Webb shakes off rough spring, delivers strong outing in Giants' opener

Webb shakes off rough spring, delivers strong outing in Giants' opener originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

SAN DIEGO — The sinker ended up exactly in the heart of the strike zone, and 20-year-old Jackson Merrill could do nothing but take a quick glance at where it had ended up and then drop his bat in the dirt. Logan Webb later said the pitch was about as good a sinker as he has thrown in the big leagues, which is saying something given how dominant Webb was last season.

The Giants have built their rotation around Webb, the reigning MLB innings leader, and in his third straight season-opener, he showed that he's again ready to carry a heavy load. Webb threw 97 pitches in six innings, 19 more than San Diego Padres ace Yu Darvish, who had a head start after pitching against the Los Angeles Dodgers in South Korea last week. Webb and Kansas City's Cole Ragans were the only starting pitchers to throw more than 95 pitches on Opening Day.

This team always will get length out of Webb, but this spring, the rest of the results weren’t there. Webb threw 21 1/3 innings in Arizona and allowed 26 earned runs on 37 hits. He’s been doing this long enough to know that spring results don’t matter for a veteran, but still ... sometimes you just want to feel like yourself.

"That was a little bit better than my spring training, that's for sure," Webb said Thursday, smiling. "It felt like the ball started moving where it was supposed to and yeah, it felt good. I think the adrenaline kicked in. Spring training is tough because there's not a whole lot of adrenaline so you can get into patterns of thinking about your mechanics or the way the ball is moving. It was nice today to get out there and get the adrenaline going.

"I don't think I thought about my mechanics one time. I was just going out there and competing."

When people around the game talk about the impact that the dry air in Arizona has on pitchers, they generally discuss breaking balls that aren't as sharp. But Webb has so much movement on his sinker and changeup that he might have been impacted as much as anyone. He noted Thursday that the hard infield at Scottsdale Stadium can also be particularly unforgiving for the league leader in groundball percentage.

Back in a big league park -- and more helpful air -- Webb threw his changeup 42 times and saw three extra inches of horizontal break compared to last season. His sinker averaged four extra inches of movement.

"I thought he pitched great," manager Bob Melvin said. "Even the hits he gave up were groundballs. Give (the Padres) credit, they stayed up the middle with a few that weren't really hit hard. I think he pitched really good and then pitched out of jams, too."

Eye-opening debut

It was a rough opener for the bullpen, with Luke Jackson putting the Giants in a bind before he got hurt and Ryan Walker allowing a couple of hits after inheriting the runners. But Erik Miller might have provided the highlight of the day.

The lefty had a clean eighth, getting two grounders and then blowing Eguy Rosario away with 98.4 mph above the zone. That velocity, paired with a changeup that Joey Bart described as a “Bugs Bunny change” could make Miller an impact reliever this season.

"That guy is a big leaguer," said Bart, who caught Miller in Triple-A last year. "He was a big leaguer last year."

It's far, far too early to make judgments about the bullpen overall. But it was clear in the spring that the Giants were short from the left side, especially after Amir Garrett couldn't make the club as a non-roster invitee. Miller is a Stanford alum who has always piled up strikeouts in the minors but also walks. If he keeps commanding the ball like he did Thursday, it won't be hard for him to stick in this bullpen.

The right call

The tying run scored on a play that went down as a throwing error on Patrick Bailey. He scooped a slider from Jackson and tried to throw Tyler Wade out at second, but the throw got away from Nick Ahmed and Luis Campusano scored from third. Melvin, a former big league catcher, said he had no problem with the attempt.

"You're not going anywhere at third, Campusano wasn't going anywhere," Melvin said. "If it's a faster runner then maybe we do a little something different."

Campusano is the Padres catcher, so Bailey knew it wasn't a double-steal. The throw just short-hopped Ahmed, allowing the Padres to advance both runners.

No sophomore slump

You didn't have to search hard on social media on Thursday morning to find Giants fans who wanted Luis Matos in left field instead of Michael Conforto. But Conforto, now in his second year in orange and black, was the leader of the lineup Thursday.

He doubled and scored on Ahmed's double for the first run and provided the last run on a solo homer. He also had a single up the middle that helped spark the go-ahead rally in the top of the seventh.

Conforto scored three runs, something he did just twice all of last season. The homer went 420 feet, a mark Conforto reached twice last year on his 14 homers.

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