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Led by dominant Rodríguez, Giants earn split with Pirates

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San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Dereck Rodriguez (57) throws a pitch in the first inning as the San Francisco Giants face the Oakland Athletics at Oakland Coliseum in Oakland, Calif., on Friday, July 20, 2018.

Dereck Rodríguez looks more and more like a veteran ace every time he gets on the mound. Surprising none of the 41,980 at AT&T Park Sunday, he produced yet another quality start, something the Giants have come to count on from the rookie.

This time around, the San Francisco bats gave him the offensive support he deserved, tagging Pirates righty Joe Musgrove (L, 4-7, 3.49 ERA) for four runs (three earned) on seven hits. Joe Panik and Nick Hundley split the afternoon’s RBIs, two apiece, guiding Rodríguez (W, 6-1, 2.25 ERA) and the Giants (59-60) to a 4-3 victory and four-game split with Pittsburgh (61-58).

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

Rodríguez now ranks fifth in ERA among starters who have pitched at least 80 innings and he’s in pretty good company, ranking behind Jacob deGrom (1.77), Chris Sale (2.04), Blake Snell (2.18) and Trevor Bauer (2.22) — each of whom appeared in this season’s All-Star game.

Giants manager Bruce Bochy has been blown away by the talent the Giants found in the 26-year-old former outfielder:

“You look at how consistent [Rodríguez] has been, you look at the numbers, and I think without question he’s gonna be in that talk and consideration [for Rookie of the Year]. We have a lot of baseball left and he’s doing all he can do and more than we thought. I mean we knew he’d be pretty good, but he’s exceeded that.”

But despite the dazzling and consistent numbers, Rodríguez has put up in 80 innings this year and the success he’s achieved in his own right since being promoted to the Show, he continues to deal with being overshadowed by his Hall of Fame father Iván ‘Pudge’ Rodríguez.

In every interview the younger Rodríguez gave in June, he was peppered with the same questions about his relationship with his father, over and over. And because he’s a friendly, well-spoken guy who’s been experiencing this for 26 years now, he’s  patiently answered these same questions over and over without complaint. Even the ones that subtly, or not-so-subtly credit his father with the success for which he has worked so hard.

But with a couple of months of service time under his belt, those questions are starting to become a little bit fewer and further between and tend to come from reporters who are just dropping in to cover one game. It’s been a welcome development:

“I’ve been waiting for that my whole life, to be honest with you, to be my own player. I knew it was gonna happen when I came up, everybody going ‘Oh, son of Pudge’ and stuff, but I’m just happy [that] slowly but surely I’m starting to separate myself from him a little bit more.”

Rodríguez allowed just two hits Sunday, a season best as a starter, and one run, with all of that action unfolding in the second inning.

Hundley has been equally floored by the rookie right-hander’s performance since rising to the big leagues in late May.

“Everything [about Rodríguez has impressed me] — his poise his ability to get outs when he doesn’t have his ace stuff — he wasn’t as crisp as he has been [today] — but he went seven innings, gave up one run, threw the ball great and competed in a game we really needed to have. He went out there and got it done.”

The two hits “D-Rod” allowed against the Pirates, each doubles, came on a first-pitch 90-mph fastball to Josh Bell that caught too much plate leading off the second, and an 84-mph changeup finishing an eight-pitch battle with Elias Diaz ending in a one-out RBI. But that was it. Even with his curveball not up to par, he compensated with no problem and a mix of fastballs, cutters and changeups kept the Bucs off-balance.

In his final inning, Rodríguez remained effective requiring just nine pitches to close Pittsburgh down in the seventh.

One thing Bochy has been particularly impressed with is that five years ago Rodríguez was an outfielder in the Twins minor league system. In 2014 he started pitching (in 29 innings as a reliever he had a 2.12 ERA) and never looked back:

“That’s whats really impressive, [he’s] a converted guy, and how quick he picked up the art of pitching: creating doubt in hitters’ mind, his command, his comfort out there throwing any pitch, he does a good job of fielding his position, he holds runners he does all the little things that you like in a starter.”

Until Rodríguez left Sunday’s game, the Giants’ four runs appeared more than enough. At 101 pitches though, he was done for the day and Bochy replaced him with Reyes Moronta. The young right-hander’s effort was quickly endangered, though. And not for the first time this year. In 14 starts he’s allowed more than two earned runs just twice, though the finale with the Pirates marked just his sixth win.

Moronta walked Adam Frazier on four pitches to start the inning and gave up a single to Jordy Mercer. He struck out pinch-hitter David Freese, and with lefty Corey Dickerson coming up the skipper liked a matchup with Tony Watson better. But after striking Dickerson out he faced right-hander Starling Marte and allowed a double to score both inherited runners and put Pittsburgh within a run, 4-3. Watson induced a harmless fly out to get out of the inning with the lead in tact, though.

Will Smith (S, 9, 2.11 ERA) earned his seventh save in a drama-free ninth, striking out two to give the Giants a split of the series.

With another gem under his belt, Rodríguez said that he does take a moment after each start to reflect on the fruits of his labor, but he doesn’t let it distract him:

“From where I was this time last year to where I’m at this year—it’s a big change—but you know, I soak it in for a day or two, then I throw my bullpen and it’s back to my next start.”

On Deck

The Giants fly to Los Angeles Monday to play a three-game series against the Dodgers who are tied for first place with the Diamondbacks. It will be duel between aces in game one as Madison Bumgarner (4-4, 2.69 ERA) will go head-to-head with Clayton Kershaw (5-5, 2.58 ERA). The Dodgers will put Alex Wood (7-6, 3.58 ERA) on the mound to face Andy Suárez (4-8, 4.64 ERA) in game two, and  Hyun-Jin Ryu (3-0, 2.12 ERA) will take on Derek Holland (6-8, 3.97 ERA) in the finale.

Notes

Brandon Belt plays in his second rehab game with Triple-A Sacramento Monday. According to Bochy, he will likely rejoin the team in LA Tuesday. With an abysmal record against Kershaw, waiting an extra day seemed logical. … Bochy said Mac Williamson may have played his last game this season after suffering concussion symptoms yet again in Sacramento. He sustained a concussion crashing into the wall near the home dugout in San Francisco earlier this year. … Jeff Samardzija will throw 40 pitches to hitters Monday in Los Angeles, and if all goes well he will commence his rehab. … Dodgers lights-out closer Kenley Jansen has been sidelined until at least mid-September as he undergoes treatment for an arrhythmia. In his stead the Dodgers Ross Stripling and Kenta Maeda have moved to the bullpen.


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.

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