He’s the best pitcher on a rival team, so Clayton Kershaw-ownage bragging rights are a hot commodity in the San Francisco Giants’ clubhouse.
As of now, the throne belongs to Madison Bumgarner, a title he captured with a career four hits, including two home runs against the rival ace. It’s something he holds above his fellow rotation-mates in pre-game batting practice, laughed rookie Ty Blach at the team’s media day Friday at AT&T Park:
“Bum is the biggest trash talker, for sure.”
Blach might have earned some extra smack from Bum and the veteran rotation behind him after his whirlwind debut:
- 1.06 ERA in four games, including two starts
- One eight-inning, three hit shutout against Kershaw himself and the Dodgers in Game 161 of the Giants’ breathless Wild Card finish.
- 2-1/3 innings of shutout ball against the eventual World Series champs in the NLDS, including a win he earned with two-innings of extra-inning work in Game 3.
- A 2-for-3 average against Kershaw himself.
As for that last point, a few credible voices in his head helped, Blach said:
“I took some advice from Bum on trying to hit Kershaw. Obviously I haven’t had as much success, I haven’t hit a ball over the wall. It’s more about mindset with him. Just going out there, you gotta want it, you got to attack and not let them dictate it.”
Blach’s late-season success grew out of his sponge-like attention to the success around him.
Guys like Jake Peavy, Javier Lopez and Matt Cain advised the 26-year-old rookie to trust the pieces around him: the Gold Glove defense behind him, the MVP catcher in front of him know the opposition better than most. He worked at his own pace—fast and aggressive—but let the vets around him fill in the gaps.
Blach’s words after his eight-inning gem against the Dodgers ring loud: he didn’t shake Posey off once.
Come Spring, Blach the student will be the frontrunner to contest the longest-tenured Giant, Matt Cain, for the rotation’s loose fifth spot.
Cain’s flight since signing an eight-year, $139.75 million contract after his All-Star 2012 season has plummeted. Injuries and resulting surgeries have kept the one-time ace off his top rock.
Since the beginning of 2013, Cain has boasted a 4.64 ERA and tallied just 16 wins compared to his 3.27 ERA, 85-win ascent. In 2016, Cain didn’t get his first win until May and lost his starting spot for all of September and October.
Injuries have saddled and ultimately crippled Cain’s attempts to regain his stride, which makes the front office reluctant to count him out, said GM Bobby Evans:
“In a perfect world, Matt Cain would be Matt Cain.”
The Giants have long favored the veterans when it comes to the 25-man roster, and Evans acknowledged that loyalty:
“We have to give Cain a chance relative to what he’s accomplished.”
Cain will join a healthy Giants squad in Arizona hoping to prove that Matt Cain is back, or at least flash a signal that the possibility remains.
Now the question holds: Who will replace Cain in the rotation should history repeat itself?
Blach’s competence against the Dodgers and under pressure, his mid-90s fastball paired with an ability to locate it, (his .668 average against Kershaw) might have pushed him as Cain’s likely Spring Training competition.
The five-spot battle is not something Blach and Cain have openly discussed, but this kind of competition keeps the clubhouse close-knit, said Blach:
“It’s one of those things. We love that competition. It’s gonna be fun no matter what happens.”
Blach looked Major League ready amid the season’s most high-stakes games, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if Bruce Bochy, at least, fills Blach into the long-reliever spot. Anything’s possible, the manager said:
“I don’t think theres a case where we’re leaning one way or the other. We’ll see how it plays out…We have seven weeks to answer that.”