Three homers back Bumgarner's strong start
Morse slugs first; Sandoval, Posey go back-to-back in fifth inning
LOS ANGELES -- The Giants entered this season knowing that Madison Bumgarner could excel at power pitching. As for power hitting, they couldn't be blamed for harboring some self-doubt.
But through six games, the Giants have shown that they can indeed use the home run as an asset. Their rediscovery of the long ball crested Saturday, as they hit three homers to complement Bumgarner's 6 1/3-inning, 10-strikeout effort in a 7-2 triumph over the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Bumgarner recorded his 50th career victory, a precocious achievement for a 24-year-old. His excellence against the Giants' archrivals has helped him reach that figure so quickly. Bumgarner owns a 9-3 career record against the Dodgers in 13 games (12 starts) and has defeated them in five of their last six encounters.
By contrast, the Giants' shower of power has not been so commonplace. They've totaled nine homers, a figure they didn't reach until their 16th game last season.
But this is a wholly new season, filled with fresh possibilities.
Michael Morse, Pablo Sandoval and Buster Posey went deep as San Francisco (5-1) won its fourth consecutive game. Sandoval and Posey delivered back-to-back homers in a four-run fifth inning that enabled the Giants to pull away.
"Throughout the order, we have some power," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "And hopefully that's going to help us. It's hard enough to score runs, but if you can do it with one swing of the bat, it makes your job easier."
With one swing of the bat off Dodgers starter Paul Maholm, the switch-hitting Sandoval matched his 2013 homer total as a right-handed batter. Bochy cited Sandoval's offseason work with Detroit slugger Miguel Cabrera as a likely source of improvement. Sandoval has become quicker to the ball with his right-handed swing. The third baseman is still dealing with a slump overall, as his .174 batting average indicates.
"I'm happy," Sandoval said, "but I'm not satisfied."
Sandoval's three-run homer did more than sweeten his credentials. It also demonstrated the Giants' renewed penchant for building big innings. They already have constructed three four-run innings, a five-run rally and one six-run outburst.
Bumgarner welcomed the increased support.
"It makes it easier to go after guys and challenge them," he said.
Approaching hitters aggressively never has been a problem for Bumgarner. He surrendered eight hits but limited the Dodgers to one hit in eight at-bats with runners in scoring position. Bumgarner performed his most impressive work in the fourth inning, striking out Matt Kemp, Scott Van Slyke and Juan Uribe following Adrian Gonzalez's leadoff double.
"He has command of three fastballs -- four-seamer, two-seamer and cutter," Gonzalez said. "[He] can throw them to both sides, with a slower curveball and changeup. He knows how to pitch. He has command down and away, up and in, he criss-crosses the strike zone and makes it tough."
As usual, Bumgarner was tough on Yasiel Puig, the Dodgers' mercurial right fielder who returned to the lineup one day after being benched for reporting late to Dodger Stadium. Puig mustered an infield hit off Bumgarner in three at-bats and is 3-for-12 lifetime off the left-hander.
Asked what adjustments he made against Puig, Bumgarner said, "Nothing. I was pretty good last year, too."
Whenever the Giants needed an extra lift, their defense provided it.
Their most scrutinized gem occurred in the seventh inning, when the Dodgers loaded the bases with one out and drove Bumgarner from the game. But A.J. Ellis tried to follow Van Slyke home on pinch-hitter Andre Ethier's RBI single off Santiago Casilla and was apprehended at home plate by right fielder Hunter Pence's one-hop throw. Dodgers manager Don Mattingly challenged the call but it was confirmed via replay, resulting in Pence's third outfield assist this season.
Flinging himself to his left, Sandoval snared Kemp's grounder with a runner on first and converted the out to end the sixth inning. Second baseman Brandon Hicks turned a difficult double play in the eighth to help defuse a two-on, nobody-out Dodgers rally. And left fielder Gregor Blanco made a deft sliding catch of Ellis' ninth-inning liner.