What we learned as timely hits fuel Giants’ shutout vs. Rays

What we learned as timely hits fuel Giants’ shutout vs. Rays originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

SAN FRANCISCO — With his size, approach at the plate, mustache and even the fact that he rocks plain black spikes with the splashy City Connect jerseys, Wade Meckler looks very much like the type of player who would have hit second in a lineup for most of this sport’s history.

The game has changed, though, and these days a team’s best hitter — often a slugging first baseman or DH — usually hits second. The Giants go that way too, so it was a bit of a surprise when Meckler was slotted second for a second straight game to start his career.

“We’ve been putting out lineups now for a couple of months that haven’t been over-the-top productive,” manager Gabe Kapler admitted before Tuesday’s game. “We’ve been trying some things.”

On Tuesday, some things finally clicked, although Kapler wasn’t around to watch.

The Giants got a pair of homers from key bats and a stellar pitching performance from Jakob Junis and Sean Manaea, beating the Tampa Bay Rays 7-0. Kapler got ejected after arguing a called strike in the fourth inning, but his players made sure it was worthwhile.

Zack Littell was having a nice first night back until the sixth, when Thairo Estrada blasted a 3-2 slider over Patrick Bailey’s Wall in left to break up a scoreless tie. Wade Meckler followed with a single that chased Littell, and the Rays brought in funky right-hander Kevin Kelly. Wilmer Flores was ready.

Flores was a late scratch on Monday night because of an ear infection, and he was so sick that the Giants didn’t even view him as a bench option. But he was back to form a night later, hitting a two-run shot off Kelly that broke the game open. It was the first time since June 13 in St. Louis that the Giants got multiple homers in the same inning.

More Than An Opener

The Giants had Junis and Manaea lined up to give them length on Tuesday, and Junis kicked things off with his best outing of the year. A night after the staff gave up a season-high 18 hits, he allowed just two over four shutout innings, striking out a season-high seven. The four innings matched a season-high and were his most since the first week of the season.

Junis always leans heavily on his slider, and it was particularly deadly against the Rays. He threw it 52 percent of the time and got eight swinging strikes. His first six strikeouts came on sliders.

Manaea followed with 3 1/3 scoreless innings of his own and struck out five. He has allowed just one earned run in 15 innings dating back to July 29.

He’s On The Board

Meckler had the bat taken out of his hands early, but when Littell threw him a 1-0 fastball in the sixth, he was ready. Meckler lined a single into center for his first career hit. He later added an infield single and reached with a sprint speed of 30.5 feet/second, the fastest of the year for the Giants on a base hit.

It’ll be the first two-hit night of many for the 23-year-old outfielder, who has the best strike zone awareness in the system. Meckler hit .377 in 92 minor league games and hit at least .400 at every level except Double-A, where he was at .336 in a pitcher-friendly league.

Revenge Game

Littell and Kapler said all the right things before the game, but there had to be some extra juice for the right-hander, who was making his first appearance at Oracle Park since last Sept. 12, when he had words for Kapler after being pulled from a relief appearance. Littell is on his third team since the Giants let him go, and he’s thriving as a starter.

The Rays made the transition last month and Littell went 17 innings over his previous three starts. He pitched 5 2/3 against his former teammates and was cruising until Estrada’s homer. Littell ended up being charged with two earned on three hits and a walk. He struck out five.

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