SAN FRANCISCO – Chris Stratton managed to make something out of the Giants’ unsalvageable season.
He came from the minor leagues as a long reliever. He walked off the mound Friday night to a standing ovation – and in all likelihood, incumbent status as the No.5 starter when everyone reports for spring training.
Stratton threw 6 2/3 strong innings in the Giants’ 8-0 victory over the San Diego Padres, and soaked up a standing ovation from the crowd at AT&T Park.
“He made a really big statement, I think, if you look at his body of work here,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “You’re just watching him pound the strike zone. He’s got two breaking balls and a changeup, and he finished on a great note tonight.”
It was not a note out of the blue. Stratton was 4-2 with a 2.27 ERA over his final eight starts of the season. He struck out 39 in 39 2/3 innings. He even proved he could maintain that stuff a bit deeper into a game, throwing a career high 110 pitches while coming up just short of completing seven innings for the first time.
“I’m glad they gave me that chance,” said Stratton, of getting stretched out a bit more. “I felt great. Pitching in the Arizona Fall League last year probably helped with that. I still feel good. Hopefully next year, we’ll have the postseason as well.”
Stratton turned 27 years old in August. By the time Matt Cain was his age, he already had thrown three postseason gems, won a World Series and appeared on two NL All-Star teams.
Not everyone can arrive fully formed in the big leagues before they can take a legal swig. But as a fan base prepares to fete Cain in his final big league start on Saturday, the Giants might have found someone just as laconic and level headed to replace him. Stratton is the rare Giants player who received a call-up and actually seized the chance he received.
“It’s nice to have a young man like this come up and make some noise to be in the rotation next year,” Bochy said. “I don’t know what will happen, but he’s made a statement.”
The Giants offense was more of a pregnant pause all season. But Buster Posey hit three RBI doubles, Joe Panik raised his average to .290 with four hits, Hunter Pence tripled off the wall and Brandon Crawford drove in three with a pair of singles. Pablo Sandoval also had a double, chopped an RBI single and made a diving stop at third base.
All of those players are expected back next year, in some form or function.
The question, which is likely to be answered within a few days, is whether some of the coaches – hitting coach Hensley Meulens among them – will return as well. When a team is supposed to win 90-plus games ends up losing 90-plus, the grassy hills are often overrun with scapegoats.
Word around the clubhouse is that the coaching staff is bracing for possible changes — and guessing about what those might be.
“It’s something we weren’t consistent in this year,” Bochy said of his offense. “I guess you get a taste of what we are or what we could be, when you see the way they came through tonight. They had some big hits, some clutch hits.”
All the Giants’ runs scored with two outs. They were 5 for 12 with runners in scoring position.
The Giants will not have to find inspiration in this year’s Minnesota Twins, who became the first team to lose 100 games one season and make the playoffs the next. The Giants’ victory left them with a 63-97 record with two games to play ensuring they will not join the 1985 squad as the only clubs to lose 100 in franchise history.
They are now tied with the Detroit Tigers for the worst record in the majors, with the Philadelphia Phillies two games ahead. If the Tigers and Giants finish the season tied for the worst record, the Tigers would receive the top draft pick by virtue of their lesser place (by just a half-game) in the 2016 standings.
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