DETROIT — The San Francisco Giants have been one of the worst teams in baseball since the beginning of the second half last season. On Wednesday, they did what they hadn’t done since July 3, 2016: Secure a winning road trip.
They did it by beating the Detroit Tigers, 5-4.
“It’s just nice to see us playing like we’re capable of playing, guys doing what we thought they would do,” manager Bruce Bochy said after the game.
Tigers starter Daniel Norris has struggled all season to keep runners off the basepaths. He carried a 1.62 WHIP (walks+hits per innings pitched) — the eighth worst in the MLB of pitchers who have thrown at least 70 innings — into his start against the Giants.
That traffic was converted into runs on Wednesday.
In the third, Kelby Tomlinson started the rally with a leadoff single. He eventually scored when Hunter Pence ripped a pitch off Norris, who struggled hauling it in, allowing the bespectacled utility player to plate the first run of the game. After intentionally walking Buster Posey, Jae-gyun Hwang ripped a single to center to drive in another score.
“He’s a smarter hitter than you would think for a guy who hasn’t spent a lot of time over here,” a prescient Bruce Bochy said of Hwang pregame. “He figures out what they’re trying to do with him and he’ll go the other way.”
One inning later, it was the bottom of the San Francisco order that kept applying pressure. Nick Hundley’s double was cashed in by a two-out single by Brandon Belt. Pence mashing a triple one hitter later cleared the bases to peg starter Ty Blach to a 5-0 lead.
Four of the Giants’ first five runs were scored with two outs and Norris wouldn’t return for the fifth.
“That’s what we were missing when we were struggling. If you look at our two-out RBI numbers, they’re not very good,” Bochy said. San Francisco has the second-worst rate of scoring runs with two outs in the MLB.
Giants starter Ty Blach, drafted a year after Norris in 2012, saw his dominant outing weakened in the bottom of the seventh, when the Detroit offense came to life with three-straight hits to start the frame. Before then, they’d been limited to four total baserunners.
“We just wanted to go out and attack those guys, get ahead early and be able to change speeds, keep them off balance,” he said. “We were able to do that, get some early contact, get some early outs.”
Blach finished with two strikeouts. He has the lowest K/9 rate of qualified pitchers in the league, but has remained a solid option for the Giants at the back end of the rotation.
It took three San Francisco relievers to get out of the frame. When they did, the Giants’ lead had been trimmed to one.
Hunter Strickland commanded the eighth. The polarizing righty worked around a two-out double by Victor Martinez to earn his eighth hold of the season.
Sam Dyson came in for the ninth with Mark Melancon still on the disabled list with a forearm issue. The righty acquired after the Texas Rangers designated him for assignment needed just seven pitches to end the contest.
“It’s good to see him get on track and throw the ball like he did last year, the way he can,” Bochy said. “It’s been a great move for us.”
Bumgarner rehabs in San Jose
Madison Bumgarner was scheduled to throw 75 pitches for five innings with the Single-A San Jose Giants on Wednesday.
He lasted four frames, allowing nine runs on nine hits with five strikeouts and a walk.
Bochy said before his team played the Tigers that a return date of July 15 remains a “possibility” for Bumgarner.
“We’re going to talk about it after he pitches and see what we’re going to do at that point,” Bochy said. “So far, it’s all been good.
“Right after the break, we think he’ll be ready to go.”