ORACLE PARK — After playing the percentages and starting Donovan Solano in the series finale against the San Diego Padres, there’s a good chance that manager Bruce Bochy will give some more time to his 31-year old infielder against left-handers, especially with his ability to play both short and second, and the Giants facing a stretch of 20 games in 20 days.
“He’ll definitely be in the mix, when we get into L.A. and we’ll see some left-handers,” Bochy said of Solano, who’s hitting .270 overall, but .360 against southpaws. “Maybe even a right-hander, when we get into the back end of this stretch.”
Over the next three weeks, San Francisco will face division opponents 17 times. After hosting the Brewers for three this weekend, the Giants head to Los Angeles for four against the first-place Dodgers, then travel to Arizona for three against the Diamondbacks, come home for three against Colorado and four more against Arizona, then hit the road for three against the San Diego Padres, who they beat two out of three games earlier this week at Oracle Park.
“It’s an important stretch,” he said. We always say that about any long stretch, but it’s going to be important to take care of these guys, the bullpen, the everyday guys, make sure they get their needed time. We just had an easy week with two days off, so now you’re going into 20 straight, so this is a difficult stretch, and you look at the teams we’re playing, really, really good teams, too.”
Another major concern: Pitching. San Francisco is 25th in the Major Leagues in quality starts (21), with Madison Bumgarner accounting for 10 of those. The bullpen has only blown four saves and have a 3.78 ERA — fifth in the Majors — but they’ve been taxed, throwing 252 2/3 innings over 66 games, nearly 20 innings above the National League average.
“It’s going to be important, obviously, to continue to throw the ball well like we’ve been doing this week,” Bochy said. “These starters, hopefully get us deep into games somewhat consistently, so we can take care of this pen and see some guys get some day off here in this stretch.”
Speaking of splits, Milwaukee starter Zach Davies has reverse splits for his career (.267 BAA against righties, .258 against lefties), but this season, lefties are hitting .275 against him, compared to .243 by righties.
The Giants, then, stacked their lineup with left-handers at the top of the order, including starting Pablo Sandoval — San Francisco’s most consistent bat — at first and moving Brandon Belt to left to make room for him.
Bochy will start out with a lefty-hitting trio of Joe Panik, Belt and Sandoval 1-2-3 to try and get something going early against the rookie, who’s 7-0 with a 2.41 ERA.
“Our core players are mostly left-handed bats, but I wanted to get Pablo out there,” Bochy said. “In order to do that, I decided to put him at first. That way I got Longo and Pablo out there, and Belt goes to left today. But, along that line, lefties have had more success against him. He’s been throwing well.”
The Giants will have a new first base coach, at least for a night: Antoan Richardson, San Francisco’s minor-league field coordinator. He replaces Jose Aglguacil, who is attending his son’s graduation. The move has been in the works for a while, and is a way of rewarding the former Giants minor leaguer from the Bahamas.
“When these guys on my staff have to leave for a day or so for some reason, we bring guys up that can help out, but also reward them in some way,” Bochy said. “He’s been working hard down there with the kids, so that gives him a little break. He’ll be at first base today.”
Richardson had cups of coffee with the Atlanta Braves and New York Yankees, but started his pro career in 2005 when the Giants signed him as an undrafted free agent. His final professional organization was the Dodgers, but he was released on June 22, 2016 after hitting .222 in 15 games at Triple-A.
Before his last start, Giants lefty Drew Pomeranz had elevated his arm slot just a touch. The difference was immediate. After five games where he didn’t pitch more than 4 2/3 innings and posted a 15.60 ERA, he went five shutout innings and allowed just three hits against Los Angeles on June 7.
Bochy is hoping for more of the same.
“I thought it really helped his command, with that slot up a little bit from where he was,” Bochy said. “The breaking ball was staying on the plane of the strike zone a little bit longer. I think that’s helped him, and you go out there and throw the ball like that after making a little tweak, you’re going to stay with it. That’s what we’re looking for.”
Bochy was supposd to go to Thursday’s Game 6 of the NBA Finals, but his youngest son, Brett, came up for a last-minute visit with his daughter. Bochy’s older son, Greg, was already in town, and there wound up not being enough tickets for the whole group of 12 Bochys. They still watched the game on television.
“Great game, wasn’t it?” he said. “It’s still amazing what the Warriors have done, and they were close to making another great comeback.”
On the topic of family, Bochy is a member of an exclusive club: He’s the only manager in Major League history born in France — his father, Gus, was stationed in Bussac-Forêt, Charente-Maritime as a U.S. Army NCO at the time.
As such, he was approached by the French baseball governing body when the Giants were back east about possibly managing the French entrant into the World Baseball Classic qualifying tournament this coming fall. He’s thought about it, but not to the point where he’s been scouting possible roster additions.
As Bochy’s media scrum before Friday’s series opener with the Milwaukee Brewers settled down, he looked across the dugout to Hensley Muelens, the manager of the WBC Netherlands team, which includes players born in the Dutch Caibbean (Aruba, Curaçao, Sint Maartin, Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba). The conversation turned to the WBC, and Muelens called Bochy, “Frenchman.” Bochy raised both hands in mock surrender.
“You’ve got to qualify, first,” Muellens said, before intimating he’d beat Bochy head-to-head.
“Not if I have Hanny playing short, you won’t,” Bochy said, referencing former Giants infielder Alen Hanson as he poked a bit of fun at the loose participation rules of the tournament, where any American-born ballplayer with sufficient ancestry can play for a given team (for instance, Kevin Pillar, who is Jewish, could play for Team Israel). “Good ol’ Alen Hanson,” Bochy continued, “his great, great, great, great, great grandfather.”