San Francisco Giants

Blanco’s defense draws raves, but offense lacking

SAN FRANCISCO -- It was probably fitting that it took a costly error Monday to fuel the biggest single inning of this Giants-Nationals series. The Nationals' three-run seventh in their 4-1 win was only the second time in 36 innings that either team pushed across more than one run. For the first three games, pitching has ruled.

The Giants still lead the series, 2-1, despite having scored six runs total and two over the last 18 innings, since Pablo Sandoval tied Game 2 with a two-out double in the ninth. It speaks to the pitching staffs of both teams, and the Giants as a whole were handcuffed on Monday by right-hander Doug Fister's array of darting pitches.

Still, it was noted after the game that the Giants have received little production from the leadoff spot so far, where Gregor Blanco has stepped in for injured Angel Pagan. Blanco is 1-for-14 with a walk in the series and has not scored a run. He hit one ball out of the infield in four at-bats in Game 3.

The flipside is what Blanco has brought defensively in center field, and that too was on display Monday. Battling a tough backdrop in an odd 2 p.m. start, Blanco made several difficult catches ranging back toward the wall and into the right-center field gap, taking away extra bases on multiple occasions.

Right fielder Hunter Pence raved about Blanco afterward. "It's fun to watch him play defense, because he's so graceful and so athletic," Pence said. "If you ever get a chance and you're at a game and you want to coach a kid or just to see some of the best outfield you'll ever see, just watch him."

It's arguable whether Pagan would have made some of the catches Blanco did Monday. But offensively, Pagan was also the Giants' sparkplug atop the lineup. Blanco has said previously that he felt the weight of expectations trying to replace Pagan's offense when Pagan has been out. But he said that isn't the case right now.

"I don't put pressure on myself," Blanco said. "Especially in this situation, because (they are) situations everybody wants to be in since you were a little kid."

Manager Bruce Bochy was asked about Blanco's numbers this series and said the lineup as a whole is "not throwing out a lot of hits ... He's our guy and he's the guy we're going to stick with."

But Bochy wasn't as steadfast when asked if Blanco could be moved down in the order as the Giants face a left-hander in Gio Gonzalez for Game 4.

"We'll talk about it, what we're going to do," Bochy said. "I'll get with the staff and decide which way we're going to go with this lineup.

"But I still have no problem with Gregor. He's pretty good."

The game story covers the reaction to and explanations of Madison Bumgarner's error in the seventh that keyed the Nationals' three-run rally. Bumgarner and Buster Posey both admitted to making a mistake on the play -- Bumgarner for throwing the ball away and Posey for telling Bumgarner to go to third in the first place.

Ryan Vogelsong admitted to some regrets after his last start of the regular season. He allowed four runs in a loss to the San Diego Padres and later said he'd wanted to give a better performance in what might have been his last start for the Giants at AT&T Park.

Turns out he'll get another chance.

Vogelsong will start Game 4 on Tuesday as the Giants try again to clinch at home. It will be the first start for Vogelsong since that Aug. 26 outing after a layoff of 11 days.

"I'm excited," Vogelsong said. "Obviously it would have been nice to finish it up today, but you know, these are the times that you play this game for."

Vogelsong was a key for the Giants in the 2012 postseason, going 3-0 with a 1.09 ERA in four starts. He went winless with a 5.53 ERA in five September starts this season but said he felt he had good stuff for most of those outings.

"I would be rolling along in the game and then just kind of lose it," Vogelsong said. "So I mean, it's there. Just need to be more focused at times and more concentrated on making a good pitch."

Vogelsong said he has stayed fresh during his layoff with drill work and throwing off flat ground and in the bullpen. As for getting another start at AT&T Park, with free agency looming in the offseason:

"That's not going to come into my mind tomorrow," he said. "I had those feelings toward the end of the season during the regular season. Didn't really finish the way I wanted to. So hindsight is I have another chance to do that tomorrow. But I really just need to focus on making pitches and execution."

One other apparent mistake on the Giants' part Monday -- after his one-out single in the fourth, Brandon Belt took off for second on a 1-2 pitch to Brandon Crawford. Crawford took the pitch and Belt was thrown out by a wide margin. Bochy was asked whether there was a missed sign on the play and said:

"I'd say kind of -- I'll leave it at that."

Pablo Sandoval stayed down for a while after stretching for Bumgarner's wide throw in the seventh. It appeared Sandoval might be favoring his foot and a trainer checked on him before he remained in the game.

"Feel good," Sandoval said afterward. "Part of the game."

For as good as Blanco was defensively Monday, Nationals left fielder Bryce Harper was right there with him. Harper made a sliding catch in the seventh to take away a hit from Travis Ishikawa with a runner on second, robbed Brandon Crawford of extra bases with a catch at the wall in the second -- and also hit a long home run over the bricks in right-center in the ninth, Harper's second of the series.

"He made some incredible defensive plays, had some great at-bats -- his walk (ahead of Wilson Ramos' fateful bunt in the seventh), that was a big turning point in the game," Pence said. "Harper really played a good ballgame today."

Harper has always played under sky-high expectations and some might say -- especially as Mike Trout, who entered the league at the same time, has taken off -- that Harper has underachieved. But he's making a mark in this series and it bears repeating: Harper is still 21 years old.

Bumgarner was obviously upset with himself afterward about his errant throw, but his teammates expressed confidence he'll put the error behind him.

"It happens," shortstop Brandon Crawford said. "I know he feels badly about it. It's tough. It happens, though. That's the game. I know he'll be ready next time."

It's now up to the Giants as a team to do the same. They can still win the series at home behind Vogelsong, who will oppose Gonzalez in a 6:07 p.m. start.

"Obviously we wanted to win the game today," Posey said. "We didn't get it done. But we've got another opportunity tomorrow, and I think we'll be ready to go."

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