WASHINGTON – Most of Chris Stratton’s 13 major league appearances have involved a similar set of circumstances:
A doubleheader. An exhausted bullpen. A spot start. Maybe a 16-inning game the night before. And, no matter how he fared on the mound while sopping up innings, the high probability of a ticket back to Triple-A.
But this is not the same Giants team and, more significantly, Stratton is not the same pitcher. He still has minor league options. This time, though, he will stay awhile.
The Giants will give Stratton a chance to carve out a place in the rotation down the stretch, and he made the most of his opportunity in Game 1 of Sunday’s split doubleheader at Nationals Park. The quiet right-hander with the basic-training haircut buzzed through the Nationals lineup in the Giants’ 4-2 victory, striking out 10 while carrying a shutout into the seventh inning.
The shutout ended in the eighth inning to delirious cheers at Nationals Park when Anthony Rendon clocked a two-run home run against Hunter Strickland, who was making his first appearance of the series.
Strickland threw the pitch that beaned Bryce Harper and sent fists flying May 29 at AT&T Park. There’s no chance that the two will cross paths again in this series, now that Harper is on the disabled list with a “significant bone bruise” he sustained Saturday night while slipping on a wet base.
But the crowd didn’t miss the chance to let Strickland have it as he jogged to the mound in the eighth, with the boos amplifying when he was announced.
Rendon’s homer was just the third Strickland has allowed this season, but it hardly was a surprise. Emotional situations work better than a steam iron at straightening out the right-hander’s fastball.
But Strickland got through the eighth, and Sam Dyson handled the ninth to protect Stratton’s second major league victory.
Stratton held the Nationals to five hits and walked just one batter, but that doesn’t begin to describe the level of dominance he achieved against a beefy lineup.
Not only did Stratton become the first Giants pitcher this season to record double-digit strikeouts without yielding a run in a start of at least six innings, but it was just the 12th such start over the past five years. Madison Bumgarner owns eight of them, Johnny Cueto owns one and the others were Chris Heston’s no-hitter against the Mets in 2015 and Tim Lincecum’s no-hitter against the Padres in 2013.
You couldn’t blame both teams for sleepwalking through the first game Sunday, after Saturday’s rain-delayed contest ended at 1:16 a.m. EDT. But the Giants came out swinging. Gorkys Hernandez hit an RBI single in the second inning and Joe Panik followed with a two-run single to right field – the first of his three hits — as the Giants handed Stratton an early lead.
The Giants added a run on Kelby Tomlinson’s pinch sacrifice fly in the eighth.
Stratton, 26, wasn’t fast-tracked after the Giants spent a first-round pick (20th overall) on him out of Mississippi State in 2012. He was a late bloomer who wasn’t even drafted out of high school but threw explosive stuff to rise from a middle reliever to the SEC pitcher of the year in his junior season.
His stuff came and went in the minor leagues, too. He had a 5.11 ERA in 15 starts for Triple-A Sacramento this season. But when he was on, he had some of the River Cats’ most dominant games of the season.
The Giants will give him a chance to strive for consistency in August and September, with Johnny Cueto barely beginning to test his flexor strain by playing catch and Matt Cain being a good soldier in a long relief role.
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