Hwang powers Giants to victory, sweep over Rocks

In the team’s traditional spring training introduction circle, rookie Jae-gyun Hwang showed his new teammates a video of his patented bat flips, perfected over nine years in the Korean Baseball Organization.

His San Francisco Giants teammates, in jest, explained that extravagant flips were frowned upon on American soil.

Wednesday afternoon, the rookie punished a 2-0 fastball 108 mph into the left field bleachers, extended his arm, paused to watch, and let the bat just drop. Hwang kept his cool. He’d just notched his first major league hit and secured the Giants’ win all with one swing, bat flip not even a thought, he said through his interpreter Mark Kim:

“When it comes to bat flips you can’t plan it … I don’t even remember what I was thinking.”

His teammates were the ones who let loose once he returned to the dugout, said Hwang:

“They were all very excited for me, I could tell by how they were hitting the back of my helmet.”

This story has been updated with quotes and post-game material from the Giants clubhouse at AT&T Park.

Cheers from a celebratory beer shower permeated through the clubhouse walls. The shower was for Hwang, but some of that pent-up elation went beyond that. Hwang’s two RBI game led the Giants (30-51) to a 5-3 win over the Colorado Rockies (47-34), securing their first sweep of the year. Manager Bruce Bochy smiled yet again:

“They were so excited for him. They all know what he’s been through — giving up baseball in Korea to be here and fulfill his dream, and he hits a home run.”

Most of the starters got a much-deserved break on the back-end of a near five-hour marathon win Tuesday. For the Giants to get their first sweep, the bench would have to parlay their rested muscles and fresh night of sleep into a final kick.

Hwang’s energy, fueled by opportunity nearly swallowed by sacrifice, started the engines. He notched his first big league RBI — cutting the Giants’ first-inning 2-0 deficit — with a sharp ground ball that bounced off pitcher Kyle Freeland‘s glove. He nearly beat it out for his first big league hit, but he was saving that milestone for a bigger moment.

Nick Hundley, in for a resting Buster Posey, blasted a hanging curveball for a go-ahead two-run bomb in the fourth. Before Wednesday, the Giants had hit just two home runs over their last 14 games. Suddenly they had two in a day.

The pair of Giant home runs resurrected a bumpy start for Ty Blach. The lefty struggled to find his fastball command early. His two throwing errors led to a Nolan Arenado two-run single in the first inning and game-tying Mike Tauchman single in the sixth. He was thankful for his teammates’ power surge, particularly Hwang’s go-ahead sixth-inning blast:

“I made a stupid play on a throw that cost myself a run — for (Hwang)to do that was big.”

Blach (W, 5-5, 4.60 ERA) let early struggles bury his last start against the Mets. But he escaped Wednesday with the pair of his own errors blemishing his one-earned run outing. Blach found his stride and worked his changeup, striking out six Rockies through 6-1/3 innings.

Of the start, Bochy said:

“He wasn’t quite as sharp with his command … but we tried to squeeze every out of him that we could because of the bullpen situation.”

Blach kept the tired bullpen out of mind:

“If you think ‘I have to get deep,’ that’s when things get out of control.”

Reliever Dan Slania, called up Wednesday, arrived mid-game from Trenton, NJ., so the bullpen wasn’t as short as it was at first pitch — now he’ll be traveling all the way back to the east coast in the next few hours with a few hours of AT&T time under his belt.

Still, Bochy played it safe. George Kontos dealt a shutout 1-1/3 innings of relief and became the second reliever to take an at-bat in the last 24 hours. Like Cory Gearrin, he struck out — just with a little less enthusiasm.

Steven Okert and Hunter Strickland (S, 1, 2.25 ERA) finished off the game with a shutdown 1-2/3 innings, extending the bullpen shutout streak to 14 innings.

Up next 

The Giants will have a day off then head to Pittsburgh and then Detroit for their final road trip of the first half.

Notes

Mark Melancon pitched a pristine ninth Tuesday, but was placed back on the 10-day disabled list with a right pronator strain. Dan Slania’s contract was purchased. … Hwang became the 14th Giant homering for his first major league hit, joining a list that includes the most recent additions of Adam Duvall and Brandon Crawford.


Shayna Rubin is SFBay’s San Francisco Giants beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @ShaynaRubin on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of Giants baseball.