Just last week, the Giants used two bullpen games in their four-game sweep of the Rockies.
At sea level, not a mile high, the result was the same: even without a traditional starter, the Giants handled the division bottom-feeders.
Five Giants pitchers limited Colorado to three runs — two earned — on four hits. John Brebbia set the tone with another scoreless start, Shelby Miller continued to put up mind-blowing strikeout numbers and Tyler Rogers added to his flawless month.
The victory gives San Francisco (77-78) eight wins in its last nine games. In a September so meaningless it has one of the Giants’ All-Stars publicly frustrated, the Giants are playing some of their best ball of the season.
Or maybe they’re just getting a healthy dose of the Rockies. San Francisco is 13-5 against Colorado on the season, with one more matchup out of SF’s remaining seven games to go.
Brebbia opened Wednesday’s bullpen game with a 1-2-3 inning. In nine starts, including two in Coors Field last week, the righty has pitched nine scoreless innings. His 73 appearances pace the National League.
“This is literally the stupidest thing I’ve ever done,” Brebbia joked at his locker postgame. “What are we doing?”
While the Rockies’ first three batters sat down, the Giants’ first three each slapped singles. Joc Pederson, J.D. Davis and Mike Yastrzemski — plus a throwing error — gave San Francisco a 2-0 lead before Rockies starter José Ureña recorded an out.
Davis’ hit made him eight for his past 10. Darin Ruf, whom San Francisco traded for Davis and three pitching prospects, has 10 hits total for the Mets.
Two Giants errors gift-wrapped a run for the Rockies. San Francisco has been playing better defense in the infield this September, a fact manager Gabe Kapler has often noted recently. Much of that is due to a healthier, sprier Brandon Crawford at shortstop.
But even with a cleaner month, the Giants remain on par with the Nationals for the worst statistical defense in baseball, per Fangraphs’ DEF metric.
“When we played good defense and we protected our pitchers, we won games,” Kapler said before Wednesday’s win. “When we haven’t, we lost games.”
The pair of second-inning errors — one of which was Sean Hjelle’s fault — got the bulk-innings reliever off to a rocky start. Hjelle found a rhythm and allowed one earned run, an Alan Trejo solo homer, in four innings.
Hjelle’s contribution lowered his ERA from 8.44 to 7.20. Since Hjelle was credited with his first career MLB win, a celebratory shower of beer, orange juice, baby powder, ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise awaited him in the home clubhouse.
Ford Proctor’s first career RBI and Pederson’s second triple of the series — and season — added three more runs to the Giants’ lead in the sixth.
By then, the veteran Miller had already thrown a 1-2-3 sixth inning in which he struck out two Rockies. For the bottom of the seventh, he got Sean Bouchard, Elehuris Montero and Mihcael Toglia to each go down looking.
In a Giants jersey, Miller has struck out 12 and walked none in 4.2 scoreless innings. He’s fanned 12 of the 18 batters he’s faced.
Miller said he’s been tunneling his slider and fastball well — the former which he added when he was with the Yankees earlier this year. He used to throw a curveball and a cutter, but he’s simplified his arsenal to the slider and four-seamer.
“I think he’s kind of getting opposing hitters comfortable looking for a slider, then delivering a really quality strike with his fastball,” Kapler said postgame. “Getting a ton of punch with it. He’s doing an extraordinary job.”
Miller has been a revelation, as has Rogers in September. Rogers erased a leadoff double with two impressive strikeouts, giving him 14.1 scoreless innings in the month.
Giants officials have showered Rogers with praise even when he struggled this year. Kapler believes he’s destined for a setup or high-leverage role. He’s lived up to that prophecy this September, as the defense behind him has improved.
If Rogers, and the Giants, performed like this earlier in the year, perhaps the stakes would be higher in their final week.