Brandon Belt

Anything to avoid praising Jonathan Sanchez

Jonathan Sanchez gave up one hit through the first six innings tonight, and people will still find ways to complain. He walked guys! Again! When he pitches, we’re all powerless against the anarchy spewing forth from his flaky left hand! If he ever put it all together, really harnessed all that talent — maybe then he’d be worthy of us, a group of pitching connoisseurs who deserve to watch games devoid of stress and worry. Instead, the Giants continue to play games that provide such tortu…

Most Giants fans don’t think like this, but there’s plenty of people who jump all over Sanchez whenever he does anything the golden boys of the rotation wouldn’t. As if comparing Sanchez to Tim Lincecum (already well on his way to being considered the best pitcher in franchise history), and Matt Cain (the pitching equivalent of Xanax, he makes viewers feel so relaxed and carefree) is fair.

Lincecum and Sanchez just shut down the hottest team in baseball in their own inflatable castle, turning a watershed early-season series into a memorandum on the importance of deep pitching staffs. And all everyone’s talking about is Brandon Belt, Darren Ford, Cody Ross and Aaron Rowand.

Rehashing the exploits of Pablo Sandoval, Aubrey Huff, Freddy Sanchez, Javier Lopez or Brian Wilson … that would be understandable. They all made tremendous contributions to another huge win over the second-best team in the NL West. And rosterbation’s a nasty habit that’s easy to get sucked into, since we’re not just talking about baseball statistics and game situations, we’re talking about identities, dreams and pay grades. But the San Francisco Giants are cruising through the season, winning series after series to start the year. And while Jonathan probably won’t make the All-Star team in an incredibly stacked National League in terms of starting pitching, and he wasn’t uber-dominant in every postseason game he pitched in, he clinched the division last year and this year he’s fourth in the Majors in strikeouts (28 in 23 innings). He’s an outstanding Major League starting pitcher.

However, some among us have an extremely difficult time finding patience for Sanchez’s quirks. Take Brian Murphy, for instance.

I’m sorry, but these tweets double as syrup of ipecac. A backhanded compliment for every start? And Murphy isn’t just speaking for himself. There are plenty of people who feel like they’re owed efficient, error-free baseball, and see Sanchez as an affront to the hopes of a pleasant evening of baseball spectating. They “love Jonny,” because he’s a Giant. But he’ll never set a record for consecutive quality starts. He’s enigmatic. He doesn’t always lock the game down when handed a big lead. He breaks our hearts.

If Barry Zito pitched as well as Sanchez, there would be people who’d fight you if you complained about his contract in public. Sanchez is a No. 2 starter in 2011, a role that brings a heavy dose of added pressure, but he’s pitching as well as he did last year. The brighter spotlight isn’t crushing him. He isn’t Lincecum or Cain, but his style is so wildly different from theirs that it can’t help but enhance the Giants’ chances of consistently winning series this season due to their ability to perplex entire lineups.

It’s not hard to tell why Giants fans like Murphy and thousands of others are so hard on Slingin’ Jonny — we’re pitching-spoiled. Not long ago, fans of this franchise celebrated the greatness of guys like Mark Gardner, Russ Ortiz, Livan Hernandez and Woody. Good pitchers all, but nowhere near the nightmare fuel Lincecum/Sanchez/Cain will provide hitters this season. If Sanchez is the odd man out when six-figure extensions start getting doled out by Neukom and Co., we’re going to miss him when the New York Mets sign him to be their No. 1 starter.

So while I watch with interest what the Giants do with Brandon Belt, it seems like a more efficient use of time to appreciate fully what Sanchez does every five games. Because despite the walks, occasional sour facial expressions and “heartbreak,” you know the Giants do.

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