Next week in Los Angeles, the San Francisco Giants will face three left-handed starters — Clayton Kershaw, Alex Wood and Hyun-Jin Ryu — in three games against the division-leading Dodgers. Just a month ago, that would have meant three very low-scoring affairs: As of July 4, the Giants were hitting just .242 against lefties.
With the return of Evan Longoria (.318 vs. LHP) to the lineup on July 26, plus the addition of young Austin Slater (.361 vs. LHP) — who is hitting second in the series finale against the Pirates on Sunday — those numbers have begun to normalize. The Giants are now hitting .249 against lefties as a whole (though .233 against left-handed starters).
Still, Bruce Bochy won’t be sadistic enough to re-insert Brandon Belt into the lineup on Monday against Clayton Kershaw, against whom he’s hitting .074 in 57 plate appearances, with 28 strikeouts. Belt, coming off a knee injury, played five innings and went 0-for-2 with Triple-A Sacramento on Saturday, with another two rehab games set for Sunday and Monday, before he returns to the team in Los Angeles. Just in time to miss Kershaw.
Also returning — at least in some capacity — in Los Angeles will be Jeff Samardzija. He’s not ready to re-join the team in an active role, but he will throw a 40-pitch bullpen on Monday.
After a spring training right pectoral strain, Samardzija missed 18 games at the start of the season, and 35 more after he tried to return. He went down on July 14 when he had trouble staying loose in a start against Oakland, where he allowed two runs on three hits in four innings.
“Just [want him] show that he’s free and easy with the delivery, which he was last bullpen, so I expect it to go well,” Bochy said. “I know he’s going to be excited, because he’s getting close to coming back to pitching in a game, and I know it’s been a frustrating year for him. But, I will say, this time around, it does look a lot better.”
As of now, the fifth starter in the Giants rotation is “TBD,” according to Bochy, but Casey Kelly could get a nod. He threw five innings of scoreless relief against the Pirates on Saturday. He was a candidate to start that game, before Ty Blach was tapped. Blach allowed four runs, including three on one swing of the bat — a fourth-inning Josh Bell homer.
“Blachy actually threw the ball a lot better than what happened. One hard-hit ball, the home run that did damage. I thought he got swings and misses and everything, and strikeouts, he had good stuff. Made a mistake there with that count. It was good to see Kelly come in and do what he did and save the pen.”
Like Sunday’s starter Dereck Rodriguez, Kelly is a former position player who has made his way through the organization as a pitcher.
“Similar, similar. Both signed as position players, converted guys, and both are complete pitchers,” Bochy said. “Four-pitch guys that know what they’re doing, and do the little things. They’re good athletes. They are similar guys.”
Like Rodriguez, Kelly is also son of a former big league catcher, in his case Pat Kelly, who is currently a bench coach in Cincinnati, which just so happens to be one of the three cities on the Giants’ next road trip.
“I know Pat well,” Bochy said. “Pat was in San Diego down when I was there.”
The Dodgers series pitching matchups set up like so:
Monday: Madison Bumgarner vs. Clayton Kershaw
Tuesday: Andrew Suarez vs. Alex Wood