SAN FRANCISCO – For five innings Monday night, it seemed Ryan Vogelsong was edging away from the issues that led to his entering his start against the Washington Nationals with the highest ERA in baseball among qualified pitchers, and back into the form that made him an All-Star in 2011 and a key part of last year's World Series run.
Now Vogelsong's attempt at another turnaround is on hold for the near future. The Giants right-hander suffered a broken pitching hand when he was hit by a pitch on a swing in the fifth inning of the Giants' 8-0 win over the Nationals. He is scheduled to undergo surgery today and likely will miss at least four to six weeks, manager Bruce Bochy said.
Vogelsong said he suffered a dislocated joint on the knuckle of his right little finger and two fractures, one each above and below the knuckle. He was batting with two outs when he swung at an inside pitch and came away grimacing as the ball caught him squarely on the top of his hand. Vogelsong said he thought immediately the hand was broken.
"It stinks," Vogelsong said. "It stinks, especially because it's been so rough. To go out there and feel like my old self again, be throwing like that, it's tough."
Vogelsong, who came in with an 8.06 ERA in eight starts, retired the first eight hitters he faced. He stranded runners on first and second in both the third and fifth innings – a mark of his success last year, when opposing hitters batted just .227 against him with runners in scoring position. By completing five innings, he earned his second win of the season.
"It's really a shame because tonight was the Vogey that we know; it's the way he threw all of last year," Bochy said. "It's a tough one."
Bochy said the Giants had not yet discussed what to do with Vogelsong's rotation spot. He said long reliever Chad Gaudin is a candidate, but the Giants feel Gaudin is "pretty valuable in the bullpen."
Bochy said the Giants will know more about recovery time for Vogelsong following the surgery. Vogelsong, 35, said he thinks he'll be able to keep up with range of motion and arm strength exercises while the finger heals.
"I haven't really had it sink in yet," he said. "But I'll be back. No question about it."
Vogelsong, who Bochy said was waiting to congratulate the team in the clubhouse after the win, said he had been working with the Giants' staff to address a host of mechanical issues recently and Monday's start was "the best I've felt in a long time, from a mental aspect and physical aspect. It's a good place to start, I guess, when I come back."
Before the game, Bochy had said Vogelsong's main issue had been the one plaguing other members of the rotation recently as well as the starters who entered Monday with a 4.87 ERA, including 42 runs allowed in six games on their recent 1-5 trip.
Before this season, the last time a Giants rotation had as high an ERA through 40-plus games was in 2005, when a rotation that received 30 starts from Brett Tomko and 21 from Brad Hennessey had a 4.87 ERA through 41 games.
"I think more than anything it's command," Bochy said before the game. "We're just making too many mistakes. They know it."
Earlier this month, the Giants had talked with Vogelsong about scaling back the amount of work he was doing between starts to figure out what was behind his early struggles. Bochy said Monday that the advice could apply across the board for the rotation, which has carried the Giants into late October in two of the past three seasons.
"We rode them pretty hard last year, pitching them up to November," Bochy said. "It's a great group, a very hard-working group, and at times I do feel it's time to back off a little bit."
Right-hander Tim Lin-cecum, the lightning rod for rotation concern in 2012, said that while the starters hadn't huddled after the trip to discuss turning things around, "I think everyone kind of collectively knows what we need to do.
"We have each other to pick each other up," Lincecum said. "We dig deep.
"None of us are lacking in the fighting department. We've just got to know it's going to be a time thing – that we're going to come out of it, and we've just got to believe that we will."
The question now is how long it will be until Vogelsong can return to help them try.