bochy said. “He’s one of those guys who’s so loose playing the game, he plays it the way you should play the game, and he has fun with it. He has fun with himself … He does bring a lot of levity, on the field, in the clubhouse. It’s nice to have that veteran presence that helps keep the guys loose.”
A day ago, the 31-year old left-hander greased up with baby oil and cut a faux-pro wrestling promo for Belt’s All-Star Final Vote candidacy by digging (not that) deep for his best Hulk Hogan impression while wearing his best Randy “Macho Man” Savage shades. Even after a loss on Tuesday, he was still able to work some politicking for Belt to cameras gathered in the locker room. Polls close at Wednesday at 1 p.m.
“We might have to do something. I was informed that he was in second place,” Holland said. “That’s not going to happen. I’d do something right now, but I can’t do it after a loss, but we’re going to continue to hype him up. He deserves it. He’s having a really good year this year. … All you guys at home, wherever you are, get those damn phones out and vote. Please.”
On Tuesday, he worked his curve past Cubs hitters, getting them to swing and miss 12 times out of the 42 he threw. Of his 99 pitches, he got 21 called strikes, and 18 swings and misses.
“After watching what Arizona did, I really felt like I needed to execute better with my offspeed,” Holland said. “When you’re coming out of the pen, I feel like there’s a bigger confidence you have in yourself when you’re out there, because you don’t have time to think about much at all. I thought we did a good job working with that, and today, the offspeed was right where it needed to be.”
Still, Holland, who’s spent nine of his 10 years in the American League, isn’t known for his bat. Lately, neither are the Giants. San Francisco managed just three hits against left-hander Jose Quintana and three relievers.
The Giants are hitting .228 against left-handed starters this season, a problem exacerbated by the fact that Buster Posey has been playing most of the year with a sore hip, and the fact that third baseman Evan Longoria has missed three-plus weeks with a broken hand, and figures to miss three more.
“This has been going on for a little while against this left-handed pitching,” Bochy said. “We need to get some right-handed bats hot … There just wasn’t anything there.”