ORACLE PARK — The San Francisco Giants, again, are trying to keep Pablo Sandoval’s bat in the lineup, and that means that Evan Longoria gets a day off. On Friday, Brandon Belt moved to left and Sandoval slotted in at first, hitting a clutch homer in the fourth inning to put San Francisco up 2-1.
“We want to get Pablo back out there,” Bochy said. “He did have the three hardest-hit balls we had last night.”
Sandoval’s first-inning double came out at 113 mph, a fifth-inning grounder came out at 104.6 and his homer had an exit velocity of 103.9. Beyond just the StatCast metrics, though, Sandoval is objectively the Giants’ most consistent bat. He’s hitting .289 on the year with a team-high nine home runs and 25 RBIs.
Here’s the wrinkle, though: Sandoval has a .350 batting average as a sub, and a modest .263 average in 26 games as a starter. His slash line in a reserve role is .350/.381/.675, while his slash line as a starter is .263/.301/.558.
Longoria will return to the lineup on Saturday, putting Sandoval back in the role of super-sub, which seems to be where he’s best suited.
Saturday will be a day off for catcher Buster Posey. Normally, with Madison Bumgarner slated to start as he is on Saturday, Posey would take the Friday night game off to start the Saturday day game. Bumgarner, though, has gotten comfortable enough with Stephen Vogt that there are no qualms about starting the former Oakland A’s All-Star against the Brewers (the last big league team he played for before arriving in San Francisco).
Another reason for the flip: The Giants had an open date on Thursday, so there was no reason to rest Posey two days in a row. Still, a day game after a night game, coming off the injured list, is a tough assignment, and one he won’t have to take.
“I didn’t want to push him coming off the hamstring,” Bochy said. “It was a little bit of a long game last night, as far as pitches. There are times when he’ll go a day game after a night game, but the early part of coming back, I didn’t want to do it.”
In Friday night’s series-opening win over the Milwaukee Brewers, Bochy tapped Mark Melancon to pitch the eighth inning.
Melancon — at one point signed to a hefty, four-year, $62 million contract to be the Giants’ closer — has done fine in his role this year as the middle-inning man, but the eighth inning spot has predominantly been Tony Watson’s (he has a 2.57 ERA in 21 eighth innings). Bochy wanted to give Watson — who had thrown three times in the previous four days — a blow. Melancon got two quick outs, then allowed two walks and a bleeder single, allowing a run but retiring Lorenzo Cain, leaving Christian Yelich on deck.
It worked out fine — the Giants had gotten a two-run insurance homer from Mike Yastrzemski in the seventh — but Watson will be back in his customary late-game slot on Saturday. The bullpen as a whole, however, will be a bit shorter, given the need to preserve arms as the Giants embark on the second of a 20-games-in-20-days stretch.
Closer Will Smith — who has thrown in three of the previous four games and save 17 straight to start the season — will likely get a rest, and instead, Sam Dyson will be called upon if the game is close in the ninth. It will depend on how the lineup is shaping up on the Brewers’ side, but it could be either Dyson or Reyes Moronta, who has a 3.03 ERA in 29 2/3 innings this season, but has appeared in the ninth inning just eight times in his career. He does, however, have a 1.80 ERA in five innings when pitching in the ninth.
“We’re trying to stay away from Smitty, but we’re waiting to hear back from him,” Bochy said. “Can’t tell you for sure if we’re going to use him or not.”
Watson will stay in the eighth.