Conforto's 3rd homer in 5 games not enough to spark Giants

April 2nd, 2024

LOS ANGELES -- was one of the Giants’ biggest free-agent additions last season, but he’s flown more under the radar following the arrival of several newcomers like Jung Hoo Lee, Matt Chapman and Jorge Soler this year.

Despite the lack of fanfare, Conforto has quickly emerged as one of the club’s hottest hitters to start the year.

Conforto continued his early-season power surge by crushing his team-high third home run in five games, but it wasn’t enough in an 8-3 loss to the Dodgers in Monday night’s series opener at Dodger Stadium.

The Giants were held scoreless by left-hander James Paxton through the first five innings before Conforto put them on the board with a towering solo shot off reliever Ryan Brasier in the top of the sixth. Conforto fell behind 0-2, took a ball and fouled off two straight sliders before yanking the next one just inside the right-field foul pole for a 384-foot blast that cut the Dodgers’ lead to 3-1.

“I caught it pretty flush and there was pretty good spin on it, so not much hook,” Conforto said. “It was the third straight slider, so my third chance on it. I put a pretty good swing on it and kept it fair.”

Conforto’s homer provided a brief spark, but the Giants couldn’t cash in on multiple scoring opportunities, finishing 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position and leaving 10 on base. San Francisco’s bullpen couldn’t keep it close after that, as Teoscar Hernández broke the game open with a three-run homer off submariner Tyler Rogers in the bottom of the sixth.

The Dodgers also tacked on a pair of insurance runs against right-hander Nick Avila, who gave up RBI knocks to Mookie Betts and Will Smith after coming in to make his Major League debut in the seventh.

San Francisco’s bullpen has now allowed 20 runs over 18 innings, resulting in a Major League-high 10.00 ERA over the first five games of the season. Every reliever aside from Landen Roupp has given up at least one run thus far, though the group is light on experience after introducing four rookies -- Avila, Roupp, Erik Miller and Kai-Wei Teng -- into the mix early this year.

“We can be better,” manager Bob Melvin said. “We also have some guys coming, and that’s going to be key for us. Whether it’s Blake [Snell], whether it’s Alex [Cobb]. Certainly Robbie Ray down the road. Closing games out is going to be key for us.”

The latest late-inning stumble overshadowed a solid season debut for rookie right-hander Keaton Winn, who gave up three runs over five innings in his 10th career Major League appearance (his sixth start). Winn struck out six and walked one while leaning on his trademark splitter, which he threw 42% of the time and used to induce seven of his 14 whiffs. He also topped out at 98.2 mph with his fastball and mixed in 20 sliders, one shy of his entire total from the 2023 campaign.

Winn missed time with mild right elbow inflammation at the beginning of Spring Training, but he managed to recover in time to earn a spot on the Giants’ Opening Day roster. He drew a tough assignment in his first appearance of the season, as he was tasked with taking on a Dodgers lineup that features perhaps the most vaunted top of the order in the Majors in Betts, Shohei Ohtani and Freeman. The trio didn’t disappoint on Monday, combining to go 6-for-11 with three RBIs and six runs scored.

“That’s a lot of high-powered guys, for sure,” Winn said. “You’ve really got to focus up and make pitches, especially the first five guys.”

While the Giants’ lineup couldn’t break through against Paxton on Monday, Conforto’s hot start bodes well for their ability to put together better offensive showings in the future. The 31-year-old left fielder underwhelmed at the plate last season after missing the entire 2022 campaign due to right shoulder surgery, but he already looks like he’s in a better offensive rhythm after going through a rehab-free Spring Training this year.

“It’s a good start,” Conforto said. “There’s a lot of good things. There’s still some at-bats that I feel like I’m missing some pitches and could get some things going and get on base a little bit more. But overall, it’s nice to see the ball leave the ballpark. I’m just going to keep working and trying to put together great at-bats and help the team win.”

Conforto didn’t get a chance to start against many lefties toward the end of last season, but he’s already homered off one southpaw -- Padres reliever Tom Cosgrove -- and should have an opportunity to reestablish himself as an everyday player if he can sustain this level of productivity moving forward.

“It’s been great,” Melvin said. “He’s been in there basically every day. He had a big homer off a lefty, too. We talked about the year after you have that surgery. He looks like he’s playing really well and playing with a lot of confidence.”