SAN FRANCISCO -- Plugged into the rotation as a stopgap solution for Ryan Vogelsong and his fractured his pinkie finger, Chad Gaudin has now made seven starts for the Giants following their 2-0 win Friday night. In them, Gaudin has a 2.23 ERA in 40 1/3 innings -- including a 0.77 ERA over his last four starts -- and has allowed fewer hits (29) than he has strikeouts (35).
Friday night, which several Giants players acknowledged was a significant jumping-off point for the second half as they gained a game on the division-leading Diamondbacks, Gaudin threw seven scoreless innings, allowed three singles and struck out eight batters -- all on 92 pitches.
The question was posed to manager Bruce Bochy after the game -- when Vogelsong does return (and it sounds like that could happen as soon as the second week of August), can the Giants really take Gaudin out of the rotation if he's still pitching like this?
"We'll cross that bridge when we get to it," Bochy said. "He certainly has been consistent and it'd be hard to take him out the way he's throwing the ball. Once we get to a point where, say, Vogelsong's ready, we'll cross that bridge." That Gaudin started the first game after the break, Bochy acknowleged, was in part a vote of confidence in how consistent the right-hander has been. That began before he joined the rotation, when Gaudin made the team as a non-roster invitee to spring training as the long man in the bullpen. In 18 relief outings, he had a 2.01 ERA in 31 1/3 innings.
Gaudin equaled his season high Friday with the 92 pitches but said he "felt good" going into the seventh, an indication he's building his stamina back up after spending several seasons as a reliever. Those 92 pitches included 58 strikes and no walks, which closer Sergio Romo said is what impresses him most about Gaudin.
"Just how direct he is," Romo said. "It's, 'Here it is, this is what I have.' There's no gimmicks, no new pitches or anything. He's just going out really direct in his approach and aggressive in the strike zone. It's impressive to watch his confidence."
Gaudin said his "direct" approach comes from studying hitters and "having a good game plan -- just being sound in your mechanics and kind of knowing what you want to do before you go out there.
"It kind of takes the doubt out, and you can throw a pitch with 100 percent commitment," he said. Gaudin added that he has a lot of trust in Buster Posey behind the plate to settle on a pitch for him when there is any doubt.
Before Friday's game, Vogelsong and Bochy both pointed to Aug. 9, or thereabouts, as a possible return date for the right-hander. Gaudin said though he prefers starting, he would accept going back to the bullpen with no complaints. At the moment, though, he is one of the Giants' most reliable rotation members. On the other end of the spectrum is Barry Zito, who has a 9.89 ERA on the road this season and behind whom the Giants are 1-7 in his last eight outings.
As Bochy said, the Giants don't have to make that call for a while yet. But they'll keep taking these kinds of outings from Gaudin, the journeyman who Friday night threw seven scoreless innings for the first time since June 28, 2009, when he was pitching for the Padres against the Texas Rangers.
"It's great -- I put a lot of time and effort and work into having a good craft, pretty much dedicated myself to being better and staying consistent," Gaudin said. "It's kind of surprising, but at the same time I kind of expect it of myself."
* Bochy said before the game that he'd rather have his players focusing on the game at hand than thinking they need to win a series from the Diamondbacks or post a certain record on this homestand. Still, with 10 games at home to start the half and the trade deadline looming, it's pretty clear this stretch is going to be key to how the Giants might set up for a potential late-summer run.
"We understand there's a lot of games to play and what Bochy's trying to say is ... we can't keep looking ahead of ourselves and what could lie ahead of us as a team," Romo said. "But today was a great way to start the second half. We just gained a game on our division leaders."
That's what it's all about for the Giants right now -- chipping away. Friday night, they used a familiar formula of strong pitching and just enough offense, with both their runs coming in the first inning off Arizona right-hander Ian Kennedy.
Buster Posey drove in Gregor Blanco with a one-out double off the wall in left-center. Hunter Pence then singled with two outs to drive in Posey from third. It was Pence's third hit in his last 29 at-bats with a runner in scoring position.
The Giants only had two more runners reach second base, and they were 0-for-6 in their subsequent at-bats. But Gaudin made it stand up for seven, Romo pitched the ninth for his 22nd save, and Bochy used four different pitchers to bridge the eighth-inning gap between them. It trimmed the Giants' deficit in the West to 5 ½ games.
"It's big," shortstop Brandon Crawford. "It's a big series, I think, for us to start out hot and gain some momentum in the second half, especially against the team that's in first place."
* The pitcher who got the final out in that eighth was Santiago Casilla, who retired Paul Goldschmidt on a fielder's choice with the bases loaded. Casilla had just walked Aaron Hill to load the bases, but got ahead of Goldschmidt 1-2 before the Diamondbacks' top hitter sent a one-hopper to Crawford to end the inning.
It's just the second outing since returning from the DL for Casilla, whom Bochy said he would've liked to ease back into things a little. But after the Diamondbacks put runners on first and second with two outs with two right-handers coming up, and Sandy Rosario already out of the game, Bochy turned to his established late-inning option.
"You wanted to maybe take it easy, not bring him into the eighth inning of a tight game," Bochy said. "(But) we have a pretty good guy out there we can bring in who's been our eighth-inning guy, so I had no problem bringing him into tonight's game.'
Bochy wore out the path between the dugout and the mound in the eighth, making three pitching changes. Javier Lopez, Jose Mijares and Casilla each recorded an out. Rosario allowed a single to the only batter he faced. Bochy said the bullpen being rested after the All-Star Break let him match up more than he normally would in the inning
* Kensuke Tanaka's transition to left field continues. Tanaka overran a fly ball down the line from Goldschmidt in the fourth inning Friday but made a nice adjustment reaching back to make the catch while going into a slide. It wasn't an easy play and it earned the erstwhile second baseman a wave of "oohs" when the videoboard showed a replay.
Tanaka came out of the game in the seventh, though, for a defensive replacement. Gregor Blanco shifted over from center field to left, with Andres Torres coming in to play center.
* Crawford said he was OK after trying to slide feet-first into first base in the eighth and getting his left foot stepped on by Arizona reliever Heath Bell, who was coming over to tag him. Crawford said he expects to be sore for a couple days but hopes it's "something that'll just clear up."
To illustrate, Crawford held up his cleat, which had a hole on top.
* A cool pre-game moment: Longtime Giants broadcaster Lon Simmons, who turned 90 years old Friday, throwing out the first pitch. Simmons, wearing a Giants jacket with the number 90 on the back, received a loud ovation before delivering the pitch from just in front of the mound on a couple bounces to Sergio Romo.
* The Giants also recognized Tim Lincecum in their first home game since his no-hitter in San Diego last week with a video montage of the game before the top of the second inning. Lincecum got a standing ovation as he came to the front of the dugout and tipped his cap twice to the crowd.
No doubt they'll show their appreciation again Monday when Lincecum makes his first start of the second half in the Giants' series opener against the Reds.
* Matt Cain makes his first appearance in Saturday's 6:05 p.m. start since having the shortest outing of his career (2/3 of an inning) in the Giants' 7-2 loss to the Mets on July 10. If the Giants need one member of their rotation to get back to his normal self in the second half, it's probably Cain, who went 5-6 with a 5.06 ERA in his first 19 starts. Those aren't numbers the Giants expect to see from their staff ace, and Cain surely feels the same way.