PHOENIX - After he struck out 10 Washington Nationals earlier this month, Chris Stratton got some advice from bullpen coach Mark Gardner. Remember this game, Gardner said. Put it in your back pocket. Use it as a reference point the next time you struggle, a reminder of how good your stuff is.
Stratton now has two games to look back at.
The rookie had another very impressive start, holding the Diamondbacks to two runs over six innings and striking out 10 more. The rest of this game was very much a 2017 Giants game. They did not hit, and the relief version of Matt Cain - plus some shoddy defense - turned it into a laugher in the eighth. The Giants lost 11-0, wrapping up a sweep at Chase Field.
That was all very familiar, and for Stratton, what he did Sunday is starting to be, too. That's the positive, and Bruce Bochy heaped praise on his young starter after the game.
"What a job the kid did again," Bochy said. "That's three great starts against three good-hitting clubs. This is a tough park to pitch in and he did a real nice job again. He's on a nice roll."
Before the game, Bochy was asked what he would do when Johnny Cueto returns to the rotation. He said he will not remove Stratton. "We're not going to do that to him - he's throwing the ball too well," Bochy said. Sunday reinforced that belief, and it showed again that the former first-rounder has deceptively good stuff.
Entering Sunday's games, Stratton had the fifth-highest spin rate in the majors on curveballs and 10th-highest on sliders. His fastball isn't close to being the fastest on the team, but it has the second-highest spin rate, behind only Mark Melancon. Pitchers often say the hitters will tell them how good their stuff is. Right now, some pretty good hitters are telling Stratton he has really good stuff.
"You hate to say you're surprised, because we think he's good - that's why he's here and in the rotation - but he has exceeded what we thought," Bochy said. "He's doing stuff that elite pitchers do. It's good to see him pitch at this level."
Stratton is all of a sudden throwing his name into long-term conversations. Bochy acknowledged that it's far too early to make any 2018 decisions, but if the team was decided today, Stratton would be on the staff. The Giants could use him as a long or short reliever, or leave him in the rotation and move someone else to the bullpen. Perhaps Stratton makes the front office feel that they can decline Matt Moore's option and spend that money on a hitter. Perhaps he turns Ty Blach into a left-handed reliever, which the bullpen sorely needs.
For now, Stratton is trying not to think big picture. He was happy with Sunday's performance, but kicked himself repeatedly over the five walks he issued. Asked about his future, Stratton reiterated that it's up to management.
"Hopefully I'm showing them what I can do," he said.