SAN FRANCISCO - You would have a hard time finding a starter in Major League Baseball who dealt with weirder pre-game distractions than Chris Stratton. He had 20 minutes notice one day because Johnny Cueto was a late scratch. Before one home start, Stratton was delayed several minutes by a long pre-game ceremony, and another night was scuttled by a rare lightning storm around AT&T Park. On Friday night, the first pitch was delayed six minutes because of the Willie Mac Award ceremony.
The wait for Stratton's next start will be a long one, but it's going to be much easier to handle.
Stratton will enter the offseason as the favorite to be the No. 5 starter in next year's rotation. Anything can happen of course, from a surprise free agent addition to a trade to a spring injury, but the Giants believe they have a contributor in the 27-year-old right-hander, and Stratton did nothing but bolster his case on his final night of the season. He went into his offseason on a high note.
Stratton has pitched well, but he hasn't gone particularly deep into games. He wanted to do so Friday, and he pitched 6 2/3 shutout innings before leaving to a standing ovation. The Giants crushed the Padres 8-0. Stratton finished his rookie year with a 3.68 ERA, and he was 4-2 with a 2.27 ERA in his final eight starts. During that stretch, he had 39 strikeouts in 39 2/3 innings.
"He's made a really big statement, I think, if you look at his body of work," manager Bruce Bochy said. "Just watching him pound the strike zone, he's got two good breaking balls and a changeup. He's locating well and he finished up on a good note tonight. It's nice to have a young man like this come up and make some noise, where he wants to be in the rotation next year. I don't know what's going to happen, but he certainly did his part."
The Giants, for much of the last two years, have gotten similar performances from Ty Blach. But many of the organization's decision-makers believe the lefty can be a more dangerous weapon in a bullpen that lacks a reliable southpaw. Blach will surely get a chance to compete with Stratton next spring, but it has been the right-hander who has gotten the starts down the stretch. For his part, Stratton said he expects it to be competitive next March. His mindset is that he still has a job to win.
"All I'm trying to do is help the team win," he said. "Hopefully they can see that I can help them out."
That's been crystal clear in a down year. Friday night's win assured that the Giants will not lose 100 games, but it's been a devastating year nonetheless. On top of the traditional struggles, the Giants have been stunned by the number of injuries to young players. Other youngsters have flamed out.
Stratton was an exception, and he credited two veterans with helping him break through at the highest level. He said Tim Federowicz forced him to throw his four-seamer up in the zone more when they were together in Triple-A. Nick Hundley did the same in the big leagues.
"They're trying to get me to ride that four-seamer up in the zone," he said. "(People) always preach down, every pitching coach says to pitch down in the zone (but) we've been really trying to ride (the four-seamer) up and it's been successful so far."
Throw in an elite curveball that rates as one of the best in the game by spin rate and you've got a pretty good repertoire. Stratton had the Padres off-balance all night. He had just one regret.
"I would have liked to go a little deeper," he said. "I had hoped I could get seven complete (innings), but I'm glad they gave me a chance there."
With the way he pitched this year, he'll get plenty of chances to go deep in games next season.