PITTSBURGH — Before Sunday’s series finale here at PNC Park, Giants pitching coach Andrew Bailey was looking for Alex Cobb. When he found him, Bailey paid him a compliment — “your hair looks great today” — and a reminder: “game’s at 1:35 today.”
“Really?” Cobb responded.
Making his first start since May 29, the somewhat unconventional first pitch time, 30 minutes later than usual, was just one thing Cobb had to reorient himself around. The only damage he allowed over four innings were two solo home runs, however that wasn’t enough for the Giants to secure a sweep of the Pirates, who added two more solo shots once Cobb departed to salvage the final game of this series, 4-3.
Jack Suwinski’s third homer of the game erased Thairo Estrada’s game-tying shot in the top of the ninth walked off the Giants, sending them on their way to Atlanta with only a series win instead of a sweep.
In the bigger picture, though, the Giants will happily take two of three to open their seven-game swing and a rotation that — for the first time in nearly two months — is almost whole again.
Cobb didn’t require a rehab start following his stint on the 15-day injured list — one that was longer than he would have preferred — but the Giants were closely monitoring his workload. He showed little signs of rust, retiring the first three Pirates of the game on 10 pitches, including a three-pitch strikeout of Ke’Bryan Hayes, who’s been a thorn in the side of Giants’ pitchers these past three games, putting him away with a 95-mph sinker.
Cobb, however, allowed two home runs in a game for only the second time since the start of last season. Hoy Park took advantage of a sinker up in the zone to pull the Pirates within 2-1 in the third, then Jack Suwinski turned on a similar pitch in the fourth for his first of three solo shots.
Tyler Rogers was called on to pitch the ninth in a tied game, but it was over after three pitches.
The Giants will likely regret their missed scoring opportunities.
Before they had made an out, they had two runs, thanks to a Joc Pederson two-RBI single after the Pirates started the game by committing and error and issuing two walks. The Giants, however, stranded two runners on base in that opening frame and made 24 outs before they struck again, with Estrada’s solo shot to left field off closer David Bednar.
The loss was a twist of fate in a couple ways: the Giants had been kings of the solo shot recently — Estrada’s game-tying homer was their 11th straight without a runner on base — but were done in by four single-run jacks by the Pirates. And for Cobb’s part, he has been the least homer-prone pitcher in the majors dating back to last season, with a rate of 0.55 HR/9 entering Sunday.
Cobb was pulled after four innings and 60 pitches, though he will likely be stretched further in his next start, scheduled to come Friday once the Giants return home to host the Reds. But first, more reinforcements are on their way.
Anthony DeSclafani made an appearance in the clubhouse here in Pittsburgh. He flew in to join the team Sunday after his second and final rehab start, with the expectation that he will make his return to the rotation Tuesday in Atlanta, when he is eligible to be activated from the 60-day injured list.
Sam Long, who allowed the second solo to Suwinski in the sixth, is the likeliest roster casualty to create space for DeSclafani, though San Francisco will have to make another move to get him on its 40-man roster.
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In two months of cobbling together starts since DeSclafani landed on the IL, the Giants’ rotation has a 3.92 ERA, 16th in the majors, with massive contributions from Jakob Junis, who filled in with a 2.64 ERA until he went down with a hamstring strain last week.
But since the calendar has turned to June, their 2.30 ERA entering Sunday had been the best in the majors.
With DeSclafani’s return on the horizon, they will try to shrug off Sunday’s loss and build on their recent stretch of strong pitching. It won’t be easy: the Giants head to Atlanta next for four games with the Braves, who have been one of the majors’ hottest teams, recently rattling off 14 straight wins before dropping their series this weekend with the Cubs.