Last week, Logan Webb’s future in the Giants’ rotation appeared murky.
With Johnny Cueto nearing a return from the injured list, Webb was viewed as a candidate to be bumped from the rotation and return to the bullpen. But an injury to right-hander Aaron Sanchez gave Webb a second chance to stick as a starter.
Webb made the most of that opportunity on Tuesday afternoon, striking out a career-high 10 over six-plus innings to help the Giants complete a two-game sweep of the Rangers with a 4-2 win at Oracle Park.
Webb recovered from a shaky first inning to hold the Rangers to two runs (one earned) on three hits and two walks in the 92-pitch effort. The 24-year-old right-hander became the youngest Giants pitcher to deliver a double-digit-strikeout game since Madison Bumgarner on Sept. 19, 2013.
Webb lowered his ERA to 4.74 after recording his third quality start in his past four outings, but the Giants continue to feel that he’s only scratching the surface of his potential and still has work to do to reclaim the dominant form he showed during Spring Training, when he emerged as the club’s best starter during Cactus League action.
“I thought Webby did a fine job today,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “I’m certainly satisfied with the results. I’m certainly satisfied with the line. Very impressive strikeout total. I’m just going to stay with this messaging: There’s even more in there. He can be around the plate a little bit more. He can attack the strike zone and get ahead in more counts. This is what excites us about Logan Webb. We’re not going to be satisfied until we see his best, and I don’t think we’ve seen it yet.”
Webb’s development has emerged as an ongoing theme for the Giants, who believe he has the stuff to mature into a key piece of their rotation moving forward. The challenge for Webb is to show that he can put it all together over consistent stretches during the regular season.
Webb struggled with command issues at the beginning of his outing against the Rangers, throwing only 10 of his 24 pitches for strikes in the first inning, but he managed to limit the damage to one run. In between innings, Webb said catchers Buster Posey and Curt Casali pulled him aside in the dugout and urged him to pick up the tempo and try to work quickly like left-hander Alex Wood, who fired seven innings of one-run ball against the Rangers in the Giants’ 3-1 win on Monday night.
“I don’t think I’ll ever be as fast as he is,” Webb said of Wood, who has the third-quickest pace in the Majors. “But I started picking up the tempo. I knew I threw over 20 pitches [in the first inning]. I was just like, ‘All right, let’s start getting some quick outs and start attacking these guys.’ When I did that, obviously, the strikeouts started to kind of pile up, so I was happy with that.”
Webb allowed only three more baserunners for the remainder of his outing and at one point struck out four in a row using his slider and changeup, which induced nine of his 14 whiffs. Opposing batters entered Tuesday hitting .365 (19-for-52) with eight extra-base hits off his changeup, but Webb said he tried to tweak his location with the pitch, especially with two strikes, and was encouraged with the results.
“I think it was really good at times,” Kapler said. “I think at other times he had significant misses with it. I’d say it’s an excellent pitch when he throws it somewhere in the middle of the plate and down. When he’s arm or glove side, sometimes it’s just a ball right out of the hand. It’s a pitch that he can and will refine as he throws it more and keeps his direction to the plate.”
Webb pitched into the seventh inning, but he surrendered a leadoff home run to David Dahl on a 3-1 sinker, cutting the Giants’ lead to 4-2 and prompting Kapler to lift him in favor of reliever Camilo Doval. Even after pitching well against the Rangers, Webb said he appreciates that the Giants continue to ask more of him in his third big league season.
“I’m happy that they challenge me, for sure,” Webb said. “I think that helps me a lot. It’s definitely something we talk about in here, too. I like the challenge.”
The Giants collected only four hits, but they drew six walks, including three from leadoff man Mike Tauchman, and capitalized on costly defensive miscues by the Rangers.
Tauchman reached on a free pass from Texas right-hander Jordan Lyles to open the bottom of the first and scored on a double to right field by Mike Yastrzemski to erase the early 1-0 deficit. Brandon Belt followed with an RBI single to put the Giants ahead, 2-1. San Francisco later extended its lead to 4-1 in the sixth, when Rangers third baseman Charlie Culberson committed a throwing error that allowed the decisive pair of runs to score.
Despite improving to an MLB-best 14-4 at home, the Giants came away from Tuesday’s victory with minor cause for concern, as Belt was removed from the game in the eighth inning with left side tightness. Belt has been dealing with the nagging issue for the past week, though he said “it’s really not a huge deal” and expressed confidence that he’ll be ready to go following Wednesday's off-day.
“I think just staying on it with treatment before and after games, it shouldn’t become a problem,” Belt said.
After wrapping up a 4-1 homestand against the Padres and Rangers, the first-place Giants (22-14) will embark on an eight-game road trip that will begin on Thursday in Pittsburgh.