SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants decided against a roster overhaul after last year’s 76-86 finish, with their major offseason moves instead consisting of bringing in a 38-year-old starting pitcher coming off ankle surgery and a 32-year-old left fielder who hit .215 last season and had wrist surgery over the winter.
And how’s that working out?
Tim Hudson improved to 4-1 with a 2.17 ERA by coming within one out of a complete game in the Giants’ 3-2 win over the Padres on Wednesday night. While the Giants went 17-11 in April, their five primary starters accounted for just seven wins. Four belonged to Hudson.
Wednesday night was arguably his best outing yet, as he held the Padres scoreless for the first seven innings and threw just 89 pitches to get 26 outs. He was one strike away from completing the game when Yasmani Grandal hit a cutter into McCovey Cove to pull the Padres within one and bring Bruce Bochy reluctantly out of the dugout to get Hudson.
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"I wanted him to get that complete game as much as anybody," Bochy said.
Hudson, who had a rueful look on his face as Grandal circled the bases, blamed himself for shaking off catcher Buster Posey. He said Posey called for a fastball; Hudson shook him off and threw a cutter.
"Didn’t cut too much," Hudson said. "Cut into his barrel, that’s about it."
You’d be hard-pressed to find many more mistakes in Hudson’s night. He walked none and finished April with a 31-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He allowed just one baserunner with less than two outs in the first seven innings. He joined Johnny Cueto and Adam Wainwright as the only pitchers in the majors this season to throw at least seven innings in each of their first six starts.
"Just put on a clinic," Bochy said. "If you had to watch a game and say this is how you want to pitch, I think tonight’s game would’ve been that. He kept the ball down, got his ground balls, attacked the hitters."
Hudson threw 67 of his 89 pitches for strikes. Cameron Maybin scored the Padres’ lone run before the ninth when he led off the eighth with a double and scored on a groundout. Hudson left the mound to a standing ovation after the eighth and returned to another one beginning the ninth, with the Giants’ PA system playing Cake’s "Going the Distance."
Hudson struck out Will Venable and got some help from second baseman Brandon Hicks -- another newcomer this season -- when Hicks dove to rob Seth Smith of a single for out number two. With closer Sergio Romo warming in the bullpen, though, Bochy said there were no second thoughts about leaving Hudson in after Grandal’s home run.
"I was going to let Huddy go through the left-handed hitters there, and once (Grandal) hit the home run I knew I had Serge ready and the matchup I wanted," Bochy said. "It would have been nice to get the complete game, but at the same time you’ve got your guy ready down there and you’re getting him ready for a reason."
Romo retired pinch hitter Chris Denorfia on a groundout to end the game. Said Hudson: "It’s definitely the right call, for sure. Obviously it was an economical night, but we need to win the ballgame, and when they cut it to a one-run game you need to get somebody in there they hadn’t seen."
Economical may be an understatement about the 2-hour, 17-minute affair. Posey said he didn’t even feel as though he’d caught nine innings. The Giants threw 94 total pitches.
"You catch that many pitches in four or five innings sometimes," said Posey, who added regarding Hudson’s pace: "I love it."
Hudson is averaging a shade under 12.5 pitches per inning this season. He said he wasn’t aware of the number, but feels he’s pitching to a normal pace for him.
"When you’re going out there and pounding the strike zone, you can have nice, quick innings," he said. "And on the same token, you can have some innings where you give up a couple doubles in a span of about four, five pitches. So for me, I’ve just been on the good end of it, making some pitches and getting some quick outs.
"I think it’s unrealistic to think it’s going to be like this all year," he said. "But I’m going to do all I can to try to keep it going all year."
Hudson now gets a chance to go back to Atlanta, where he spent the past nine seasons and where the Giants begin a three-city road trip Friday, without having to worry about preparing for a start against his former teammates. He said he’s OK with not pitching in the series -- it’ll give him time to catch up with family and friends.
The last time he pitched in a Braves uniform, a freak play covering first base left him on the ground with a devastating, season-ending injury to his right ankle. That was in July, and there were no guarantees, even when the Giants signed Hudson to a two-year deal over the winter, that he would come back the same pitcher as before.
Hudson was aware.
"I was determined coming into this year to prove something to myself and a lot of people that may not have thought I could come back from that injury at 38 years old," he said.
"I think I feel pretty good about where I’m at and what I’ve been able to do this month. Obviously it’s just the first month of the season, there’s a lot of season left. But I’m happy with how things went this month, and hopefully I can keep things going into next month and on into the rest of the season."
* About those other new guys
Michael Morse staked Hudson to a 1-0 lead in the first with an RBI double that gave the left fielder 20 RBIs on the season. According to the Giants, Morse is their fourth player in the last decade to have 20 RBIs before May 1, the others being Pablo Sandoval (who had 22 RBIs in 2013), Moises Alou (24 in 2006) and Pedro Feliz (22 in 2005).
When batting with two outs and runners in scoring position this season, Morse is 6-for-13 with 11 RBIs.
Meanwhile, second baseman Brandon Hicks hit his fifth home run of the year leading off the second and made several nice defensive plays behind Hudson, who got 15 ground-ball outs in the game. Four of Hicks’ home runs have come as a second baseman; Giants second basemen last season combined for four homers all year.
Friday’s Bee will have a story on Hicks, who has homered in three of his last four games, but here’s what he said when asked Tuesday if he has gone through stretches like this in the past of driving balls consistently in the air: "Yeah, the past probably two, three years I have. Whenever I get that kind of feeling I’ve been able to keep it going for a little while. So I’m hoping to keep doing that."
Morse, by the way, already has more home runs (six) than the Giants got from their left fielders in all of 2013. So yes, through a month of the season, it’s safe to say that those additions are looking pretty good.
* And about this month, the Giants finish April with 17 wins, their most in the season’s opening month since 2003, when they won 19 games.
Their starters as a unit -- Hudson excepted -- have not pitched up to expectations, with an 8-9 collective record (counting Yusmeiro Petit’s win Tuesday) and a 3.86 ERA that ranks 14th in the majors. But their bullpen has the second-lowest ERA in the league.
They’ve struggled hitting with runners in scoring position -- Wednesday night snapped a streak of 16 consecutive games with two or fewer hits in those situations. But they’ve hit 34 homers, their most in the season’s first month since they hit 36 in 2000.
It’s out of character and puzzling and leaves things fairly open-ended as to where things go from here. Might this road trip help flesh things out a little? The Giants go to Atlanta and Pittsburgh before visiting the Dodgers for four. A big reason for their record in 2013 was their struggles outside of the division -- they went 15-17 against N.L. East teams and 11-23 against the Central. So maybe the picture will be clearer when they return May 12.
* A couple other notes: The Giants have homered in each of their last eight games, their longest such streak since 2010, when they homered in 10 in a row from Sept. 23-Oct. 3.
Brandon Belt snapped what was an 0-for-17 homestand with a flare double in the third. He still went 1-for-4, but it’s a start.
Also, tonight’s 2:17 game time was the quickest of the season for the Giants. That comes on the heels of Tuesday’s 2:28 affair. The press box feels very spoiled -- just in time for the Giants to leave town. Here are the pitching probables in Atlanta:
Friday: RHP Tim Lincecum (1-1, 5.96) vs. LHP Mike Minor (season debut)
Saturday: RHP Ryan Vogelsong (0-1, 5.40) vs. RHP Julio Teheran (2-1, 1.47)
Sunday: LHP Madison Bumgarner (2-3, 3.74) vs. LHP Alex Wood (2-4, 2.93)