Five and dive: Giants win behind rookie pitcher and get another stellar night from Heliot Ramos

ATLANTA — Heliot Ramos looked straight up as if he were stargazing.

He couldn’t find what he was seeking. So he scanned across the field. Still nothing. He held out both palms in confusion. He’d put a good swing on the chest-high first-pitch fastball he’d been anticipating, but he had no idea where the ball went. It wasn’t until he saw Atlanta Braves right fielder Adam Duvall drift back to the fence, then scoop up a baseball that had deflected off the seats, that Ramos knew he’d just grabbed a share of the Giants’ team lead in home runs.

“That’s when I started running and I realized, `Oh s—, it’s gone,’” Ramos said.

It’s becoming one of the Giants’ most reliable daily developments in this unpredictable scramble of a season: Ramos will contribute something unexpected, and sometimes unexplainable, over the span of nine innings. His solo home run in the ninth inning, including his apologetic rounding of the bases, did not make the difference Tuesday night. It merely provided insurance for closer Camilo Doval.

Then Ramos made certain to provide a blanket policy. He contributed a diving, tumbling, face-planting catch behind Doval to begin the bottom of the ninth, burnishing what have become obvious All-Star credentials as the Giants grabbed a 5-3 victory in their series opener at Truist Field.

No need to scan the night sky for stars. The Giants have one in their midst.

“Look, any homer, I’m happy with,” said Giants manager Bob Melvin, who also got back-to-back shots from Jorge Soler and LaMonte Wade Jr. in the fifth. “But you hit a line drive down the right field line, doesn’t (hook) at all, and hits the seats real hard? That’s pretty impressive.”

There might come a time when it’s not considered impressive for the Giants to receive five innings from a starting pitcher. For now, given the slapdash nature of their rotation, it’s sometimes difficult to remember what a conventional pitching plan even looks like. Except for the times when Logan Webb pitches deep in a game, every day for the Giants bullpen has felt like a gorilla stomping on a Samsonite.

But the Giants had something that resembled a conventional game. They coaxed five innings from rookie right-hander Hayden Birdsong, who received credit for his first major league victory — and a celebratory postgame dousing in the clubhouse showers — when the Giants took the lead in the top of the sixth.

This might be hard to fathom: Combined with Sunday’s homestand finale against the Dodgers, when Spencer Bivens exceeded all expectations to make it through five innings in a 10-4 victory, the Giants have received a winning decision from a starting pitcher in consecutive games for the first time in almost seven weeks. Kyle Harrison and Jordan Hicks were the last Giants starting duo to win in consecutive games when they accomplished it May 18-19.

Here’s an even wackier factoid: The Giants haven’t gotten a win from a starting pitcher in three consecutive games since May 3-6 of last season. Webb, Sean Manaea and Alex Cobb were the winners over that three-game stretch.

It’s not like it was a breeze for Melvin to get through the final four innings. He used Randy Rodriguez in the sixth. Ryan Walker tied teammate Tyler Rogers for the major league lead when he made his 43rd appearance of the season in a scoreless seventh. Then Rogers leapt back ahead when he made his 44th appearance while allowing a run in the eighth.

“Well, you’d want a minimum of five with a starter,” Melvin said. “Six is a lot different. Seven is a lot different. We’ll probably get there with (Birdsong). But we had to manage to get through the fifth because we didn’t want to go too deep (into the bullpen) today. He’d shown enough in his last outing to be able to finish the fifth.”

“Five and dive” used to be a pejorative for a starting pitcher. For the Giants, getting five innings in consecutive games is starting to feel like going to the grocery store on payday.

It’s still not enough. The Giants are using their front-line relievers at an unsustainable rate. They’ll have to win a share of games without turning to all of their primary setup men, whether that means enjoying a blowout victory a little more often or getting more length from a reinforced rotation that could look much different in two weeks. They’re likely to get Harrison back from a sprained ankle this weekend in Cleveland, with Blake Snell’s return a possibility on the following homestand. Robbie Ray and Cobb remain on track to return shortly after the All-Star break.

For now, they’ll take the rarity of back-to-back wins from starting pitchers. Doesn’t even matter that the two pitchers were competing for the independent Gastonia Honey Hunters (Bivens) and the Danville Dans in a Midwest collegiate wooden-bat league (Birdsong) as recently as three years ago.

Birdsong might have had some of his former Dans and Eastern Illinois teammates in the stands Tuesday night. A large contingent of family and friends made the 10-hour drive to Atlanta from Mattoon, Ill., to watch his second major league start.

“I had more people here than I had in (San Francisco) last week,” Birdsong said. “A lot more friends, more of my buddies. Very thankful they could make it down.”

Birdsong’s circle of friends is growing. The 22-year-old rookie, who was the sixth pitcher the Giants took in the 2022 draft and the first among that group to make his major league debut, expressed gratitude that he’s been accepted so quickly by his new teammates.

“I’ve learned I can compete at this level and these guys are more than willing to play behind me and I love that,” Birdsong said. “They’re very welcoming to me and I’m grateful for that.”

Birdsong gave up consecutive homers to Austin Riley on a high fastball and Sean Murphy on a changeup in the second inning but resisted the temptation to pocket either pitch. He had thrown a manageable 65 pitches through four innings and took the mound in the fifth with the score tied after Soler and Wade went deep in the top of the inning. Then Birdsong endured an 11-pitch battle with Duvall that resulted in a walk. A bunt hit and a sacrifice put two runners in scoring position. Birdsong responded by striking out hot-hitting Jarred Kelenic on a darting changeup and then got Ozzie Albies to fly out.

“That’s when we found out the most about him tonight,” Melvin said. “He’s had some bad (results) and been able to figure it out. He’s had some walks and been able to make adjustments. For a young kid who’s thrown hard and walked some guys in the past, before this year anyway, that’s what you look for.”

Ramos had a welt on the side of his head as a result of his catch in the ninth but said he came away otherwise uninjured following his awkward collision with the turf. His ego was a bit more bruised by teammates who ribbed him for his lack of style points. Mostly, though, everyone’s attention was on Birdsong and his beer shower. With all the cans of suds already claimed, Ramos grabbed a bottle of hair gel and emptied it over Birdsong’s head.

“It’s so dope, it’s so fun,” Ramos said. “I mean, he’s a great pitcher. I love the way he pitches, he’s aggressive. And a great guy. So good for him.”

Birdsong enjoyed every part of the postgame celebration — until the moment when his eyes began to sting.

“I was kind of freaking out because I have my one pair of contacts in my eyes right now,” he said. “I’ll get more tomorrow.”

And the Giants probably will get something new out of Ramos, who was still having trouble believing that his swing in the ninth produced a home run. He started so late out of the box that he worried the Braves would assume that he was showing them up. As he rounded the bases, he called out to Albies at second base to let him know he didn’t see where the ball went. He gave the same message to Murphy as he crossed home plate.

“I hope that they weren’t offended,” Ramos said.

(Photo of Hayden Birdsong: Brett Davis / USA Today)

Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top