SAN FRANCISCO — Manager Gabe Kapler had a decision to make. His starter was at 96 pitches, ran into trouble the inning prior, and was due to face the middle of the Rockies’ order for a third time.
Kapler sent Carlos Rodón out for the top of the sixth, and Rodón responded with his 11th and 12 strikeouts of the game as part of a 1-2-3 final frame. He allowed two runs in the fifth and needed 30 pitches to complete the first inning, but Rodón’s outing will be remembered for his 12 strikeouts and 110 pitches.
The six-inning, two-run performance was more than enough to beat the Rockies, 8-5, behind multi-hit games by the one-two punch of Mauricio Dubón (3-for-4, 2 R, 3 RBIs) and Austin Slater (2-for-4, 2 R, BB), as well as Darin Ruf (2-for-3, 2 R, 2 RBIs).
Afterward, Kapler said he believes Rodón has even more in the tank.
“As good as he’s been, as many dudes as he’s struck out, there’s still probably more ceiling in there for Carlos,” Kapler said. “I think that starts with curbing some of his frustration that he feels throughout the game. … If he can conserve some of that energy for every pitch he’s going to make deep into games, I actually think there’s an even better pitcher in there.”
Those dudes number 53 through five starts, reclaiming the MLB strikeout lead. His 1.80 ERA is tied with Clayton Kershaw for the fifth-best among qualified NL starters. And Rodón agreed with Kapler. There’s room to improve.
“I get emotional and frustrated. I showed that a little more today,” Rodón said. “I know I can be better at that.”
The win was the Giants’ third in a row, allowing them to separate themselves from the Rockies and pick up a game on each team ahead of them in the NL West, with the Dodgers and Padres each losing.
Another decision Kapler made — this one before first pitch — made the manager look good.
He chose to ride the hot bat of Dubón and inserted him into the two-hole, behind leadoff man Austin Slater, for only the third time this season.
Dubón homered off Rockies starter Austin Gomber — his second in three games — and drove in the Giants’ first three runs, before singling to lead off the sixth, kicking off a three-run rally that proved important. His 3-for-4 effort was also his second multi-hit game in the past three days, extending his hitting streak to three games.
“Since the beginning of the year, I’ve been hitting the ball hard and it’s either been dying on the warning track or right at people’s chests,” Dubón said. “I haven’t changed anything.”
Nobody has been plagued more by hard-hit balls that ultimately find leather than Ruf, but tides have begun to change recently. He drove home Dubón with his first of two hits Monday, extending his hitting streak to six games and giving him his second straight multi-hit game. Ruf is 8-for-19 over his hitting streak with four walks, including another Monday night, raising his OPS by 100 points, to .589.
“Every time he hits the ball, it’s hard right at somebody,” Dubón said. “We’re not looking at our averages. We’re just trying to win ballgames and help the team win.”
Wilmer Flores singled and came around to score the Giants’ second run of the inning on a wild pitch, when catcher Elias Diaz tried to prevent Flores from advancing from second to third but airmailed the throw into left field. With the bases loaded and one out, the Giants pinch-hit Joc Pederson for Joey Bart, but Pederson flew out to center, allowing Ruf to tag and score from third base.
Slater reached base each of his first two times to the plate, including a triple off the center field wall to lead off the bottom of the first, and was driven in by Dubón each time.
The Rockies scored three off reliever Jake McGee in the ninth inning but were otherwise stymied by Giants pitching.
Rodón faced the heart of the Rockies order — No. 3 hitter Randal Grichuck and No. 4 hitter C.J. Cron — three times each and struck them out every time. That amounted to half of his 12 punchouts Monday night, his second time this season with double-digit strikeouts, reclaiming the MLB lead in the process (53).
Cron entered the game leading the National League in home runs (nine), extra-base hits (17) and slugging (.651). His 1.013 OPS ranked third and his .311 was ninth in the NL. But on Monday night, he couldn’t manage to make contact against Rodón.
There wasn’t much any Rockies hitter could do against Rodón, who generated 23 swings and misses, one shy of his season-high mark that came in his debut against the Marlins. The two runs allowed over six innings raised his ERA to 1.80, tied with Clayton Kershaw for the fifth-best mark in the NL.
Even during a two-run fifth inning, Rodón struck out the side in between three singles and a walk. The Rockies had two on and two out when Joe stepped in for the third time. Joe worked the count full, and Rodón was one pitch away from ending the inning, but the 3-2 offering was just outside the strike zone, loading the bases for Yonathan Diaz, who drove in the Rockies’ only two runs off Rodón with a broken-bat single to left field.
Rodón put three pitches past Grichuk to end the fifth, then started the sixth by pumping 97 mph past Cron for strikeout No. 11 and 95 mph past Elias Diaz for strikeout No. 12.
He could have pitched even deeper if he hadn’t labored through a 30-pitch first inning. He struck out the side and Connor Joe’s leadoff single was Colorado’s only base runner of the inning, but all four batters saw at least five pitches.
Rodón’s 110 pitches were the most thrown by a Giants pitcher this season, topped in the Kapler era only twice (both times by Johnny Cueto) and this season around MLB only by the Yankees’ Gerrit Cole (114 pitches).
“There’s always a little bit of hesitation when you take a pitcher beyond 100 pitches,” Kapler said.
Rodón’s pitch count was at 96 when he escaped the fifth inning. But Kapler didn’t meet Rodón at the top step of the dugout, nor did he immediately approach him with the hook.
“They were like, ‘you good?’ I was like, ‘Let’s go,’” Rodón said. “Today I felt pretty good. I felt like it was an easy fastball, so I wasn’t exerting a whole lot on pitches, so it was an easier decision for me to say yes.”
The 8-5 win in the first of 19 games with the Rockies is a good omen for the Giants.
Colorado entered Monday tied with the Giants for third place and looked much-improved from last season, even with free-agent signee Kris Bryant on the shelf. Last year, the Giants beat up on a bad Rockies team, winning 15 of their 19 meetings and all of their final seven.
With Monday’s win, the Giants can claim eight in a row over Colorado — and a strong start to this year’s season series.