LOS ANGELES — The Giants may be stewing on their charter flight to Milwaukee over a series loss here to the Dodgers, mathematically eliminating them from contention in the NL West, but they have to be happy about the contributions the past three games from the two most intriguing additions to their roster this September.
The latest encouraging development came from David Villar, who homered two more times Wednesday afternoon, including one off Clayton Kershaw, for the Giants’ only runs in a 7-3 loss, finishing their nine-game slate at Dodger Stadium with only one win, matching a franchise-worst single-season record at their archrivals’ home ballpark.
“We’ve talked the last couple of days about how instrumental David can be to the future of this franchise,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “I see him as a guy who’s setting the stage for what might happen next season.”
The homers were Villar’s second and third in three games this series, teaming up with Lewis Brinson, who hit three in the first two games, to provide a much-needed punch in the Giants’ lineup — and possibly a preview of what’s to come.
None have been cheap shots.
Brinson peppered the sun-bleached outfield seats in left, right and center with his three home runs, while all three of Villar’s shots were to the opposite field, including one on Wednesday against Kershaw, a surefire first-ballot Hall of Famer.
“David has the kind of loft in his swing that when he hits it his best, it’s going to be in the air,” Kapler said. “In batting practice, you will rarely see him hit the ball on the ground. It all has that nice loft to it. It’s not Brinson power. It’s not light-tower power. But sometimes trajectory of the baseball is as important as how far the ball goes.”
After Mike Yastrzemski singled to lead off the fifth inning, Villar punished Kershaw’s two-strike slider that caught the middle of the plate, placing it in the right-center field bleachers, and opened an early 2-0 lead.
Facing another lefty, reliever Justin Bruihl, in the seventh, Villar attacked the first pitch he saw and sent it to almost an identical location. That shot tied the score at 3 and gave Villar the first multi-homer game of his brief big-league career.
It was also the 30th home run of the season between Triple-A and the majors for Villar, who cracked a smile before offering a modest answer when presented with that information afterward.
“I’m not shooting for numbers of homers, but it’s something I know I’m capable of,” he said. “To reach that, it’s a testament to the hard work and the adjustments I’ve made in the last two years.”
Villar said he was sitting fastball against Kershaw, but when presented with a mistake slider, he knew what to do with it.
“That one means a little bit,” Villar said. “Obviously it’s a guy I’ve grown up watching. … He’s a historic pitcher. But my job is to do exactly what I did. I got a mistake slider that was over the heart of the plate, and I know that I’m capable of driving the ball to the right side of the field.”
Villar nearly did the same thing against Madison Bumgarner in his first major-league at-bat but had to settle for a double off the right-field wall. That’s a lot of damage against two menacing left-handers.
“I think I have to be fearless,” Villar said. “As young as my career is, I kind of just have to separate the name from the player and treat everyone the same way. … Whether it’s Kershaw or someone else in Dodgers blue or anyone in MLB, it’s my job to try to boost the team.”
Villar has also been demoted and promoted again since that first at-bat.
“My confidence level coming back up to the big leagues was different this time around because I knew this was my second chance now,” he said. “I already had a month in the big leagues. I knew the failures, and I addressed them.”
In total, the Giants homered nine times in three games, accounting for all 13 of their runs this series. All but two of the Dodgers’ runs came via the long ball, too. The 99-degree temperature recorded at first pitch made Wednesday the hottest conditions San Francisco has played in all season.
“On a day like today, the ball’s gonna travel,” said starter Alex Cobb, who allowed one of the Dodgers’ two three-run homers Wednesday. “This ballpark plays kind of small when it’s warm out.”
Villar’s home runs weren’t enough support for Cobb, who navigated traffic in all five of his innings but ultimately put himself in one too many jams. After allowing Freddie Freeman and Max Muncy to reach to lead off the fifth — the Dodgers’ fourth straight inning with at least two men on base — Justin Turner launched a three-run homer to left-center, just out of reach of a leaping Brinson, and Cobb’s day was over one batter later.
The Dodgers plated the decisive runs in the eighth against Zack Littell, who was pitching his third inning in two games as the club attempts to navigate a bullpen game Tuesday and a double-header Thursday. Trea Turner knocked in the go-ahead run with a double over Joc Pederson’s head in left, and Muncy blew the game open with a three-run homer.
The loss officially eliminated the Giants from the NL West race, 28.5 games behind the Dodgers with 27 left to play. Only technically are they alive in the wild card race, trailing Philadelphia and San Diego by 9.5 games.
But for a team out of contention, September is about finding silver linings — like Villar and Brinson.
After Brinson slugged a pair of homers in the opening game of the series Monday night, Villar called the 6-foot-5 outfielder a “physical specimen (who) glides in the outfield, glides on the bases and can hit the ball 450 feet.”
On Wednesday, Brinson returned the compliment.
“He’s a specimen himself,” Brinson said. “Look at his legs. …
“I played against him at the beginning of the year when I was in Triple-A, and he looked good back then. It doesn’t look like he’s changed much.”
- The Giants added right-hander Luis Ortiz to their roster before the game, optioning outfielder Bryce Johnson back to Triple-A, but he didn’t make an appearance. It’s expected that Ortiz, a Fresno-area native who grew up rooting for the Giants, will help cover some of the 18 innings they are set to play Thursday in Milwaukee.
- The Giants announced that left-hander Scott Alexander will start the first game of their double-header Thursday in Milwaukee. Alexander, who Kapler said after Wednesday’s game was “a little banged up,” will likely serve as an opener for Jakob Junis, their originally scheduled starter. Kapler identified Sean Hjelle, a 6-foot-11 right-hander in Triple-A, as an option to be added as the 29th player for the twin bill as someone who could take down multiple innings.
Contributed by local news sources