ORACLE PARK — Even after Colorado Rockies pitcher German Marquez was blasted for eight runs on 10 hits in 4 1/3 innings by the punchless Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim last month, manager Bud Black still complemented his 24-year old right-hander’s poise. He said, at the time, that Marquez was turning into “one of the best pitchers in the National League.”
Through three starts this season, Marquez had averaged six innings per start, and though he had a fielding independent ERA of 4.70 — the highest of his career — he simultaneously had posted the best ERA of his short, four-year career at 3.00, and had fanned 16 in 18 innings.
“He’s good. We knew that coming into this game,” said San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy, who had to contend with Marquez on Sunday.
Against the Giants — a team that came in hitting just .208 — Marquez nearly pitched the second no-hitter in Rockies history — neither at Coors Field — and the first since Ubaldo Jimenez on April 17, 2010. For 7 1/3 innings, he allowed no hits, and just a single baserunner. He had to settle for a humble shutout, though, in a 4-0 win, Colorado’s only victory out of a four-game set against the San Francisco Giants.
“He throws and easy 97, he’s got a great slider, he was on top of his game,” Bochy said. “He really pounded the strike zone. When a guy throws that hard and throws a really good slider, you’ve really got your work cut out for you … He’s going to throw a lot of games like that. That’s how good his stuff is.”
The only hit against him came with one out in the eighth, when Evan Longoria grounded an 0-2 slider into left field for a single.
“We were in survival mode,” Longoria said. “Just try to get a hit for the morale of the team. Sometimes, you feel like you can win the game, and today, we hit some balls pretty hard throughout the course of the game, and nothing fell.”
The Giants (7-10), a team that, thanks to Kevin Pillar, had inched up from the No. 27 scoring offense in Major League Baseball to 26th in the last week, returned to the form that saw them score just five runs in the first four games of the season thanks to Marquez, who fanned nine and threw just 105 pitches, including 75 for strikes.
“He was throwing strikes with all of his pitches,” Longoria said. “He had a really good mix of the four-seamer and the two-seamer, commanding both. He threw a ton of strikes, and just mixing, mixing throughout the count. He didn’t really get into any patterns. He pretty much was strike one, every time, and he was just out of the zone or below the zone with two strikes, to induce swings.”
Marquez, who threw the first complete-game in the Major Leagues this season, also got the benefit of some stellar defense, including a lay-out dive from center fielder Ian Desmond to keep what was then a perfect game intact in the third — robbing Gerardo Parra of a sure double. He got help from Desmond again in the fourth, when he made a sliding grab in center to rob Joe Panik.
The only trouble Marquez faced was in the top of the sixth, when Pillar led off by taking a dose in the left elbow, breaking up the perfect game. He reached second on a one-out grounder by Pablo Sandoval, but was stranded on a deep drive to — who else? — Desmond, who speared a fly ball to deep left-center by Steven Duggar.
In the bottom of the eighth, Brandon Crawford led off with a hot shot to third that nearly ate up Arenado, but he was able to recover, barehand the ball and fire to first for the out. One batter later, Longoria snuck a grounder past a diving Arenado, who stayed on all fours well after the ball had reached left field, seemingly disappointed that he couldn’t keep the no-no intact.
He’d already done plenty, though, to help Colorado (4-12) salvage at least one game in the series, including drawing two walks from Giants starter Derek Holland, who wasn’t so much trying to pitch around him, as trying to keep him in check.
Holland went six and allowed at least one baserunner in every inning but the fourth, walking four and allowing four hits. Despite striking out five in his first four frames, couldn’t escape trouble. Holland got ahead of Arenado 2-2 with two outs in the third, but walked him on a couple of close calls, and allowed an RBI double to Trevor Story.
“They were very patient up there,” said Holland, who lasted six innings, but threw 101 pitches. “The thing that stands out the most is they got four walks. That’s something I don’t like, personally … I was very erratic. I definitely got ahead, but they worked the count.”
Arenado — owner of four straight seasons of 35 or more home runs — followed by hammering a 91.4-mph sinker that didn’t sink halfway up the left-center field bleachers. The 409-foot, three-run homer was his first of the season. Holland said that the pitch was “supposed to be” a sinker away.
“Obviously it was right down the middle, and he’s hands-down one of the best hitters in the game,” Holland said. “The execution is what you need right there in that situation, and the one guy you truly don’t want to beat you put the run up for them. I put that right there on a platter for him. It’s not what I wanted, clearly, but you’ve got to tip your hat to him … I got beat by one of the greatest hitters of all time, in my mind.”
San Francisco did come away with its first series win of the year, though, and now heads on a three-city, 10-day road trip to Washington, Pittsburgh and then Toronto, before returning home for a six-game homestand against the New York Yankees (April 26-28) and the rival Dodgers (April 29-May 1).