Going into the series opener against the Dodgers (43-21) at Oracle Park, Giants (26-36) southpaw Drew Pomeranz (W, 1-6, 7.16 ERA) was scuffling so bad that most of his outings were nothing short of cringeworthy.
But Pomeranz is looking to rebuild his career in San Francisco since being tossed aside by the Red Sox after a 2018 downturn in performance. And maybe it was the Giants-Dodgers rivalry in the air, or maybe something just clicked into place Friday, but Pomeranz went toe-to-toe with one of the best in the game and didn’t blink, handing Clayton Kershaw (L, 5-1, 3.18 ERA) his first loss of 2019 with a 2-1 win.
It seemed almost a cruel joke: Pitting a guy with an ERA over eight averaging 2.5 homers per nine against the Dodgers ace and a lineup who specializes in swatting homers.
But ahead of the series opener with LA, when asked what he wanted out of Pomeranz Giants manager Bruce Bochy was unequivocal:
“We want him to come out full throttle, somewhat under control obviously with the strike zone, but just be himself. He’s gotten away from that.”
And Pomeranz said he felt a lot more like himself in part because he had two extra days off between Friday and his last start and he spent that time working with pitching coaches to diagnose what was going wrong.
He said he moved his arm slot and release point up and it made all the difference in the world as exhibited by seven strikeouts, five of which were swinging. He said:
“I haven’t really been getting the swings, I wanted to on some stuff so I worked really hard on just committing to stay on top of the ball. I think my four-seam was better, my curveball was coming up and I was getting some swings that I haven’t gotten in a long time. I think that was huge to be able to work on something and bring it into the game like I did and get results pretty quickly.”
The first inning looked a lot like the first 10 outings of Pomeranz’s season. The only difference was he came out of it unscathed. In fact he struck out the side, he just happened to load the bases along the way. Bochy said the inning was pivotal:
“What a great job he did keeping his poise in that first inning, you know with the way things have gone [it] probably put a little added pressure on him [but] he made the pitches there to get out of that inning and to me that that was the ballgame there.”
After whiffing Chris Taylor, Pomeranz allowed a pair of singles and a walk to load the bases, and it seemed that even if he dug himself out of the mess, he would have to pay for it with a run or two.
“A lot of those situations this year just have not been going my way. It was really huge for me personally, just to get out of that and really huge for us to not have them on the board in the first inning.”
He said he took a different mental approach to the first-inning strife, which helped him avoid dwelling on negative outcomes and to stay focused and in the moment. He said:
“I think in some of my other starts I just kept getting really frustrated out there and kind of letting that get the best of me. This time I tried to just shrug it off and kind of forget what happened each pitch before and just focus on on the next one.”
Pomeranz would allow just one more hit through five innings, shutting Los Angeles out in his longest outing since he tossed six innings April 24 in his only other win of the season. If not for his 30-pitch first inning Friday night, he likely would have lasted another inning or two.
Kershaw, however, was muting the Giants offense with ease, too. They scattered five hits across the first five innings but couldn’t string anything together.
Finally it was Brandon Belt, in the No. 2 hole Friday, who sparked the rally despite entering the at-bat with a career 4-for-55 going against Kershaw. Belt said:
“I think I can help this team win no matter who’s out there on the mound. And I think you gotta you gotta keep that confidence.”
Ultimately it was his keen eye for balls and strikes in lieu of contact that got the rally started, and Belt delivered the following line about Kershaw deadpan:
“Yeah, it’s been a tough go against him, but what are you gonna do when a guy gets lucky 55 times?”
Then, with runners on first and second and Brandon Crawford at the plate, Kershaw airmailed a pitch well over the head of catcher Austin Barnes to move the runners up. The Giants didn’t waste the freebie. Crawford grounded to second, and Longoria beat the tag at home on the fielders choice.
Will Smith (S, 14, 1-0. 2.28 ERA) put a bow on Pomeranz’s gem with a 1-2-3 ninth.
The Giants have had a tendency to rise to the occasion against the Dodgers over the years regardless of how much they’re struggling against the rest of the league, something manager Bruce Bochy acknowledged ahead of Friday’s contest:
“I guess it’s probably the intensity that goes up a little bit, you know the rivalry between these two teams. Energy, excitement, but you know that should happen every game. It’s hard to make sense of it really to be honest with you, we have played some very tough games against them.”
Belt agreed that everything kind of gets turned up to 11 when the Dodgers come to town, but he wants to see that energy and intensity from his team facing every other club, too.
“The intensity level was raised during this game and we knew it was a big game for us and playing a big rival and a very good team and we knew we had to step up. So I think the thing to take away from this is we need to do that more often. We’ve got to take that into series against teams who aren’t the best teams in the league. And if we can do that, we can win a lot more ballgames.”
Jeff Samardzija (3-4, 3.61 ERA) will toe the rubber against southpaw Rich Hill (2-1, 2.25 ERA) in game two of three against the division rival Dodgers at Oracle Park. First pitch is scheduled for 4:15 p.m.
Bochy said Buster Posey, who was placed on the 10-day injured list Wednesday retroactively to June 2 for a right hamstring strain, stretched and threw with the team before Friday’s contest and is expected to take batting practice Saturday. The Giants expect him to return on schedule. …Travis Bergen started a rehab assignment after being placed on the 10-day IL with a left shoulder strain May 21. He pitched one scoreless inning in San Jose and is expected to have a few more outings before being reactivated.