Big Unit battered as Giants scuffle
Johnson slips in middle frames; offense stays stagnant
DENVER -- The Giants have played an alarming number of games in which it seemed like they got shut out. Add Wednesday's to the list.Officially, the Giants have been blanked only once. But their 11-1 loss to the Colorado Rockies featured the absence of offense that has typified their season. The Giants have scored two runs or fewer 11 times in 26 games. In this one, Rockies starter Ubaldo Jimenez blanked San Francisco on three hits through seven innings before the visitors mustered their lone run. Another familiar pattern returned: Randy Johnson's inconsistency, a trait which even he admitted might follow him throughout the season at age 45. Though a pair of walks, a sacrifice bunt and a sacrifice fly gave Colorado a third-inning run, Johnson allowed just one hit through four innings and looked primed to secure career victory No. 298. But Johnson lapsed in the fifth, when he surrendered consecutive home runs to Matt Murton and Yorvit Torrealba to open the inning. Matters worsened for Johnson and the Giants in the sixth as Colorado scored four runs to settle the outcome. After San Francisco barely missed a double-play opportunity that would have ended the inning, Torrealba hit an RBI single and Clint Barmes added a two-run double to finish Johnson. If form holds true, Johnson will pitch capably in his next start. Given the excellence he has flashed this season and maintained in the past, he's less of a concern than San Francisco's offense, which ranks last in the Majors and trails the rest of the National League in home runs and slugging percentage. Asked if Giants hitters need to be more patient or aggressive, right fielder Randy Winn said, "There's not one thing that I can point out that's going to get us rolling as an offense as a whole. There's a time in every game where you have to be patient; there's a time to be aggressive." In fairness to the Giants, any team would have struggled against Jimenez (2-4), who had lost four consecutive games but not his array of deliveries that makes him one of the league's most talented pitchers. Johnson and the Giants bested him last Friday in San Francisco, 3-2, but even then, Jimenez looked impressive as he threw hard for seven innings. This time, Winn said, "he was able to get ahead of us consistently, which is big. Sometimes when he struggles, he gets behind hitters and gets a little bit more predictable. But today he was getting ahead and using his fastball on both sides of the plate." First baseman Travis Ishikawa, who went 2-for-3 off Jimenez in their previous confrontation, went 0-for-3 this time. The difference in Jimenez was subtle but sufficient.
"The two pitches I hit last time were out over the plate," said Ishikawa, who's hitless in his last 13 at-bats. "Today, he was spotting up really well inside and kind of getting inside my barrel."That's the kind of dominance Johnson usually displays. But he recorded no strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings, marking the seventh time in 592 career starts that he has recorded this dubious sort of shutout. Johnson said that "by no means" was this an ominous development, though he last went without a strikeout on Aug. 4, 2006, at Baltimore as a member of the New York Yankees. In fact, that was his second strikeout-less game in a row. "He's still a really good pitcher," Colorado first baseman Todd Helton said. "He just left some balls over the middle of the plate. He's so hard to pick up. Ninety-two [mph] still feels like 98 to me. I don't know if it's being a big lanky guy, but to me he definitely still has it." Upon leaving the game, Johnson repaired to the video room, where he watched replays that confirmed his poor location. "My slider wasn't nearly as sharp as it was in my last start," Johnson said. "I would say that's probably the biggest reason for so much offense on their side." The Giants are still groping for answers regarding the sputtering offense on their side.
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.