Giants squeak out victory on Logan Webb’s day, await Blake Snell’s debut

SAN FRANCISCO — The Giants squandered Logan Webb last season.

He finished second in National League Cy Young Award balloting.  He led the major leagues with 216 innings. He matched the New York Yankees’ Gerrit Cole for the most quality starts (24) and highest quality-start rate (73 percent). He generated 5.7 bWAR, which made him the third most valuable starting pitcher in the majors. It also made him the most valuable player on the Giants’ roster by a factor of two.

The Giants went 15-18 in his starts. Their batters couldn’t score the meager amount of required runs to support him. Their fielders didn’t yield enough outs from his bumper crop of groundballs — 388 of them, which was 90 more than any other major-league pitcher generated. It was a pattern that emerged from the get-go. The Giants lost each of Webb’s first four assignments and dropped five of six through the end of April. His reliably deep starts, which afforded rest to the bullpen, created residual value on the days he didn’t pitch. But for the most part, the Giants let their most productive resource die on the vine. In retrospect, it’s remarkable the Giants remained in playoff position as late as August despite utterly failing to leverage their most valuable player.

Lessons were learned. Part of the offseason thinking was to invest in better infrastructure around Webb, along with fellow ground-ball generators Jordan Hicks, Alex Cobb, Tyler Rogers and others. The Giants signed Gold Glove third baseman Matt Chapman. They pivoted away from past inclinations, prioritizing defense over offense when they handed the shortstop job to Nick Ahmed. And they hoped their multiyear investments in leadoff hitter Jung Hoo Lee and designated hitter Jorge Soler would result in a diverse and dynamic lineup capable of manufacturing runs on the days when they weren’t slugging their way to them.

After all that, the Giants lost behind Webb on Opening Day in San Diego. They lost when the Los Angeles Dodgers threw a bullpen game at Webb in Los Angeles. And on Sunday, in their ace’s first home start of the season, they were poised to lose again. The Giants trailed the Padres 2-1 when Webb exited after seven innings. It had required a throwing error from San Diego shortstop Ha-Seong Kim to get the Giants on the board.

Thankfully for the Giants, Kim wasn’t through making errors. The Giants scored a run in the eighth when Kim couldn’t hold onto the ball while making what should’ve been an inning-ending tag on Soler. Chapman followed with a tiebreaking single, closer Camilo Doval pitched the ninth while recording his first save and the Giants won 3-2 to take two of three in their first home series of the season.

All three of the Giants’ runs were unearned. And, of course, they came too late to make a winner of Webb. Not that any of that mattered to him.

“Still some things I gotta clean up,” Webb said. “But as long as the team wins, it’s all good.”

The Giants are confident that the run support will come. The Statcast data shows their hard-hit rate ranks near the top of the league. Manager Bob Melvin said he has faith in the group because it includes hitters with track records of success. Melvin likes the length of the lineup, too. But whether it’s the Mike Yastrzemski/Austin Slater combo (1-for-23 between them) or Thairo Estrada (.154 average) or Lee (.549 OPS) or even Chapman, whose tiebreaking hit nudged his average a little nearer to .200, the bats haven’t broken out yet.

“Our offense is going to come around,” Melvin said. “But if we can do the little things right and create this kind of identity and win these kinds of games, I think we’ll be tougher for it. Across the board, nobody’s swinging great. Webby’s up against it, not getting any support. But he got us out of a jam in the seventh.”

Webb escaped that jam by getting groundballs to Ahmed and Chapman, who ranged to his left and did a 360-degree turn while positioning himself to throw out Fernando Tatis Jr. It was one of 15 groundballs that the Padres put into play against Webb. The Giants were able to generate 14 outs on those grounders, including a pair of double plays. Over Webb’s three starts, opponents are batting .160 when they hit the ball on the ground. They batted .218 on ground-ball contact last season.

The three-start sample is small but perhaps not meaningless. Webb was coming off a frustrating start at Dodger Stadium in which he regretted ditching his changeup when the pitch didn’t have much movement while warming up or in the first couple of innings. The pitch wasn’t very good in the first inning Sunday, either. This time, Webb kept throwing changeups until he was able to get a better feel for it.

“First inning, the changeup was godawful,” Webb said. “Then I started throwing it more and figured it out.”

Webb’s pitches were catching too much of the zone and the Padres were able to elevate line drives while collecting 10 hits against him. But nine of them were singles. And just three of them were groundballs that found a seam. The rest of those groundballs were outs as the Giants played the dovetailing defense behind Webb that they had envisioned. Even someone like Webb, who should be so certain of his identity given his success in the league, can benefit from a little positive reinforcement every once in a while.

Logan Webb gave up 10 hits in a start for the second time in his career. He surrendered 11 to the Nationals on April 30, 2022. (Darren Yamashita / USA Today)

Webb might have needed it while he tried to turn the page from that start against the Dodgers. It was the first start of Webb’s career in which opposing hitters put just one grounder into play against him. Not one groundball out. One grounder, period.

So Sunday’s start was a return to form. The Giants had the defensive infrastructure they needed to leverage their ace. Perhaps next time, their hitters will be able to put up a crooked number for him, too.

“It’s not like we were trying to lose the games last year,” Webb said. “As long as I can keep our team in the game, that’s my job to do that. Some days we won’t score and some days we’ll score 10. But I think the overall balance of the team is fantastic and I’m super excited to see us keep improving. It’s a brand-new group, right? We’ve played 10 games now and spring training was weird because we got late additions. Once we start really feeling each other out, I think it’s going to be great.”

One of those late additions is Blake Snell, the 2023 NL Cy Young Award winner, who happens to be one of the two pitchers who generated more bWAR than Webb did last season. Snell, who will make his Giants debut Monday against the Washington Nationals, is the Bizarro Webb. He pitches away from contact. He led the league in walks last season but nobody was better at preventing base hits. His next complete game will be his first in the big leagues. And he won’t be a candidate to throw one Monday. He signed his two-year, $62 million contract on March 19 and his spring training was limited to minor-league scrimmages and simulated games.

“He’s gotten up five times, he’s thrown 70 pitches,” said Melvin, asked what Snell’s maximum workload might be in his debut. “Maybe that’s a good number.”

The Giants should be in good shape. They only needed to use two relievers for a total of 28 pitches Sunday. The bullpen will be rested.

Squandered or not, Webb still creates residual value.

(Top photo of Matt Chapman hitting a tiebreaking RBI single in the eighth inning: Darren Yamashita / USA Today)

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