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Giants' bats come alive to back Samardzija

Belt delivers decisive 2-run blast; Shark K's 4 in 4 2/3
@mi_guardado
April 6, 2019

SAN FRANCISCO -- Over the offseason, Giants right-hander Jeff Samardzija made his distaste for the opener strategy clear. “I think it’s a load of crap,” Samardzija said in February. “Where did the pride go from the players’ standpoint? Where were the guys in Tampa Bay saying, ‘No, no, no, I’m

SAN FRANCISCO -- Over the offseason, Giants right-hander Jeff Samardzija made his distaste for the opener strategy clear.

“I think it’s a load of crap,” Samardzija said in February. “Where did the pride go from the players’ standpoint? Where were the guys in Tampa Bay saying, ‘No, no, no, I’m good enough to go seven innings and get all these outs. You don’t need to do this.’ Everybody’s just accepting what they’re told.”

As fate would have it, Samardzija found himself opposing an opener Saturday afternoon after the Rays tapped right-handed reliever Ryne Stanek to start against the Giants. Neither ended up factoring into the decision, as the Giants scored four runs off left-hander Ryan Yarbrough to rally for a 6-4 win at Oracle Park, evening their series against the Rays and snapping their three-game skid.

Brandon Belt and Steven Duggar drove in three runs apiece, while rookie left-hander Travis Bergen earned his first career win.

“It’s been a little bit of a tough go,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “We’re still trying to find our way here. Wins are nice.”

Samardzija, who yielded three runs over 4 2/3 innings, had been in line for the loss after allowing Tampa Bay to seize a 3-2 lead in the top of the fifth, but the Giants’ hitters picked him up in the bottom half of the inning. Joe Panik drew a leadoff walk off Yarbrough and advanced to second on Connor Joe’s first MLB hit, a bloop single to left field that snapped an 0-for-13 start to his career.

“I knew it had a chance,” Joe said. “You never know with the shifts that they’re playing, but I saw it fall, saw it hit the grass and I realized it was my first big league hit.”

Joe subsequently scored the go-ahead run from first on Duggar’s two-run double down the right-field line, giving the Giants a 4-3 lead. Belt followed with his third home run of the season, a two-run shot to the opposite field that capped San Francisco’s big inning and gave the club a season-high six runs.

“With our left-handed bats, I can’t say I was surprised to see them bring in left-handers,” Bochy said. “That’s why it’s critical that our lefties hit lefties.”

That type of offensive outburst has been rare for the Giants, who entered Saturday with only 19 runs through their first eight games. Only the Reds and Astros had scored fewer.

The Rays’ decision to use Stanek as an opener proved effective, as he managed to navigate through two scoreless innings on 32 pitches. Their decision to replace Stanek with left-hander Jalen Beeks did not go as smoothly.

“They’ve done good things over there,” Samardzija said. “The first kid was pretty good. I would have let him keep going.”

Kevin Pillar led off the third inning with a bunt single, advanced to second on a stolen base and took third on an errant throw by catcher Mike Zunino. He later scored on a sacrifice fly from Duggar to tie the game at 1. Belt then added an RBI single to put the Giants ahead, 2-1.

It was the first time San Francisco scored before the fourth inning this season.

“We had been a little sluggish the first few innings this season, so to get out there and jump on the board early, it definitely helped,” Belt said. “I don’t know why that was, why we weren’t doing that earlier in the game, but it happened today, and we’re going to go with it.”

Pillar robs Pham

Pillar also got an opportunity to show off his impressive defense in the fifth, making a diving catch to deprive Tommy Pham of a bases-loaded hit. Pham instead settled for a sacrifice fly. The ball had a 30 percent catch probability, as Pillar had to cover 54 feet in 3.5 seconds, according to Statcast.

“That’s what he’s known for,” Bochy said. “He’s full throttle. You always see him on the highlights. I love this outfield defense, with Pillar, Duggar and [Gerardo] Parra. We saw what this defense can do in the outfield. They save you runs.”

Bergen’s milestone

Bergen relieved Samardzija and entered the game to face pinch-hitter Avisail Garcia with two outs and runners on second and third in the fifth. Bergen coaxed a flyout from Garcia to keep the score at 3-2, setting the stage for the Giants’ comeback.

“I kind of snaked it in there by just going in to face one guy,” Bergen said. “I knew that once we scored a couple of runs and held on, it would be a win for me. That was pretty cool.”

Maria Guardado covers the Giants for MLB.com. She previously covered the Angels from 2017-18. Follow her on Twitter.