At the beginning of the season, this was supposed to be the stretch of schedule that would make or break the 2023 Giants.
Four games in Dodger Stadium, three at home against San Diego, then the final three in Oracle Park against the Dodgers again.
Instead, the Giants have shattered. The bended in August and broke in September. So now, rather than competitive, National League West showdowns to decide postseason destinies, the time has arrived to showcase some young talent as the year dwindles down.
Tyler Fitzgerald, who has one of the best speed tools in San Francisco’s system, debuted in center field. Marco Luciano, the heralded prospect who may have the most power potential in the organization, returned after a brief big-league foray. Kyle Harrison, the best left-handed pitching prospect in the game, started his sixth MLB game.
Even though the Giants aren’t officially eliminated from the postseason just yet, the results of their final 10 games don’t particularly matter. How those players, and their other rookies, perform does.
And in a 7-2 loss in Dodger Stadium, the rookies impressed. Harrison bounced back after a string of poor starts, holding his own against an elite Dodgers lineup. Fitzgerald looked solid in center field and notched his first MLB hit, and Luciano reached base twice.
At a point when the only thing the Giants (76-77) can value is moral victories, they got plenty of them. Even in their 26th loss in their past 31 road games.
One of the most impressive rookies in the game was Dodgers starter Emmet Sheehan, who struck out nine in 4.2 hitless frames, extending his no-hit streak against San Francisco to 10.2 innings.
Luciano and Fitzgerald each started against the right-handed Sheehan. Gabe Kapler didn’t pinch hit for them later in the game, making the objective abundantly clear: get the young guys at-bats.
Fitzgerald drew a two-out walk after falling down 0-2 with the bases loaded (Luciano walked earlier in the inning) to score the Giants’ first run of the game. His first career RBI came before his first MLB hit.
Sheehan departed after that sequence of hit-by-pitch and three walks. The next inning, Joc Pederson socked his 15th home run of the season, tying the game at two.
Harrison departed after getting one out the next inning. In his first game against the Dodgers, he allowed two runs on three hits and a walk, reaching 95.1 mph on the radar gun. The Giants optioned him last week after a slew of difficult starts and on-the-fly mechanical adjustments, but he still has all the talent required to get big-league hitters out. He proved as much against the dangerous Dodgers.
When John Brebbia relieved Harrison, he gave up a triple to Will Smith. Fitzgerald nearly made a fantastic diving grab in center field, but the ball trickled out of the tip of his glove.
Since high school, Fitzgerald has only played 23 games in the outfield — all this year in Triple-A, and all in center field. But he’s a great athlete and looked confident in center on Thursday night.
The next play after Fitzgerald’s effort, Mike Yastrzesmki — one of San Francisco’s steadiest players — forgot how many outs there were, allowing Smith to trot home on a sacrifice fly for the go-ahead run.
Luciano drilled a single off Shelby Miller in the seventh for SF’s second hit of the game. His hit had an exit velocity of 106.9 mph, an example of the type of power he can deploy when healthy.
Right after that, Fitzgerald poked his first MLB hit, turning on a fastball and sneaking it down the third-base line. But both rookies got left in scoring position.
San Francisco handed the Dodgers two more runs in the seventh on consecutive Luke Jackson wild pitches. Then Scott Alexander, the veteran reliever who entered with a 4.37 ERA, served up two more runs in the eighth.
The rookies didn’t win the Giants the game, but they certainly didn’t lose it, either. Not that it matters at this point, anyway.