Brandon Belt

Heston hurls two-hitter, Giants break six-run barrier, Duffy drives in five

Chris Heston Matt Cain SF Giants

The Houston Astros have a lineup full of mashers. They’re actually hackers, if we’re throwing diplomacy out the window. While watching the Astros (who still lead the AL West by four games after losing 8-1 to the Giants), you halfway expect to see Rob Deer, Pete Incaviglia or even Dave Kingman dig into the box. And who can blame Houston for putting a team together like this, especially since they play in a park where the left field wall sits about 214 feet away from home plate?

It turned out that Chris Heston’s darting sinkers and diving curveballs was just the right mix to slow the team with the most home runs in the American League. He did give up one dinger, on a pretty good changeup low in the zone, to Jason Castro. Heston gave up just one more hit, walked no one, and struck out 10 while going the distance.

Speaking of retired players who are fairly well-known … are we sure that wasn’t circa-1993 John Burkett on the mound tonight?

Heston went up against a lineup that had seven guys hitting below .240 and four hitting below .200 — pretty amazing in mid-May for a team playing with a DH, until you look at Houston’s team batting average of .228 (also pretty amazing for a team that has Jose Altuve). Heston gave up just one home run, which was pretty remarkable in this ballpark with so many Astros sluggers coming into this game with six or seven homers on the season who spent the evening swinging like bodybuilders at the local batting cage.

Keeping the ball in the park may be Heston’s greatest strength. He allowed 0.6 home runs per nine innings in the minors, a pretty solid number over 765 innings. That includes a minuscule 0.1 HR/9 at D0uble-A Richmond, in what’s widely considered a pitchers’ league, and 1.0 HR/9 in the Pacific Coast League, where guys like Brett Pill look like Mark McGwire. So, 0.6 HR/9 sounds about right overall.

Tonight’s start in Houston continued Heston’s recent good/bad/good/bad/good trend, but he’s shaping up to be one of the most surprising success stories in the NL West. Heston has had two bad starts, sure. He allowed six earned runs and 11 hits in Colorado and five runs and 11 hits against the Padres in his previous start. But he’s allowed one earned run or fewer in each of his other five starts, his ERA is 2.91, and he has 39 strikeouts and just 10 walks.

He’s also allowed three home runs over 46.1 innings — just a shade under 0.6 HR/9. Not bad for any big league starter, let alone Matt Cain’s emergency replacement.

Small sample size fun: Matt Duffy has been awesome with guys on base

The guy who should be the Giants starting third baseman on an everyday basis went 3-for-4 with five runs batted in.

  • With no one on, Duffy is hitting .250 with one extra-base hit (a home run).
  • He’s hitting .353/.395/.471 with runners on base.
  • He’s hitting .455/.480/.636 with runners in scoring position.
  • He’s 3-for-4 this season with the bases loaded.

This is not sustainable, and Duffy is probably not a .300 hitter in the majors. He almost certainly won’t finish the season tied for second on the team in RBIs. But in a season where hits with runners on base have been awfully difficult to come by at times, the Giants have to appreciate what Duffy has done.

Extra BASGs

— Hey, the 2015 Giants scored more than six runs in a baseball game for the first time since they beat the Dodgers 11-9 … on March 29 in a game that didn’t matter.

Great timing, Duffman: I wrote earlier in the day about who might get sent down or designated for assignment if/when Hunter Pence and Travis Ishikawa return from their minor league rehab stints.

— At first glance it would appear that Duffy has wrenched the third base job away from Casey McGehee, because Duffy’s bat has to be in the lineup. Throw in a really strong day with the glove with a leaping catch of a line drive and a couple putouts, and it’s hard to see how Bruce Bochy can leave Duffy on the bench on Wednesday. And he almost certainly won’t, as the Giants are facing lefty Brett Oberholtzer. Sorry, Joe Panik.

— Brandon Crawford had a really impressive 1-for-4, one-RBI night — his double in the fifth inning was absolutely scorched, but Justin Maxwell had to hold up at third when the ball bounced off the warning track and over the wall. Then he lined out to left field in the seventh. Crawford has been the team’s most powerful hitter for a fifth of the season, and it doesn’t look like that’ll change anytime soon. Well, unless Pence (who hit a HR tonight in Sacramento) is deemed ready before the weekend, which seems very possible.

— Other than Duffy, the other multi-hit games on this night came from Angel Pagan (3-for-4) and Justin Maxwell (2-for-5), who’s pretty fast for a guy his size. The Giants have quietly put together a speedy group of outfielders, which obviously won’t change when Pence comes back. Actually, the roster’s only current glaring weakness — when it comes to position players, anyway — arises when McGehee starts at third base.

— Brandon Belt, the Giants’ hottest hitter coming in, started with a single. Then he K’d in three of his next four at-bats, including a strikeout with the bases loaded in the fifth. The count went to 3-1, then Belt swung and missed at a 86 mph slider slightly above the belt, and then he swung and missed at nearly the same pitch, this time at 85 mph.

— His last strikeout came in the ninth inning, but luckily his wife (on the left) was too busy taking care of their son to watch. This Vine is best watched with the volume turned up to catch Mike Krukow and Duane Kuiper at the end.

Don’t feel bad, Brandon. My wife stopped reading my articles back in 2009.

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