AT&T PARK — In back-to-back starts against the Colorado Rockies earlier this summer, Chris Stratton couldn’t get out of the sixth inning.
The 28-year old righty, in his first full season in the majors, was battered, allowing 13 earned runs on 19 hits in 9 2/3 innings. After his second start — an 8-1 loss in Denver — he was sent down to Triple-A.
On Friday night, with the Giants laboring under the longest losing streak since the franchise moved west, Stratton made his first start against Colorado since being recalled. He threw his first career complete game — the third in the National League West this year — and shut out the Rockies, 2-0.
“My worry was that I saw all the guys high-fiving him after the eighth,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “I didn’t want him to think he was done. I didn’t think he was done.”
The same thing happened in the seventh inning on Aug. 27, when Stratton pitched eight shutout innings against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Once again, Stratton was dominant.
The Mississippi State product — who was sent down to the minors twice this season — threw the best game of his career, striking out seven and walking two, limiting the Rockies to just two hits.
“I’d say as much as anything, it was his fastball command to both sides,” Bochy said. “Really did a nice job with it. Both down and up, all four quadrants, really, he worked well. He mixed in the changeups and the occasional slider and curveball. Fastball had good life to it, good rising life to it. Spotted it very well tonight.”
Stratton helped the Giants avoid the franchise’s fourth losing streak of 12 games or more since 1883, and the longest since 1944.
“I thought I was done, but I’m glad [Bochy] gave me the chance to go out there and do it,” Stratton said. “It was something new. I hadn’t done it before.”
After a stellar first five starts — where he posted a 2.32 ERA — Stratton struggled through his next 13, posting an ERA of 6.17, capped by those disastrous outings against the Rockies. While there, he took instruction from former Giants World Series hero Ryan Vogelsong, who had experienced some of the same struggles with his delivery.
Since returning to the majors, Stratton has held opposing batters to a .168 batting average, with a 2.10 ERA in five starts across 34 1/2 innings of work.
“If you don’t believe in yourself, who can you believe in?” Stratton said. “I appreciate them sending me down and giving me some guidance there, and letting me work through some things. Hopefully, I continue to build on this, going into next year, as well.”
On Friday, Stratton allowed just one man to reach second base — Trevor Story in the second. Of his 114 pitches, 76 were strikes. He faced just five three-ball counts, and none in the final four innings.
Over the course of the 11-game losing streak — the longest since 1951 — San Francisco has hit a paltry .193 and averaged just 2.36 runs per game.
The offense wasn’t much better on Friday night, but against the National League West division leaders, it was enough, especially with the new-and-improved Stratton on the mound.
Not only did the Giants score, but they strung hits together to do it. San Francisco got back-to-back singles from Nick Hundley and Joe Panik in the second, and with Austin Slater at the plate, starter Tyler Anderson and catcher Drew Butera got their signals crossed. A first-pitch fastball sailed up and in, past Butera’s glove, moving both men over.
Three pitches later, Slater sent a bouncer up the middle, eluding diving shortstop Trevor Story for a two-run single. The last time the Giants scored three runs in an inning, it was against the Rockies on Sept. 3.
Still, After a wild pitch put men at second and third again, Gorkys Hernandez grounded out to second to end the inning.
Stratton cruised through the first five, striking out four and allowing just three baserunners, but got into a bit of trouble in the sixth. After Charlie Blackmon squirted a single to the left side of second against the shift, Stratton struck out D.J. LeMahieu before giving up a 1-2 meatball to Nolan Arenado. Only a leaping grab on the warning track by Gregor Blanco — playing Arenado deep — saved what was sure to be an RBI double. Stratton then easily retired David Dahl to end the frame.
“He’s known to do some of those things,” Stratton said.
Stratton retired the next 12 men after that squib single. After the final out — a fly out to Hunter Pence in left — the Giants came out to greet him on the mound. It wasn’t as raucous as a World Series celebration, but, Blanco said, it was almost as meaningful.
“It seems like we just won a World Series,” said Blanco, who has won two. “The feeling is amazing.”
As Stratton walked off the field, Blanco gave him a hug.
“I saw him struggle in Triple-A this year,” Blanco said. “We talked a lot, and now he’s here, and he pitched an unbelievable game. It was a huge win for us. You could see how excited everybody was.”