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Strickland adds finesse to power pitching

Reliever hurls two shutout innings to help Giants top Rangers

ARLINGTON -- Giants reliever Hunter Strickland's development might not yet be complete, but it's proceeding in plain view for all to see.

Strickland's rookie status is merely a matter of service time. In terms of practical experience, he's resembling a veteran more and more with each appearance. The right-hander's latest stint occurred Saturday night, when his two shutout innings solidified an uneven but ultimately effective relief effort in the Giants' 9-7, 11-inning Interleague triumph over the Texas Rangers.

Strickland (2-1) retired all six batters he faced in the ninth and 10th innings to earn the decision, which Santiago Casilla sealed with his 27th save in 31 opportunities. Strickland has gone unscored upon in his last 14 appearances, which span 12 2/3 innings.

No longer is Strickland the novice who established a dubious record by allowing six postseason home runs last October. No longer does he respond to adversity by simply trying to throw harder. The fact that he mostly pitched to contact against the Rangers, striking out one of six batters, reflected his growing maturity and reliance on deliveries other than his searing fastball.

"He's mixing up his pitches a little bit more and hitting his spots," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "He's becoming more of a pitcher and he's getting smarter."

Strickland acknowledged he understands his job more thoroughly.

"I'm throwing all of my pitches a whole lot better," said Strickland, who formerly threw hard, harder and hardest. "I go out there and I'm better able to compete."

Right-hander George Kontos concurred: "He's not just a guy who's throwing fastballs all the time."

Strickland threw only seven pitches in the ninth inning, enabling him to remain in the game for the 10th. This was critical for Bochy, who had nobody left in the bullpen besides Sergio Romo and Casilla. Bochy said had the game stretched even longer, Matt Cain, Monday's starter, would have entered the fray.

Had that occurred, it would have added to an adventurous evening for the bullpen. Kontos, who had permitted only one of 28 inherited runners to score, entered the game with a runner on second base and one out in the sixth inning. He walked Elvis Andrus on a full-count pitch before Bobby Wilson, the ninth batter in Texas' order, stuck out his bat and blooped a 1-2 pitch into short center field for an RBI single.

Ryan Vogelsong, who deserved a better fate in Bochy's opinion, surrendered a pair of seventh-inning runs that hiked Texas' lead to 7-4. Then Yusmeiro Petit, who has been erratic, defied his 5.70 road ERA by pitching a perfect eighth inning after San Francisco tied the score, 7-7.

That set the Giants on course for their eventual victory.

Chris Haft is a reporter for Read his blog, Haft-Baked Ideas, follow him on Twitter at @sfgiantsbeat and listen to his podcast.
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