Heliot Ramos

Giants' bats unable to take advantage of matchups vs. Rangers

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SAN FRANCISCO -- Bruce Bochy ran through a lot of closers in his time with the Giants, sometimes trying multiple choices early in a season before he found the right one. In the game he regrets the most, Game 4 of the 2016 NLDS, he used five different pitchers in the ninth inning, including two lefties.

Bochy trusted Javier Lopez and Will Smith that night, and for years he leaned heavily on Jeremy Affeldt. For the most part, though, his closers were right-handed, and that's generally the trend in Major League Baseball.

That makes Bochy's 2023 Texas Rangers an outlier. When Bochy's inherited options struggled in April, he turned to Smith, who has since saved 22 games. At the end of June, the Rangers dealt for lefty Aroldis Chapman, one of the best left-handed relievers in history, and the man who ultimately got the save that infamous night in 2016.

Bochy leans heavily on his two lefties, and on Friday, the Giants were ready. They had three righties on their bench and saved them all for the end of the game, but that wasn't enough.

Heliot Ramos doubled and scored, but the Giants fell 2-1 to the Rangers, losing for the fifth time in their last six games. Over their last 20 games, they have scored exactly one run eight times. 

The offensive problems are widespread, keeping the Giants from taking advantage in the late innings as they did so often in May and June. They are a team built to have a better bench than their opponent, but that's not the case right now. 

Gabe Kapler's top right-handed option on Friday -- Austin Slater -- has just 10 hits in his last 70 at-bats. Slater struck out on three pitches while batting for Michael Conforto when Chapman was brought in for the eighth. 

Mark Mathias was next up, getting the call instead of Brandon Crawford, who was facing a tough matchup in Chapman, but also has three hits in six lifetime at-bats against the hard-throwing lefty. Crawford is the longest-tenured Giant; Mathias was acquired along with AJ Pollock last week, a few weeks after he was DFA'd by the Pirates. Chapman struck him out. 

The Giants did strike gold with their third attempt when Ramos hit a ringing double to center to set up the night's only run. But it was too little, too late for a team that's not getting to starters early or to bullpens late.

"When Slates is on, he's as dangerous as any hitter against left-handed pitching, and he's gone through a little rut of his own," Kapler said. "It's magnified because it's over a longer period of time because there are fewer reps in there, but I've also seen some high-quality at-bats and trust that Slater is going to be Slater going forward.

"On a night when, in your pinch-hit situations, you go 1-for-3 with a crisp double to center field, that's all you can ask for. You're not often going to go 3-for-4 or have everybody reach base. You just want to be good in those situations, grind pitchers down, and hopefully give yourself a chance to win the game like we did tonight."

It's true that the Giants shouldn't have to count on three hits from the bench, but right now, they often do. They had just two singles off Jon Gray through the first seven innings, setting Bochy up to use his two leverage arms with a two-run lead. 

Bochy's hitting coordinator, Donnie Ecker, was in San Francisco for two years and knows how the Giants operate, so the Rangers surely knew how Kapler would counter. They were comfortable with Chapman against the righties, and Kapler said he was comfortable with his own decisions, including the one to hit for Crawford.

"Chapman is one of the toughest pitchers in baseball, period. The numbers up on the board really jump out and they're especially deadly against lefties," Kapler said. "You just want to try to work a good at-bat, maybe draw a walk. He does fall behind from time to time, like he did against Mathias, and you want to see as many pitches as possible. You really, really want righties up there against him."

When Mathias was acquired, the Giants sent him to Triple-A and kept Pollock up rather than promoting Ramos, who was red-hot in the minors. Pollock's injury earlier this week opened the door, and Ramos barged through in the ninth, smoking a 112.7 mph double. It was the hardest-hit ball of the year by a Giant not named Joc Pederson.

"I thought it would be right at somebody," Ramos said. "I saw the ball took off and I said, 'Hell yeah.'"

Kapler said that the coaching staff discussed the fact that this is the first time they have called Ramos up in the middle of a hot streak in the minors, and perhaps that can carry over. The 23-year-old made adjustments in Triple-A to simplify the way he uses his hands in his swing, and he's hopeful they allow him to finally stick at the big league level.

Those changes, plus that one swing, should get him a more extended look Saturday. The Giants are facing lefty Andrew Heaney, and they'll try to match up as they always do. Kapler continued to insist that the tide will turn at some point for a struggling group of hitters. 

"We're not going to get there by stressing about it," he said. "The way to be good in these situations is to relax more, to swing a little bit easier, to have that intensity in your mind but not in your body. We've seen this before. It's not surprising that we're going through a rut in the middle of the season because most teams do, and we'll stay even through it like we always do. This is the right time to relax and know that we have the guys in the room that can get this done."

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