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‘Just going to surprise everybody’: Giants’ clubhouse handles big test



Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

LOS ANGELES — Hunter Pence is 0-for-11 to start the season. Hitless, and yet predictably, he’s been a hit in the clubhouse.

A few Giants pointed to Pence’s leadership that helped steady the team after Friday’s second straight blowout at the Dodgers’ hands. Somehow, after Sunday’s 3-1 victory, the Giants are heading home with not just a .500 record, but perhaps belief that there’s enough talent in house to make this season interesting.

Pence, who’s been a part of interesting seasons, was shouted out by both Darin Ruf and Mauricio Dubon in the aftermath of the surprising series split.

Not allowing the first two games to destroy confidence “shows we have great veteran leadership,” Ruf said over Zoom after his 2-for-4, run-through-a-wall day. “I think Hunter and Pablo [Sandoval] on the offensive side with Brandon [Crawford] just kept a positive atmosphere in the clubhouse.”

Dubon was asked the difference in the clubhouses from Friday to Sunday night.

“It’s happier, but thanks to Hunter Pence, the veteran guys, we kept levelheaded after Friday’s game,” said the no-longer-hitless super utility player. “Just came out and played. The veteran guys are doing a good job, and I feel like we as a team are doing a good job staying levelheaded and supporting each other.”

Dubon entered play 0-for-10 with five strikeouts, a poor omen to a season he wants to prove he belongs in the majors. In the third inning Sunday, he beat out an infield single for his first hit, a smile glued to his face as he looked back at an excited dugout that knew he had broken through.

Somewhere in that mix was a player who kept coaching his confidence as he couldn’t find a hit.

“He kept telling me, ‘Hey, you’re good, you’re good, you’re a good player,’” Dubon said of Pence.

The Giants are learning they have some good players in their bullpen, too, which threw 5 2/3 scoreless innings to keep the powerful Dodgers offensive from getting in gear.

A day prior, it was five innings of one-run ball. Both days featured Trevor Gott recording a save.

“The past two days we’ve shown that we have arms that are going to be able to compete,” Gott said. “And there’s a bunch of closer-worthy arms down there.”

The defense was crisp, a nice departure from the first three games. The starting pitching is a mystery, though Drew Smyly was impressive. The lineups against lefties look stronger than against righties, though next week’s returns of Evan Longoria and Brandon Belt will help.

There is not an overwhelming amount of talent, but there is a blueprint they have designed to keep things interesting. How interesting? They’ll find out.

“We’re fighters,” said Dubon, whose go-ahead single in the sixth made the difference. “Nobody gives a crap about us, but that’s the neat thing. I keep telling people: When were the Giants favored to win anything?

“We’re just going to surprise everybody. Right now we’ve played good baseball the past two games, and we’re going to try to continue to do that the whole year.”

The Jeff Samardzija mystery is solved. The righty will make his debut Tuesday in the home opener and will be followed by Johnny Cueto on Wednesday. Kapler said Thursday’s starter is to be determined.

Samardzija did not appear in a game in Los Angeles, and the manager said he’s built up to throw four-plus innings.

Kapler cautioned that it will require a larger sample size before there is an actual closer on the team.

Yet, the team learned this series that “Gott is not intimidated by the ninth inning.”

“It was awesome, really happy that I got the opportunity. A lot of good young arms down there,” Gott said. “… I was happy to get these two, we’ll see how it goes the rest of the year.”

The first steal of the Giants’ season? Tyler Heineman, who is fearless on the basepaths. The second? Ruf. Weird start.