A combined 20 years of big-league experience pulled Logan Webb aside. He had limped through a 24-pitch first inning in which he struggled to find the zone and took a lot of deep breaths and let himself think plenty between pitches. He allowed a run. It could have been better (a replay review enabled the run), it could have been worse (two walks).
So his catcher, Curt Casali, and Buster Posey wanted a quick word. “Quick” being operative.
“‘We think that you should pick up your tempo a little bit,'” was relayed to Webb, he said. “They mentioned how Woody throws. I don’t think I’ll ever be as fast as he is, but just kind of picking up the tempo. … I knew I threw over 20 pitches, I was just like, all right, let’s start getting some quick outs and start attacking these guys, and when I did that, obviously the strikeouts started to pile up.”
The 24-year-old listens. To Kevin Gausman, his throwing partner who has guided him for a year-plus; to Alex Wood, whose quick style he’s now trying to imitate, and who has given him pointers; to Sean Doolittle, who became his offseason throwing partner; to anyone who can help, and Posey and Casali have their bona fides.
“Those are two very, very, very impressive baseball players, not just catchers,” Webb said after he allowed two runs (one earned) in six innings in a 4-2 win over the Rangers at Oracle Park on Tuesday. “I try to learn everything I can from these guys and try to just pick their brains. I think that kind of changed my outing today a little bit after the first inning when they came up and told me that.”
Gabe Kapler has challenged his pitchers to work fast and his hitters to make pitchers work slowly; a pitcher who doesn’t slog, who gets the ball and pitches, keeps his defense behind him engaged. Hitters who run up pitchers’ pitch counts might not strike early, but they tend to strike at some point.
For Webb, it’s a balancing act because he felt he rushed when he got his call-up in 2019. And so then he slowed down, and now he’s trying to speed up like Wood, who has dominated in five starts with a pace that would make Rob Manfred proud.
Whatever the pace, the Giants are looking for results. Webb quieted an offense that had slugged more home runs in May than anyone in MLB besides the orange and black, even after a near disastrous first inning in which he threw 14 balls and 10 strikes. He finished with 10 strikeouts — the youngest Giant to hit double-digit Ks since Madison Bumgarner in 2013 — with a two-seamer that got strikes, a slider that put a few batters away and a changeup that looked its best since spring training.
He threw 25 changes and the Rangers put two in play. They swung at 13 and missed nine times. He is getting a better feel for when to use his best pitch to get a chase and when he needs to try to hit a corner. He said the changeup’s location with two strikes has been a particular point of emphasis.
When Webb is striking out five in a row, like he did Tuesday, the Giants get a glimpse of the potential of a young starter who continues to sneak his way into the rotation, through injuries to first Johnny Cueto and now Aaron Sanchez. And yet, it’s a glimpse of the potential, with the full picture still a work in progress. Kapler repeatedly says, even after strong starts, there is a sharper version of Webb to find.
“There’s even more in there,” the manager said after the Giants finished off a five-game homestand by winning four. “He can be around the plate a little bit more, he can attack the strike zone and get ahead in more counts. And this is what excites us about Logan Webb.”
Webb is accepting the challenge. He listens.
Brandon Belt left after seven innings with “some left side tightness,” Kapler said. Both manager and first baseman suggested it was not serious.
Belt said he has been dealing with it for about a week and has been getting treatment.
“It’s something that I’ve dealt with before and it’s really not a huge deal,” said Belt, who went 1-for-3 with an RBI single, “but it can become a bigger deal if you don’t watch it.”
The Rangers had three successful challenges in four innings, which slowed the game down plenty but did not bother Kapler.
“I just don’t think it makes a whole lot of sense for us to spend so much energy on those,” Kapler said. “Those cameras are better than our eyeballs, and I like replay because I think more times than not, they get it right.”