Cobb, Giants look to 'make a statement' out of the break

July 16th, 2023

PITTSBURGH -- The Giants had initially planned to have right-hander start the first game of the second half, but they ended up pushing him back a day after his All-Star experience ended up being a bit more taxing than expected.

Cobb had to wait a bit longer to return to the mound after inclement weather delayed the start of Saturday night’s game by 40 minutes, but the schedule changes ultimately did little to disrupt his performance.

The 35-year-old veteran delivered six innings of one-run ball, and the Giants rewarded his effort by rallying for a 3-1 win behind Michael Conforto’s go-ahead two-run single off All-Star closer David Bednar, sealing a series victory over the Pirates at PNC Park.

With their fifth win in their last six games, the Giants improved to 51-41, staying within 2 1/2 games of the first-place Dodgers in the National League West.

“I think that we probably looked at this stretch of the season in March and April as a time that was going to be crucial for us,” Cobb said. “Now when we’re here and in that moment, we know that we need to show up and really not take any of these series lightly and take care of business because we have a really tough schedule in August. We’re going to need to make a statement coming out of the break this year.”

Cobb allowed only a second-inning solo home run to Henry Davis while walking two and striking out five, lowering his ERA to 2.82 over 17 starts this year, the sixth-best mark in the Majors. Still, he didn’t end up factoring into the decision, as he spent most of the evening locked in a pitcher’s duel with Pirates right-hander Johan Oviedo, who struck out 10 over seven innings -- both career highs -- while yielding only a solo shot to Mike Yastrzemski in the second.

The Giants finally broke the 1-1 stalemate in the eighth, when LaMonte Wade Jr. walked and Joc Pederson singled to put a pair of runners on with one out. Pittsburgh manager Derek Shelton subsequently brought in Bednar to face J.D. Davis, who went down swinging on a 97.9 mph fastball at the top of the zone for the second out.

Bednar came within one strike of escaping the jam, but Conforto came through by lining a 1-2 curveball to right field to score pinch-runner Casey Schmitt, who easily beat Davis’ throw to the plate. Catcher Jason Delay then fired to second to try to nab Conforto, but shortstop Tucupita Marcano ended up bobbling the throw, allowing Pederson to race home from third and give the Giants a key insurance run.

“The fastball’s really, really hard to hit,” Conforto said of Bednar. “He does a really good job of keeping it up. And he goes high fastballs and a big 12-to-6 curveball. It’s a hard at-bat. You saw with J.D. just the way he can ride the ball. He’s got a splitter too. I didn’t want to go up with him. If he was going to hang a breaking ball, that was the pitch I wanted to hit.

"It’s really hard to stay on that with the fastball he has. I just ended up getting a two-strike breaking ball. I just told myself to stay short and try to hit the ball hard somewhere. That’s what happened.”

Conforto departed Friday night’s 6-4 win over the Pirates in the ninth inning after taking a 93 mph sinker from Ryan Borucki off his lat and rib area, but he returned to the lineup on Saturday and is now 3-for-7 with three RBIs over his first two games of the second half.

“When you have really well-pitched games on both sides, it comes down to one big hit, and obviously Conforto got it for us,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “I think Conforto’s at-bats have been great, and that one in particular was special.”

Cobb endured his own injury scare on Saturday, as he was smoked on the left ankle by a 103.3 mph comebacker off the bat of Bryan Reynolds to end the fifth, but he brushed it off and returned to the mound in the sixth, working around a one-out single to Ji Man Choi to cap his strong outing. 

“I’m just a magnet, but it’s not an issue,” Cobb said. “I think that I battled. I didn’t have my best stuff. I didn’t have my best swing-and-miss changeup, but I’m really happy that I had it in moments that I needed it.”