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Giants use opener to move up in playoff race

@mi_guardado
September 24, 2020

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants believe Logan Webb’s future lies in their starting rotation, but the 23-year-old right-hander looked comfortable pitching out of the bullpen on Wednesday. After left-hander Caleb Baragar was tapped to serve as the opener in his first big league start, Webb came in to fire 5

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants believe Logan Webb’s future lies in their starting rotation, but the 23-year-old right-hander looked comfortable pitching out of the bullpen on Wednesday.

After left-hander Caleb Baragar was tapped to serve as the opener in his first big league start, Webb came in to fire 5 1/3 innings of two-run ball as the bulk-innings pitcher, helping the Giants secure a 7-2 win over the Rockies at Oracle Park.

Box score

Mauricio Dubón delivered the decisive blow for the Giants, crushing a tiebreaking, three-run home run off Rockies reliever Yency Almonte to cap a four-run rally in the fifth inning. San Francisco added another pair of runs in the eighth, with Brandon Belt recording his 500th career RBI with a single to right field.

“I told my dad today that it was the biggest home run of my career so far,” Dubón said. “It's pretty special. I knew it was gone right away. My dad told me, ‘Look like you've been there before,’ so that's what I’ll try to do next time.”

By winning their second straight game to take a 2-1 lead in this four-game series, the Giants (28-27) moved into the No. 7 playoff spot in the National League, mere percentage points ahead of the No. 8 Reds (29-28), with five games left to play.

The Giants waited until five hours before first pitch to announce their unexpected pick for Wednesday’s start. Baragar has experience starting in the Minor Leagues, but he’d spent the entire season carving out a role in the Giants’ bullpen. His most recent start came in a similar high-pressure situation, though, as he helped lead the Sacramento River Cats to the 2019 Triple-A national championship last September.

Manager Gabe Kaper had signaled a willingness to experiment with unconventional pitching arrangements prior to the season, but the Giants toyed with the opener only once before during their opening series against the Dodgers in July. Still, Kapler felt Baragar could help the Giants navigate the top of the Rockies’ order, which included two left-handed bats in leadoff man Raimel Tapia and cleanup hitter Charlie Blackmon.

“With Baragar, we feel confident that he's a guy that has the capability to come in and pound the strike zone and potentially get two left-handed hitters out for us,” Kapler said before the game. “It doesn't always work out that way, but we're having Baragar start the game for at least that reason."

Another reason likely had to do with Webb, who entered Wednesday with an 8.86 ERA over his last five outings for the Giants. After giving up six runs over 3 1/3 innings against the A’s on Friday, Webb said he felt like he was thinking too much about “mechanical things,” which was affecting his command and hampering his ability to consistently fill up the zone.

“I think the most compelling advantage is just avoiding the difficulty of the first three or four hitters in their lineup as the starting point for Logan,” Kapler said. “The top of their lineup, they're super challenging hitters to get out. One compelling reason would be to get Logan off to a good start by having him face hitters that are good, but perhaps not the caliber of the [Trevor] Storys and the Blackmons of the world.”

Baragar learned of his opener assignment late Tuesday night and was advised to keep his routine the same ahead of his milestone start. Shortly before gametime, the 26-year-old jogged out from the bullpen in right-center field to take the mound for the top of the first inning. It was an odd visual, as Giants starters typically emerge from the dugout after completing their warmups.

“That's just kind of the script that they laid out for me,” Baragar said.

The new role didn’t seem to be much of a disruption for Baragar, who needed only 10 pitches to retire Tapia, Kevin Pillar and Story in the first and extend his scoreless streak to 12 2/3 innings.

Baragar came back out for the second, but he was removed after surrendering a leadoff double to Blackmon. Kapler subsequently summoned Webb, who induced back-to-back groundouts before Elias Díaz reached on an error by shortstop Brandon Crawford to put runners on the corners with two outs. Still, Webb avoided damage by coaxing an inning-ending groundout from Sam Hilliard.

“I can’t remember the last time I came in with somebody on base, but it was kind of cool,” Webb said. “It was fun out there. I don’t know if that changed the game plan or the mindset of that, but it was my first time experiencing that, and it was cool.”

Webb allowed some hard contact, but he managed to hold the Rockies to an RBI single by Story in the third and an RBI double by Tapia in the fifth. He exited with a 5-2 lead thanks to homers from Dubón and Evan Longoria, who put the Giants on the board with a solo shot in the fourth, and departed after throwing 84 pitches.

“I think after Baragar set the tone for us by pounding the strike zone, Logan was able to see how important it was to attack the strikes zone,” Kapler said. “That wasn't by design, but it may have had an impact. Independent of whether it did or not, Logan was in the zone more than he has been. He was comfortable inducing contact, and some of that contact was hard. That's OK.

“I think what allowed him to be efficient was his willingness to live with that contact. Sometimes it turned into a ground-ball double play. Sometimes it turned into a ball right at somebody. I think it was a big step forward for Logan today.”

Webb said he spent his time between starts working with pitching coach Andrew Bailey on the mental side of the game, specifically, “trying to get out of my head and just going out there and competing.” He isn’t lined up to make any more starts for the Giants for the remainder of the regular season, but he didn’t rule out the possibility of coming back on short rest and pitching out of the bullpen again during this weekend’s four-game series against the Padres.

“I probably need a day or two,” Webb said. “But after that, I’m willing to do whatever to help out and contribute and give some innings, whether it’s the last couple of games or whatever. I’m excited about it.”

Maria Guardado covers the Giants for MLB.com. She previously covered the Angels from 2017-18. Follow her on Twitter.