CHICAGO -- The Giants' most useful performer on Sunday night was Pierce Johnson, which conveyed all you need to know about their 8-3 loss to the Chicago Cubs.
Johnson relieved Ty Blach in the fourth and yielded Javier Baez's three-run homer that snapped a 3-3 tie. Despite that lapse, Johnson helped the Giants by working three innings to prevent the bullpen from overuse.
That summarizes the state of the Giants, who have rarely received durable efforts from their starting pitchers. By lasting two batters into the fourth inning, Blach recorded the club's 15th game among the last 20 in which the starter did not go six innings or more. Quality starts have become nearly extinct among the Giants, who have three of them in this 20-game stretch. No wonder the starters own a 4.73 ERA, third-highest in the National League.
Should this trend continue, the Giants will be shuttling relievers back and forth between Sacramento, site of their Triple-A affiliate, as if they were government lobbyists. The lack of staying power among the Giants' starters threatens to burn out the bullpen.
Fortunately for the Giants, ace left-hander Madison Bumgarner should soon rejoin the rotation, followed by Johnny Cueto several weeks later. They'll bring hope as well as competence to a staff that needs both.
On Sunday, Blach plainly wasn't himself. Besides being charged with five runs while allowing seven hits and walking four in his three-plus innings, he fielded his position with unusual awkwardness. Two comebackers that he'd typically handle instead grazed his glove, forcing first-time second baseman Pablo Sandoval to scamper extra distances.
"He's a guy who goes after the hitters and throws strikes," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said of Blach (3-5). "He was just off."
Said Blach, who has compiled an 0-2 record with an 8.62 ERA in his last four starts, "I just kind of lost rhythm and wasn't able to command the strike zone later in the game."
After rallying for three runs in the first inning, the Giants had chances to add runs against Cubs starter Tyler Chatwood, but they left the bases loaded in the second and third innings. Meanwhile, the Cubs added a pair of fifth-inning runs off Johnson to settle matters.
"We just needed one more hit, walk or anything," Bochy said, referring to the offensive frustration.
Any joy derived from this game began and ended with Sandoval, whose only previous activity at second base lasted two-thirds of an inning with Boston on April 21, 2017, at Baltimore.
"At first, I was a little scared," said Sandoval, who was tested immediately as the first two Cubs hit grounders in his direction. Sandoval made a barehand pickup on Albert Almora Jr.'s dribbler but couldn't record the putout. After that, Sandoval provided the assist on Baez's grounder. "After I made that play, I felt a little more loose."
The Giants fell to 1-4 on their three-city trip that continues with a three-game series at Colorado that opens Monday.
The Giants have allowed 47 runs in the fourth inning, their worst inning so far this season. The first inning, in which San Francisco has yielded 43 runs, has been almost as trying.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
It's completely true that the ball finds you. Sandoval's stint at second base, which lasted fewer than four innings, proved this. Sandoval was involved in four first-inning plays, either on grounders hit directly to him or batted balls that Blach deflected.
Sandoval said he began taking grounders at second base when Joe Panik sprained his left thumb in late April. With Buster Posey nursing his sore right hip, this seemed like a good opportunity for Bochy to bolster the offense -- not the defense -- by playing Sandoval at second.
Sandoval's most impressive moment occurred not in the field, where he used one of shortstop Brandon Crawford's spare gloves, but on the basepaths. His first-inning dash to first base resulted in a two-out infield single that opened San Francisco's scoring. According to Statcast™, Sandoval's covered ground at the rate of 27.2 feet per second -- significantly faster than his average sprint speed of 25.3.
Andrew Suarez's big league education will continue Monday with a stern test: Pitching at Coors Field. The rookie left-hander will start the 4:10 p.m. PT opener of a three-game series against the Colorado Rockies and right-hander Chad Bettis. Suarez hopes to avoid finding out that if the power hitters don't get you at Coors, the bloop hits that result from all the outfielders playing deep will.