BRONX, NY — The Giants started the season with so much rotation depth, Sean Manaea, a $25 million free agent signing, isn’t scheduled to start a game in either of their first two series.
San Francisco’s starting pitchers include Logan Webb, Alex Cobb, Alex Wood, Anthony DeSclafani, Ross Stripling, and Manaea. Jakob Junis also has starting experience. So does Sean Hjelle, a taxi squad player on the fringe of the roster after a strong spring, and Kyle Harrison, the top prospect who could break into the bigs this summer.
So even when Alex Cobb threw a double play ball into center field and racked up 38 pitches in the first inning, with a pitch limit hanging over him, the Giants still didn’t have to worry.
The combination of Alex Cobb and Junis — in a full-time hybrid role — provided the Giants with a quality start against one of the most potent lineups in baseball. Together, they pitched six innings in 109 pitches, allowing three runs (two earned) while striking out eight and walking one.
They got supported by home runs from Joc Pederson and Brandon Crawford and two needed ninth-inning insurance runs. Closer Camilo Doval, amid pitch timer and command issues, spun a game-ending double play with the bases loaded to earn his first save in a 7-5 Giants (1-1) victory.
“I think the biggest deciding factor in the game tonight was Junis doing what he did,” Cobb said postgame.
Cobb hadn’t been stretched out completely in the spring because of a comebacker to his knee that stunted his program. He wasn’t supposed to go longer than four or five innings in Yankee Stadium anyway, but the Giants had the arms to provide coverage.
When explaining why he thinks this group is the best roster Gabe Kapler has had so far in San Francisco, the manager’s first point of evidence was starting pitching depth.
Part of the Giants’ problems last year came down to their bullpen. The relievers alone didn’t necessarily let down the team, but the club had to rely on them in an overtaxing manner. John Brebbia started 11 bullpen games and led the National League in appearances. Anthony DeSclafani’s injury put a heavy burden on the relievers to cover innings.
The Giants — and their group of starters that goes eight deep — shouldn’t have that problem this year.
When Cobb got himself into early trouble, they sent Junis to stretch in the bullpen after the first inning. He sat down once Cobb settled in, but eventually returned to warm up for real and enter in the fourth.
Cobb allowed a homer to Giancarlo Stanton in the third, but gave SF a respectable outing in his 76 pitches that earned 11 outs. Junis, who got credited with the win, presented a nice complement to Cobb’s fastball-splitter arsenal against the righty-heavy Yankees lineup (southpaws Alex Wood and Manaea were also available out of the bullpen).
The Yankees, meanwhile, had fewer long relief options — or at least seemed hesitant to tap into them. Clarke Schmidt, thrust into the opening series start because of injuries to Carlos Rodón, Frankie Montas and Luis Severino, ran into trouble in the fourth inning.
Joc Pederson, after starting the year 0-for-4 with four strikeouts, launched a home run off Schmidt for his first hit of the year and the Giants’ first run. A Mike Yastrzemski double one batter later inspired action in New York’s bullpen. A 399-foot flyout that nearly snuck out of the park from David Villar probably should’ve ended Schmidt’s night.
But after three hard hits, manager Aaron Boone tried his luck and gave Schmidt another batter: Brandon Crawford. The 36-year-old won the bet, launching a two-run homer into the right field’s second deck. He got a 92 mph fastball up and over the plate in a 3-0 count from a pitcher clearly on his last gasps.
New York then had to burn their one left-handed bullpen option, Wandy Peralta, who faced four batters. Michael King, then, had to face five Giants with the bases loaded in the sixth after hitting Blake Sabol with an 0-2 slider.
Junis allowed a tying run in the fifth inning, but only because Yastrzemski lost a routine fly ball in the sun for a leadoff double. The slider specialist stranded two in scoring position by inducing a soft grounder to Giancarlo Stanton, getting Josh Donaldson looking and retiring Gleyber Torres with one pitch.
A 1-2-3 inning for Junis the next frame allowed manager Gabe Kapler to give the seventh, eighth and ninth innings of a two-run ballgame to his most trusted relievers: John Brebbia, Taylor Rogers and Doval.
Brebbia retired DJ LeMahieu, Aaron Judge and Anthony Rizzo in order — much to the quirky righty’s glee. Rogers surrendered a solo homer but the Giants got it back for him with two ninth-inning runs.
And although Judge singled in a run to reach first as the game-tying run and a walk loaded the bases for Giancarlo Stanton, Doval spun a double play — with LaMonte Wade Jr. making the falling scoop at first — to end the game.
The Giants wrote the right script, and the third act — dramatic as it was — went their way.
Every team would prefer their starter to pitch deep into games and strike out 12 like Logan Webb did on Opening Day. But against the club that led MLB in home runs in 2022 and ranked fifth in OPS+, the Giants’ Plan B held tough.