PHOENIX - Madison Bumgarner walked through the clubhouse Wednesday afternoon with the yellow ends of three pins sticking out of his left hand. It is a gruesome sight he has gotten used to, but that should end Thursday.
Bumgarner is very confident that the pins, which are stabilizing his fractured metacarpal, will be removed during a doctor's visit on Thursday. That would begin the next step in the rehab process, and could have Bumgarner back with the Giants by the last week of May.
It is hard to watch them most nights and see how they will be in contention when their ace gets back. But then there are nights like Wednesday, when Chris Stratton offered a reminder that perhaps this franchise can once again win behind a strong starting staff.
The 27-year-old allowed one run in seven innings of a 4-3 win over the Diamondbacks, lowering his ERA to 2.22. A night earlier, Johnny Cueto walked off the mound with a 0.45 ERA and 0.65 WHIP.
The final four innings were also a reminder, of course, that it takes much more than a stellar start. The offense is still not clicking, although Brandon Belt's two-run shot in the 10th proved the difference. The bullpen is showing cracks, but three different relievers kept a crucial runner at third in three straight innings.
There are plenty of issues for this 7-10 team, but perhaps they can be papered over if the rotation can charge to the finish line behind Bumgarner, Cueto, Stratton, who looks ready to take the next step in his career, and Jeff Samardzija, who returns Friday. In two starts on this trip, Stratton has allowed one run over 14 innings.
"He's been pretty spectacular," Belt said. "The poise he has on the mound, there's no situation that's too big for him."
That includes facing Paul Goldschmidt. Twice, Stratton had one of the best hitters in the National League fooled. He struck him out looking in their first two battles.
"A 3-2 slider (the first time) and it looked like he was looking for something else," Stratton said. "The next time we went to the two-seamer in and he wasn't looking for that as well. He's a great hitter. You've got to mix it up with him."
Stratton can now apparently do that at will. His four-pitch mix has been overwhelming this season, and he appears here to stay as part of a rotation that could eventually be pretty strong. But there will need to be help from other corners.
Belt and Evan Longoria provided it Wednesday. Longoria kept up his torrid pace of late, hitting a two-run homer early. After Hunter Strickland blew a lead in the ninth, Belt hit a towering two-run shot in the 10th. It was his 100th as a big leaguer.
"I totally forgot about it," he said. "They told me after the game. I guess that's a pretty good way to get your 100th homer."
The Giants quickly tracked the ball down and Belt handed it over to his mom, who made the trip from Texas. Then he joined his teammates in the dining room, discussing a night that on several occasions could have continued a downward spiral.
Tony Watson left the tying run on third with no outs in the eighth. Strickland left the winning run on third with one out in the ninth. Cory Gearrin left them loaded in the 10th.
"It was a great team win," Watson said. "Lots of guys did big things. That was a big one for us."