San Francisco Giants

Giants embracing the future, winning on the shoulders of young talent

San Francisco Giants’ Steven Duggar watches his two-run double during the seventh inning of the team’s baseball game against the Oakland Athletics on Friday, July 13, 2018, in San Francisco.
San Francisco Giants’ Steven Duggar watches his two-run double during the seventh inning of the team’s baseball game against the Oakland Athletics on Friday, July 13, 2018, in San Francisco. AP

It was hardly part of the plan in spring training, and there were precious few signs a youth movement might be taking place in March and April.

But as the All-Star break draws near, the Giants are still in the hunt thanks to the efforts and emergence of a dynamic crop of young talent.

Friday night’s blowout win over the red-hot Oakland A’s offered the latest and greatest example of rookie heroics, but the Giants didn’t suddenly start relying on their most inexperienced players overnight.

Before Reyes Moronta escaped a no out, bases loaded jam with a one-run lead and Steven Duggar opened the floodgates with a two-run double, Dereck Rodríguez tossed three scoreless innings of relief in Wednesday’s 13-inning win over the Cubs.

Prior to Rodríguez serving as a catalyst in the series-clinching win, he and fellow rookie Andrew Suárez laid claim to permanent spots in the Giants’ rotation with unexpected stretches of brilliance for most of June.

Though every team bemoans the toll injuries take on the structure of a roster, the Giants can’t lament some of the ill fortune they faced early in the year.

There’s no replacing an ace like Madison Bumgarner, but it’s increasingly clear Suárez and Rodríguez have more to offer in the rotation than veteran Jeff Samardzija, who endured two trips to the disabled list during the first half.

Moronta, the seventh inning hero on Friday, wasn’t assured of an Opening Day roster spot until Mark Melancon was shut down with a forearm issue in late March.

Duggar didn’t arrive until Sunday, after his early-season struggles at Triple-A subsided and his recent play forced the Giants to dump Austin Jackson’s salary in a trade with the Rangers that cleared space for a prospect who can no longer be ignored.

“He looks like he’s comfortable already,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “He’s thrown out some good at-bats, played good defense.”

The Giants had plans to ease Duggar into the big leagues, platooning him with the right-handed hitting Gorkys Hernández in center field. But with the bases loaded and the Giants ahead 2-1 in the seventh, Duggar stayed in the game to hit against A’s lefty Jeremy Bleich.

He fell behind 0-2 and then laced his second double of the game to bring two Giants baserunners home.

“I had a feeling they were going to go to the lefty in the pen when I was in the hole if the bases did end up being loaded,” Duggar said. “So I just tried to mentally prepare for that and just tried to make the most of the situation.”

The rookie center fielder earned the approval of ace Madison Bumgarner, who offered him high praise after Friday’s win when he admitted he’s been waiting for Duggar to arrive.

“I think he’s going to sleep good tonight,” Bumgarner said. “I’m glad he’s here. I’ve been waiting.”

Duggar has a hit in all four games he’s played since joining the Giants, while Moronta hasn’t allowed a hit in any of the last 12 games he’s entered. The flame-throwing right-hander entered a near-impossible situation Friday, but said he never felt the pressure as he lowered his ERA to 1.76 by retiring three straight A’s hitters.

“I just go out there and the first thing I think is just do my job,” Moronta said through translator Erwin Higueros. “Try to throw strikes and let the ball find the strike zone.”

Bochy called on Moronta to relieve Bumgarner in the top of the seventh after the Giants starter allowed a single and a pair of walks to load the bases. While Bumgarner enjoys having Duggar roaming center field behind him, he also felt comforted watching Moronta warm up in the bullpen.

The left-hander admitted he’ll actually change his approach when he knows Moronta is set to relieve him.

“I could have gave in and maybe it was a different result while I was out there and we don’t know but it’s nice to be able to keep battling and making pitches and not give in,” Bumgarner said. “I’ve seen him down there and I knew depending on what happened it was getting close, so like I said, I didn’t give in and I kept trying to make pitches.”

At 50-46, the Giants hit the half-century mark in the win column five weeks earlier than they did in a miserable 2017 season. After failing to overcome early-season injuries last year, the Giants have battled through adversity thanks to a growing list of inexperienced players making unexpected contributions.

While veterans like Derek Holland, Pablo Sandoval and Gorkys Hernández deserve credit for keeping the team afloat early in the season, the Giants are rising above sea level as Suárez, Rodríguez, Moronta and Duggar hit their strides.

The youth movement wasn’t in the team’s initial plans, but now that it’s taking shape, the Giants are embracing the future and capitalizing on it while they can.

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