Sanchez's strong start fades quickly
Left-hander strikes out five of first six batters in loss
SAN DIEGO -- The first complete turn of the Giants' starting rotation revealed plenty of room for improvement.This wasn't expected from the group that's supposed to lead the team's renaissance. Of course, with five games down and 157 to go, enduring judgments shouldn't be made for weeks, if not months. But the fact remains that Jonathan Sanchez's fifth-inning lapse Saturday night didn't just doom the Giants to a 6-3 loss to the San Diego Padres. It also sealed a lousy week for the rotation that includes three Cy Young Award winners and the promising pair of Sanchez and Matt Cain. Giants starters recorded a 6.46 ERA in their 2009 debuts, combining to work only 23 2/3 innings while allowing 23 hits and 17 earned runs while walking 13. They did amass 28 strikeouts, but that's like serving Dom Perignon with a frozen pizza. Subtract Matt Cain's excellent seven-inning, one-run effort in the finale of the Milwaukee series, and the rotation's ERA balloons to 8.64. "That's not going to work. We know that," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said of the rotation's initial struggles. "But once we get this going, they'll get in a rhythm." Sanchez's rhythm at the outset was perfectly synchronized. He struck out five of the first six Padres he faced and looked nothing like a No. 5 starter. But Sanchez faltered by yielding two home runs to Henry Blanco, the respected yet well-traveled and light-hitting backup catcher. Blanco's first homer led off San Diego's third inning and opened the scoring; his second initiated a four-run fifth that broke a 1-1 tie and essentially settled the outcome. Instead of shutting down the Padres after Blanco's second homer, Sanchez allowed it to rattle him. That, in turn, caused him to lose a consistent release point in his delivery, which made his pitches travel everywhere except where he wanted them to. Sanchez walked two batters and surrendered Scott Hairston's sharp infield hit before Adrian Gonzalez belted a bases-loaded, two-out double. "He was definitely out of sync after [Blanco's second] home run," Bochy said. "It's a 2-1 ballgame at that time. We're right in it. He's got to get better at that." Sanchez realized this, particularly since San Diego ace Jake Peavy was en route to his 28th career double-digit strikeout game.
"Against Peavy, I have to do my best," Sanchez said.The left-hander admitted feeling rocked when Blanco, a .227 lifetime hitter entering this season, slammed his second homer.
"I was angry," said Sanchez, admitting that he needed to "stay back, relax and make my pitches."That's what Peavy does in most of his starts, though he had lost five of his previous eight decisions against San Francisco. Four of the Giants' hits off him went for extra bases, but he permitted more than one hit in only one inning, the fourth, before Randy Winn and Fred Lewis doubled in the ninth inning to prompt the appearance of San Diego closer Heath Bell. Bell struck out Bengie Molina and coaxed Pablo Sandoval's foul popup to earn his third save. Still, Bochy appreciated his club's competitiveness.
"We got three runs off Jake. You don't expect to score that many off of him," he said.The Giants might not have expected to drop the first two games of this series after finishing 13-5 against the Padres last season. Yet the Giants already have lost as many games at PETCO Park this season as they did last year, when they finished 7-2 here. The Padres have been considered a joke by so-called experts, none of whom actually have to play against them. But they're one victory away from sweeping the Giants. "They have a pretty good offense over there," Bochy said. "They have [Brian] Giles and Gonzalez hitting third and fourth and they have good hitters at the top of the order. They're going to put runs on the board."
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.