Conforto powers Giants with HR, 4 hits: 'He's on fire'

May 26th, 2023

MILWAUKEE -- Another day, another big performance from

Conforto stayed red-hot at the plate by going 4-for-4 with his seventh home run in his past 14 games as the Giants blanked the Brewers, 5-0, in Thursday night’s series opener at American Family Field. 

Conforto, who also walked and stole a base, led off the eighth inning with a towering solo shot off Milwaukee reliever Tyson Miller that ignited a four-run rally and carried San Francisco (25-25) to its eighth win in its past 10 games. His four hits matched a career high and backed a brilliant effort from six Giants relievers, who combined to strike out 13 and allow only four hits in the club’s fourth shutout of the year. 

“He’s on fire,” said right-hander Jakob Junis, who earned the win after tossing 2 1/3 innings. “He’s swinging a hot bat. He’s got a pretty swing when it’s on. He’s been a huge part of our offense on this little run that we’re on. Hopefully he keeps it going, and we keep stringing some wins along.”

With right-hander Ross Stripling on the injured list due to a back strain, the Giants opted to lean on their bullpen to essentially fill the fifth spot in their rotation. The unit once again rose to the occasion, with opener Scott Alexander working a perfect first inning before passing the baton to Taylor Rogers, Junis, Sean Manaea, Tyler Rogers and John Brebbia. 

“I’m really proud of the whole entire bullpen,” Junis said. “It’s awesome to have one of these types of games and for everybody to pick each other up and throw a shutout. It’s obviously the goal every game. For it to happen in a bullpen game is pretty sweet.” 

San Francisco’s relievers ended April with a 6.15 ERA that ranked 28th in the Majors, but the group has turned it around in May, logging a 0.94 ERA over the club’s past 10 games and improving to 3-1 in bullpen games this year.

“These strategies tend to work when pitchers do a great job and are really bought in,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “For example, Tay Rogers before the game was very comfortable coming out there behind Scott Alexander, which was huge for us because the bottom part of their lineup is best for one of our lefties. 

“It’s really nice to have that flexibility to go to Tay and then use Junis and Manaea later in the game. It gives us a lot of mix-and-match options. But really, the bullpen is responsible for the recent wins in these types of games. It’s because they’re doing a great job out there.”

The Giants were clinging to a 1-0 lead before Conforto pounced on a first-pitch fastball from Miller to lead off the eighth, driving it 424 feet out to right-center field for his team-leading 11th homer of the year.

“I think a good indication of how Conforto is feeling at the plate is how ready he is for fastballs early in the count,” Kapler said. “You saw that obviously throughout the game today. He’s been locked in for a little while now. He feels confident at the plate. He’s doing really good work across the board.”

Conforto, 30, initially struggled to regain his timing after missing the entire 2022 season due to right shoulder surgery, but he’s found his rhythm at the plate and is emerging as the type of middle-of-the-order bat the Giants envisioned when they signed him to a two-year, $36 million deal over the offseason.

“It’s kind of a process we started a few weeks ago,” said Conforto, whose OPS is now up to .803 over 45 games. “I think things started to get a little worse actually before they got better. It’s just kind of one of the things that happens in baseball when you’re trying to make adjustments. Sometimes it doesn’t kick in right away. You have to get comfortable with the timing changes.

“We worked through a tough stretch, and now I feel like I’m in a good place with where my body is. I feel balanced and I feel like I’m letting the ball travel and making my decision a little bit later than I was early on during the season.”

Rookies Casey Schmitt and Patrick Bailey followed Conforto’s homer with back-to-back, two-out RBI doubles to give the Giants extra breathing room and allow them to give closer Camilo Doval the night off. LaMonte Wade Jr. also went 3-for-5 with an RBI out of the leadoff spot to boost his on-base percentage to an MLB-high .430 over 48 games this year.