Rodríguez deals, bullpens locks up win as Giants bust slump

With his father, Hall of Famer Iván Rodríguez, looking on, Dereck Rodríguez put Cardinal after Cardinal down. Allowing just two runs on five hits, he utilized his trusty infield to notch 13 of his 20 outs on the night, including a pair of 6-4-3 double plays.

But St. Louis righty John Gant (ND, 2-3, 3.80 ERA) pitched just as well, also allowing two runs on five hits and leaving it up to the bullpens. Friday, the Giants (46-44) had the better ‘pen as Reyes Moronta (W, 5-1, 1.89 ERA), Tony Watson (H, 21, 1.46 ERA) and Will Smith (S, 3, 1.08 ERA) finished the Cards off (45-42) for the rookie.

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

Rodríguez (ND, 3-1, 3.09 ERA) struggled in the second when Jedd Gyorko knocked a one-out triple to right field, but 37,996 breathed a sigh of relief when the young starter induced a Paul DeJong grounder that he couldn’t have placed better if he did it himself. Brandon Crawford scooped it up and fired home with time to spare for Buster Posey who put the tag on Gyorko, erasing the threat on the fielder’s choice.

The sigh of relief was premature, however, as the Red Birds would score on a misstep in the second from Hanson, who was playing left field for just the ninth time in 33 games this season. Kolten Wong came up next and hit what looked like a routine a fly ball to left field, especially given Hanson’s speed. According to Baseball Savant, it was a ball that is caught 95 percent of the time but Friday night it fell in, scoring Gyorko from first.

The Giants took the run right back in the home-half of the inning without recording a hit. Crawford and Pablo Sandoval drew walks to lead off the inning. Crawford advanced to third on a lineout to right field from Joe Panik and scored when Gant’s first offering to Gorkys Hernández was a wild pitch.

Rodríguez appreciated his team’s ability to punch back immediately:

“It gives us a lot of confidence knowing that if we [as pitchers] give up one or two runs we’re probably gonna score them right back the very next inning. These guys do a great job of getting on base and moving guys over and scoring, so it’s a big push for us on the mound.”

He said he gets another boost of confidence from the outstanding work the infield does behind him. In the minors he was primarily a fly ball guy, so he was a little surprised to find out he induced a baker’s dozen of groundouts, saying he previously topped out at 10. Nevertheless, he is regularly awed and appreciative of the incredible plays they make::

“Those guys ‘Craw’ and Panik, turning those double plays, are unbelievable. I mean [the Cardinals] hit a ground ball today — I thought it gonna go and just get a force out at second — and they ended up turning it for two. It’s awesome having those two there, and the whole infield: [Brandon] Belt picking ’em up and Pablo sliding and doing all those plays back there. Having those guys back there gives you a lot of confidence.”

That infield took a major blow Friday, though. In the fourth inning, after singling on a line drive to left, Panik seemed to slow down between second and third on a Hernández double. Third base coach Ron Wotus was waving him home but Panik stopped short at third and was then pinch-run for by Austin Slater.

After the game the news was grave. Panik had strained his left groin on the base paths, according to manager Bruce Bochy:

“He did a pretty good job on it. We’re gonna get it examined [and get an MRI] tomorrow, but its a DL situation so we’ll huddle up here and talk about what move we’re gonna make.”

Sandoval, responsible for three of San Francisco’s 13 total infield assists at third, rewarded Rodríguez in the sixth giving him the lead on solo homer (7) to left, but “D-Rod” didn’t keep it long.

With two outs in the seventh, Rodríguez allowed a single to DeJong and a triple to right off Wong’s bat, tying it up, 2-2. At 90 pitches with the go-ahead run on third, Rodríguez’s night was over. Bochy hooked him for Moronta, who struck Harrison Bader out to strand Wong and get the Giants out of the jam.

Bochy was thrilled with Rodríguez’s Friday night performance:

“Dereck was outstanding, again. He’s just got great focus out there, he’s got a calmness about him and he can slow things down.”

He added:

“He’s a strong kid and he maintains his stuff late in the ballgame. He got a bad break there in that last inning with the ball that kicked off the wall, but he’s a guy that can maintain his stuff [and] his command late in the ballgame, and he’s got the strength and stamina to be one of those guys that, when he goes out there you’re comfortable that he’s gonna find a way to get you  deep in the ballgame.”

St. Louis pulled Gant after the sixth, putting John Brebbia (L, 1-2, 3.52 ERA) in to pitch the seventh. San Francisco took the opportunity to regain the lead on some small-ball. Hunter Pence grounded a pinch-hit single up the middle, Hanson bunted him to second and the Cards intentionally walked Posey to bring up the man who tends to come through in the clutch — Andrew McCutchen. As advertised, he lined a single to left to score Pence giving the Giants the 3-2 lead. San Francisco failed to add on but it didn’t matter.

Bochy talked about the importance of experience and doing the little things right:

“When you have the experience that we have on this club you know you’re gonna have to deal with some ups and downs, and they can handle it. …Right now we’re not clicking offensively so were gonna throw the ball well and find ways to score runs. That’s the type of game we have to play. Last night the game got away from us, but our game is playing well in close ballgames and that’s where experience comes in.”

Smith, who earned his third save in the last nine days Friday night, seems to have settled into the closer role.

Said Bochy:

“The way he’s throwing the ball, he’s gonna be the guy that we’ll use a lot in the ninth. He’s gonna need breaks, so we have some other good candidates [for that].”

Smith is just glad to back in the game after over year of rehab from Tommy John surgery:

“When you go to the pen you want to pitch in meaningful situations. I guess it is kinda cool being the ninth inning guy, especially at home. That was the first time doing it at home and the fans were nuts, which was kinda cool. …[but] we all kind of consider ourselves closers. You have closers in the sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth, one guy just happens to be the last guy to throw.”

For the foreseeable future, Smith is going to “the last guy to throw” for the Giants more often than not.

On Deck

Jeff Samardzija (1-4, 6.56 ERA) will make his first start since May 29, Saturday. He missed the first 18 games of the season to a right pectoral strain and was reactivated April 20 for eight starts before landing back on the disabled list with right shoulder tightness on May 30. In total, he has spent 53 of the team’s 90 games on the shelf. After four rehab starts with Triple-A Sacramento (0-2, 5.29 ERA), he will make his homecoming facing the Red Birds righty Carlos Martínez (5-4, 3.20 ERA).

The Giants have said someone in the rotation will move to the bullpen, but someone will also need to be moved from the 25-man and 40-man rosters to open up a slot for Samardzija’s return. Bochy said the announcement will not be made until early Saturday as the Giants brass “huddle” to factor in the sudden injury to Panik.

Notes

The Giants are 11 games into a 16-game stretch without a day off that ends June 12. Despite the long stretch without a day off, the Giants will benefit from a schedule that keeps them in the Pacific Time Zone from the opening of this homestand Friday, straight through to August 16, after which they fly to Cincinnati. … Voting for the All Star Game closed Thursday at 11:59 p.m. The results will be released Sunday at 4 p.m. on ESPN, but the last count showed Posey down by 8,218 votes to Cubs backstop Willson Contreras. Posey has played in every year’s All Star Game except 2014 since 2012. Crawford is a shoo-in for NL shortstop with over 2 million votes. … Immediately following the announcement on ESPN, polls will open for an additional fan vote to select one more player to complete the 32-man roster for each league. Fans will have a choice of five players for each league for the “Final Vote” and polls close Wednesday, July 11, at 4 p.m. … The Giants will be represented in the All-Star Futures game at Nationals Park Sunday at 1 p.m., by outfielder Heliot Ramos on the World Roster and right-handed pitcher Shaun Anderson on the U.S. roster.


Julie Parker is SFBay’s San Francisco Giants beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @InsideThePark3r on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of Giants baseball.