Giants manager Bruce Bochy keeps pushing all of the right buttons

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The Giants weren’t as much of a surprise the Nationals, so it’s doubtful Bruce Bochy will get much love in the Manager of the Year award balloting when the results are announced next month.

Now if there were a Postseason Manager of the Year award, there’s no doubt Bochy would claim it in a landslide. It seems Bochy and his giant cranium can do no wrong this month and particularly these last five games.

– He pulled Madison Bumgarner from the rotation in favor of Barry Zito in Game 5 of the NLCS, watched Zito pitch a gem to keep the Giants in the series and then restored Bumgarner to the rotation for Game 2 of the World Series with stellar results.

– He’s seemed to have the knack for knowing exactly when to turn to the bullpen. Of course, it’s a lot easier to look like a genius when both the starters and relievers are pitching like they have been lately.

The way I’ve always looked at it is that, if you’ve already decided you’re going to pull a pitcher after one mistake, you don’t send him back out to make the mistake. Jim Leyland may or may not have done that tonight. He had starter Doug Fister open the seventh, only to remove him after Hunter Pence singled to lead off the inning. Maybe it was Leyland’s plan to pull Fister for the lefty (with back-to-back left-handers coming up) regardless of what happened with Pence, and if so, that’s defensible.  Still, it should have been Octavio Dotel’s batter all along.

Bochy has handled the pitching changes flawlessly, and he’s continued to play matchups late in games even when it seems one of his relievers is doing well. Not only is he playing the percentages, but it appears that the quick hooks have made his relievers more effective while working for the second day in a row.

– He’s gotten terrific results from Tim Lincecum as a reliever.

– He hasn’t resorted to any foolish small-ball tactics. Bochy could have had Belt try to bunt in the seventh inning tonight, but Belt has very little bunting experience and probably would have struggled to get it down. Bochy let Belt hit and was rewarded with a walk. And then, with a guy up who can bunt, Bochy had Gregor Blanco move the runners along (and even that turned into an unexpected bonus when the bunt failed to roll foul and Blanco reached).

Bochy doesn’t have a great lineup, but he has his players playing to their strengths. He hits and runs with Marco Scutaro because Scutaro is pretty much the ultimate hit-and-run guy. There haven’t been any bad stolen base attempts. He hasn’t tried to force the issue, and he’s not giving away outs.

– He’s also not giving away baserunners. In the second inning of Game 7 against the Cardinals, Matt Cain was pitching with runners on first and third, one out and No. 8 hitter Pete Kozma at the plate. Daniel Descalso went on to steal second. Had Mike Matheny been managing the Giants, there’s a good chance the steal would have led to an intentional walk of Kozma, setting up the double play with the pitcher up. Bochy, though, let Cain face Kozma, got a strikeout and then retired Lohse on a looping liner to short.  As a result, it was inning over, instead of Jon Jay potentially being up with the bases loaded and two outs.

So, yeah, I like what Bochy is doing this month. And I’m not typically such a big fan of his. It’s also surely worth noting that the starting pitching decisions are hardly his alone; Brian Sabean and company have their say as well. But if the Giants do come through and win this thing, Bochy is going to deserve all of the praise he gets. He’s put the team in the right position to win every time.

Bud Norris exits outing with right knee soreness

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Angels’ right-handed reliever Bud Norris made his 23rd appearance of the season on Friday, and after just three pitches, he was done for the night. He worked a 2-1 count to Marlins’ Dee Gordon in the eighth inning, then promptly exited the field after experiencing some tightness in his right knee. Neither Norris nor manager Mike Scioscia believe the injury is cause for major concern, and the 32-year-old right-hander admitted that it may have had something to do with his lack of stretching before he took the mound. For now, he’s day-to-day with right knee soreness, with the hope that the issue doesn’t escalate over the next few days.

While the Angels are lucky to have avoided serious injury, they’ll need Norris to pitch at 100% if they want to stay competitive within the AL West. They currently sit a full nine games behind the league-leading Astros, and haven’t been helping their cause after taking five losses in their last eight games. Friday’s 8-5 finale marked their third consecutive loss of the week.

 

When healthy, Norris has been one of the better arms in the Angels’ bullpen. Through 23 2/3 innings, he’s pitched to a 2.66 ERA, 3.4 BB/9 and an outstanding 11.8 SO/9 in 23 outings. The righty hasn’t allowed a single run in four straight appearances, recording three saves and helping the club clinch four wins in that span. This is his second setback of the year after sustaining a partial fingernail tear on his pitching hand during spring training.

Video: Max Scherzer sets record with 13-strikeout outing

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Max Scherzer is a force to be reckoned with. The Nationals’ right-hander delivered a season-high 13 strikeouts against the Padres on Friday, locking down his fifth win and his fourth double-digit strikeout performance of the year.

More remarkably, it was also the 53rd double-digit strikeout performance of Scherzer’s career, tying Clayton Kershaw for the most 10+ strikeout appearances by an active major league pitcher. Chris Sale is a distant third, with 43 to his name, though he’s been making considerable strides to catch up so far this spring.

Scherzer took the Padres to task on Friday night, whiffing 13 of 31 batters during his 108-pitch outing. He started strong, catching Allen Cordoba swinging on a 1-2 count to start the game and keeping the game scoreless until Ryan Schimpf unleashed a home run in the fourth inning. That was the first and final run the Padres managed off of Scherzer, who retired 14 consecutive batters following the blast and came one out shy of a complete game in the ninth inning. (Fittingly, Koda Glover polished off the win with a final strikeout, bringing the total to 14 on the night.)

It’ll take more than one stellar start to advance Scherzer and Kershaw on the all-time list, however. Their 53-game record ranks 13th, about 159 games behind second-place Hall of Fame hurler Randy Johnson and a full 162 games shy of the inimitable Nolan Ryan.