SAN FRANCISCO — “There is a script, but it’s not that defined.”
Those were Giants manager Bruce Bochy’s words before Tuesday’s game, the premiere of The Opener in San Francisco. The Giants will try this again, because any front office willing to try an opener is also one familiar with the phrase “small sample size,” but the first attempt went off-script from the start.
Nick Vincent, the reliever-turned-starter, nearly got knocked out in the first. Tyler Beede, the starter-turned-reliever, wasn’t much much better. The Giants lost 7-3 to the equally lowly Blue Jays.
They took a shot, and it didn’t work. But it was fun for a while, and it was different, so here’s a running diary of an experiment that was nothing like what Bochy and Farhan Zaidi pictured …
Monday, 3:01 p.m.
It has been five months since Zaidi, sitting in his suite at the annual Winter Meetings, revealed to reporters that the Giants likely would use an opener at some point. The official announcement, though, comes in the form of a text from a member of the PR staff.
Updated Giants probables for TOR series:Tues: RHP Nick Vincent.Wed: TBD
And with that, the Giants enter the opener era.
Tuesday, 4:05 p.m.
Perhaps the biggest misconception this whole time has been that Bochy would be at odds with Zaidi over the use of an opener. Bochy, in his final year, simply wants to win, and he has used this strategy before, albeit under much different circumstances.
He regularly used starters out of the bullpen in the postseason, including in Game 7 of the 2014 World Series. The Giants knew Tim Hudson’s right arm was hanging by a thread that night, so they had Jeremy Affeldt ready to go early. Affeldt entered in the second inning before turning it over to “bulk guy” Madison Bumgarner. Hudson recorded just five outs.
A Tuesday night game against the Blue Jays is about as far from you get from the World Series, but the Giants, looking to turn their season around, couldn’t keep doing what they had been doing. Entering Tuesday, starters had given up 42 runs in the first inning of 40 games.
“I think you look at our track record the last couple of weeks and it’s not very good in the early (innings),” Bochy says in his pre-game press conference. “You do things to shake it up, so that’s what we’re doing.”
As he has done so many times, catcher Stephen Vogt steps into the dugout, puts his gear on the bench, and starts stretching. He is soon joined on the field by … Tyler Beede.
As Beede runs on the field, a Giants staffer looks up and and smiles.
“I’m not sure what he’s doing,” he says.
This process is new for everyone. The Giants have planned for Beede to follow Vincent and soak up most of Tuesday’s innings, so he goes out early to get loose and play catch with Vogt.
“I tried to for the most part keep my routine the same,” Beede later said after the game. “The same as any other day I would start. It’s nothing I’m not familiar with.”
As the two warm up, Vincent steps into a room behind the dugout where relievers hang out during the game. All alone, he starts to stretch his right arm with a resistance band.
After the Canadian and American anthems, Vincent finally takes the bullpen mound. Nineteen warm-up pitches later, Vincent hops off and fist-bumps pitching coach Curt Young, bullpen coach Matt Herges and Vogt. He grabs his jacket and walks slowly back to the dugout as lineups are announced.
“You try to go through the same motions,” Vincent said after the game. “But it’s never the same, no matter what you do.”
It is 59 degrees at first pitch, and Blue Jays second baseman Eric Sogard digs in and takes a first-pitch strike from Vincent, starting for the second time in 367 appearances. Sogard pops up to left on the second pitch of the game.
The Giants are rolling.
Vlad Jr. is on the board. This was an absolute rocket: pic.twitter.com/fW1b072ujO— Alex Pavlovic (@PavlovicNBCS) May 15, 2019
Of course Vladimir Guerrero Jr. hit his first career homer against this reeling Giants staff. The ball left the yard at 111 mph and traveled an estimated 438 feet. Vlad would hit another homer later in the game, this one a three-run shot deep to left-center.
“I’ve seen his dad hit balls like that,” Bochy said after the game.
A review that lasts one minute and 40 seconds — for some inexplicable reason — confirms that Freddy Galvis has dropped an RBI double down the line. It’s 2-0.
Trevor Gott emerges from the bullpen and jogs down to the home bullpen as Young strolls to the mound to talk to Vincent. This is heading toward disaster territory, but Vincent gets a fly ball to deep right to end the inning.
The Giants trail 3-0, so the opener changed nothing. Vincent gave up four hits and threw 31 pitches. He did not come out for another inning.
“We didn’t break the (first-inning curse). I don’t know what we’ve got to do to get over this hump in the first inning,” he said. “I went out there and gave it what I had, it just didn’t work out.”
Beede, the original scheduled starter, takes the mound. He has been warming up for 11 minutes on the bullpen mound, and his first inning is a rough one. He loads the bases with two hits and a walk before getting an inning-ending pop-up to second.
Before the game, Bochy talked about how it’s easier to use an opener when you have five players on your bench, allowing you to pinch-hit just about every time the pitcher’s spot comes up. With Vincent out after one inning, though, there’s no need. Beede hits for himself and grounds out to short.
Beede loads the bases for the second time in three innings and this time he walks in a run. Gott, who warmed up in the first, takes over.
The line for Beede, who was supposed to pitch the bulk of Tuesday’s game: 2 1/3 innings, four hits, one earned run, three walks and five strikeouts. He said later that he needs to take a breath when the game starts to spiral, reminding himself that his stuff is good.
“In that situation I got a little bit more anxious about making great pitches,” Beede said, “Instead of executing good pitches.”
Trent Thornton, Toronto’s starter, walks off the mound after running into trouble in the sixth. The Giants have already used four pitchers and three of them have given up runs.
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Donovan Solano strikes out with a runner on second and two outs in the eighth. The Giants used three pinch-hitters in the nine-spot after Vincent and Beede were done. They went 0-for-3. Tyler Austin struck out with a runner on and Evan Longoria flied out with two on.
On a related note, don’t let the failed opener experiment distract you from the fact that the lineup managed just five hits against Thornton and a nondescript bullpen.
The Giants lose, 7-3. They are 17-24 and already 9.5 games out of first in the NL West.
There is disappointment in the clubhouse, because the Giants lost and because they found a new way to lose. If you forget the fact that Nick Vincent started the game and Tyler Beede was already loose, this is just like so many other losses this season. Beede said the Giants shouldn’t give up on something new after just one game.
“It may not have worked today, but that doesn’t mean it won’t work the next time or be good for us,” he said, his voice full of optimism.
Bochy will likely call on a reliever again, whether it’s Vincent or Gott or Travis Bergen or someone else. The Giants are trying to figure out how to be good in 2020, and it’s possible that an opener will be part of that. For now, the goals are smaller. They really, really would like to stop giving up so many runs in the first inning.
“It’s one game, really,” Bochy said. “If you look at this game, with Beede going, we thought this was the best thing for him and for the club. It’s not a big enough sample for someone to say that it doesn’t work. I don’t know when we would do it again, or if we would do it again, but we’re not going to let one outcome dictate that.”