Although Giants manager Bruce Bochy had Joe Panik batting third immediately upon his return from a concussion Thursday night, Bochy stressed he did not want Panik feeling like he had to carry the offense by himself.
Anyway, the Giants’ issues right now are more than any one player can solve.
Held to one run until the ninth inning Thursday, the Giants fell 4-2 to the Washington Nationals at AT&T Park, losing for the 10th time in 12 games since the All-Star break. Their lead in the National League West shrunk to two games over the Dodgers, the smallest it has been since May 17.
The finish of Thursday’s game epitomized the Giants’ recent offensive struggles. After scoring once in the ninth on a fielder’s choice and error, the Giants had the bases loaded with one out for the top of their lineup. But former National Denard Span struck out swinging against left-hander Oliver Perez, and Angel Pagan went down swinging against right-hander Shawn Kelley.
The Giants, batting .157 with men in scoring position since the break entering Thursday’s game, went 0 for 9 in those situations and stranded nine runners.
“Man, we could’ve used a big hit there to really pick this club up,” Bochy said. “But they got out of it. We fought back, had the winning run on base … Just couldn’t quite finish it there in the ninth. A hit would’ve done a lot for the club.”
The ninth-inning rally breathed a little life into what remained of an announced crowd of 42,001 – but even in the earlier innings the atmosphere at AT&T Park seemed unusually quiet. Following a 1-7 road trip, the Giants have lost three of their first four games to start this homestand and face hard-throwing right-hander Max Scherzer on Friday night.
“Eventually the bad spell’s going to end,” said Giants starter Johnny Cueto. “Every team goes through a bad spell like we’re having right now. But eventually it will end.”
Cueto matched his shortest start of the season, lasting five innings, largely because of a frustrating, 39-pitch second. Cueto was a strike away from getting out of the inning with no runs scored and a man on first base. But four consecutive Nationals singled, including opposing starter Tanner Roark, as Washington took a 3-0 lead.
“Sometimes it’s just very frustrating that you can’t throw strikes,” Cueto said through an interpreter. “You’re not a strike-throwing machine. And I just left the strikes out there.”
Bochy said it looked like Cueto “just made some mistakes” on put-away pitches.
“Gosh, he’s got two outs, two strikes on three different hitters,” Bochy said. “They just found a way to get a base hit there. Those timely hits are what win games for you.”
To underscore that point, the Giants loaded the bases in the bottom of the inning with no outs but came away with only one run. Mac Williamson struck out, Conor Gillaspie bounced out to first base, scoring Buster Posey from third, and Cueto flied out to the right-field corner, where Bryce Harper made a difficult running catch.
Brandon Crawford tripled in the fourth but was caught in a rundown after going too far down the line on a pitch in the dirt. The Giants put two on with one out in the fifth, but Span and Pagan both flied out to left field.
Panik, in his return from a 23-game absence, went hitless in four at-bats. Bochy had said he hoped Panik’s mere presence would help spark the offense and “help lengthen the lineup a little bit. And we still had a tough night at the plate.”
Hunter Pence went 1-for-4 with an RBI on Thursday night and Ehire Adrianza was 2-for-4 with a double – but both were at Triple-A Sacramento. The good news for the Giants is both players are said to be nearing the end of their injury rehabs. Pence is expected to be off Friday and rejoin the Giants on Saturday. Adrianza should join the Giants next week in Philadelphia for the start of their upcoming road trip.
The Giants should also have a new bat in the mix Friday night in Eduardo Nunez, whom they acquired from Minnesota in a trade announced during Thursday’s game for minor-league pitcher Adalberto Mejia. The 29-year-old infielder, batting .296 with 12 homers and 26 stolen bases this season, is expected to join the team Friday.
“He’s a nice player,” Bochy said of Nunez. “He’s leading the (American League) in stolen bases, has 12 home runs, so he’s been swinging the bat well. We’re hoping he’s going to help this offense.”
As Thursday night showed, it needs to come from somewhere.