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Giants ace Webb continues to raise bar with latest dominant stretch

Giants ace Webb continues to raise bar with latest dominant stretch originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

SAN FRANCISCO -- On Sunday morning, Logan Webb squeezed his 220-pound frame into a medium Logan Webb basketball jersey, the giveaway for the first 15,000 fans who walked through the gates. He walked out to left field for a game of catch, and then got some conditioning work in before heading back to the dugout with a crowd of coaches.

As Webb approached the steps, he saw a group of kids standing on the other side of the dugout, all of them holding the same giveaway jersey. He searched the dugout for a Sharpie and then spent several minutes signing autographs and taking pictures.

The session came one year and one week after Webb put that same signature on a five-year, $90 million contract extension, and it was the latest small gesture that showed he'll be worth every penny off the field. Whether it's signing autographs at a pace that would make Brandon Crawford proud, filming team commercials, wooing superstar free agents or joining fans on Giants Vacation trips, Webb always has shown that he fully understands all that comes with being the face of the franchise.

That's a big part of why the Giants felt so comfortable committing to him long-term last April, but they also felt like they were locking up an ace for the rest of the decade. If Webb keeps pitching the way he has this month, that part of the deal might end up looking like one of the biggest bargains in baseball.

Webb threw eight shutout innings Tuesday, leading the Giants to a 5-1 win over the New York Mets at Oracle Park. He has thrown 29 innings over his last four starts and allowed just three total runs, a stretch of dominance that has lowered his ERA to 2.33.

A year after finishing second in the Cy Young race, Webb is better. He is raising the bar for a Giants team that has played inconsistent baseball through 25 games, but still hopes to hand the ball to Webb in Game 1 of a playoff series. The latest gem clinched a series win against a Mets team that had won eight of 10. It was the fourth straight win behind Webb.

"It's huge. It's huge for any team to have a guy like that," manager Bob Melvin said. "Whether it's losing streaks, whether it's -- you know, like today, you're going into the second game of a series against a team that's playing well, and to win that game, those are the kinds of guys that step up for you. That's what aces are made of."

Webb earned that status last year by leading the majors in groundball percentage and innings. He looks poised to build on both this season.

Seven of the first eight Mets hitters grounded out, with the exception being a strikeout. Webb ended up with 15 outs on the ground, the second most by an MLB pitcher this season. This was his fourth start with at least 12 groundball outs, something no other pitcher has done even twice.

Of Webb's 106 pitches, 49 were changeups and 35 were sinkers. It's a mix that keeps the infield defense busy, and the Giants further invested in their ace over the offseason, adding Matt Chapman and Nick Ahmed, a pair of Gold Glove winners who are among the early league leaders in Defensive Runs Saved.

Webb said he appreciated the defensive effort Tuesday, although he took a good-natured jab at Michael Conforto, who made a diving catch in left on a low liner that Webb joked could have been caught on the run.

It was the kind of subtle line you can drop when you're a team leader, and for three years, there has been no doubt about the fact that the Giants line up behind Webb. Melvin said that's one thing that has stood out in their first few months together.

"It's tough for a pitcher a lot of times to be a leader on a team, but he is, for sure," Melvin said. "And it's not like he jammed himself in there. It's just performance and being around our guy. This year, it feels like just talking to some of the other guys, that he has taken that to the next level. He's a guy you can talk to on pitch day. A lot of times with starters you don't even want to go near them, and you can't tell if [Webb is] pitching that day or whatever day it is. He's there for everybody on this team."

Over the last three starts, the lineup finally has been there for Webb. He had the worst run support in the big leagues last year, but the Giants have scored 21 runs over his last three appearances. Webb never complained last year, even when the microphones and cameras were off, and on Tuesday he said last year's lack of run support was just kind of a weird thing. If that has turned, Webb will have another feather in his cap when it comes time to vote on awards.

Wins are nice, but it's the innings that always have been front and center for Webb, and with a season-high eight of them on Tuesday he retook the MLB lead. A year after he threw 216 innings, Webb is on pace to once again easily clear 200, his benchmark every season. But he wanted one more on Tuesday.

Melvin hoped to let Webb go the distance, but his pitch count crossed 100 in the eighth inning and the staff took a cautious approach.

"Bob told me I would have gone out for the ninth if I was under 100 pitches and I agreed with him on that, to be honest," Webb said. "I tried to get a strikeout at the end of the eighth inning and I saw the pitch count -- I wish I had kept it under 100 there and went out for that last inning, but yeah, one of these days ..."

Webb chased a complete game for two years before finally getting a couple of them last season. With how efficient he is right now, it shouldn't be long before he gets his first of 2024. He needed just 15 pitches to get through the first two innings and was at 59 through five.

The long eighth ended any hopes for a shutout, but Webb stranded two runners to extend his scoreless streak to 19 innings. That's a career-high for a pitcher who is showing that last year might have been a warm-up act.

Asked about this latest roll, Melvin smiled. He had the Cy Young frontrunner on his team last year in San Diego. He might be in that position again.

"I'm just glad I'm on his team," he said of Webb.

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