Why Belt, Wade Jr.'s returns will be so important for Giants


SAN FRANCISCO -- Carlos Rodón gave up a leadoff homer and needed 25 pitches to get through the first inning on Tuesday, but still, it would have been hard after that inning to imagine him getting outlasted by the other starting pitcher. 

The Giants sent eight runners to the plate against Colorado Rockies righty German Marquez in the first inning and scored three runs. They had him on the ropes but let him catch his breath, and Marquez ended up walking off with a lead after the bottom of the sixth. 

San Francisco lost to Marquez and the Rockies 5-3 in their return to Oracle Park, and while the bullpen once again made a mess of a lead, equal blame fell on a lineup that couldn't deliver a knockout blow early, or even make sure that Bud Black had to use some of his lesser relievers. The Giants had just two hits after that first inning and didn't score again. 

"One of the things that we can work on as an offense right now is taking the same approach the second and third time through as we do the first time through," manager Gabe Kapler said. "We tend to -- even with some of the best pitchers around the league -- really drive their pitch count up in the first and the second inning and sometimes we have a tendency to let them off the hook. 

"Marquez didn't have a lot of pitches to work with there by the third inning but then all of a sudden he got under control and we started putting pitches in play earlier in counts. It wasn't necessarily about him cruising, but more about becoming very, very efficient and then lasting so that they could get to their real leverage relievers."

Kapler said he's confident the Giants will get better at grinding, pointing out that it was a hallmark of last year's lineup, which was shockingly productive en route to 107 wins. He can be confident in part because he knows things will get better when the lineup's health gets better. 

Perhaps the team's two best grinders against right-handed pitchers like Marquez are both out with knee injuries, but Brandon Belt is getting closer to a return and LaMonte Wade Jr. will start a rehab assignment on Thursday. Kapler noted that getting those two back should allow the Giants to somewhat get back to their ways of knocking starters out early and taking advantage of the soft parts of bullpens. 

"Brandon Belt is a guy that can really grind a pitcher down. LaMonte Wade Jr. is a guy that can really grind a pitcher down," Kapler said. "We've gotten some huge at-bats from Donnie Walton, huge at-bats from Jason Vosler and others -- it's a little bit different in terms of that consistent, consistent grind. I'm very pleased with the players that we have right now on our roster, and we think they're capable of helping us win baseball games. There is a bit of a difference when we have one of the best hitters in the National League in Brandon Belt and he's not around, he's not driving pitch counts up. 

"It is a team approach thing that I think we can tune up and get better at. That is taking that same grindy, pass-the-baton approach in innings three, four, five, six as we are in innings one and two, which I think has been really good."

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The Giants are second in the Majors in first-inning runs, trailing only the Dodgers, and seventh in second-inning runs. But just as they showed Tuesday night, they've had trouble keeping that momentum going. 

It's a bad trait to mix with a bullpen that right now seems to give up every other mid-inning lead, and on Tuesday the Giants once again paid for failing to keep their early grind going.

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