PHOENIX – In the long run, the Diamondbacks believe the major league experience gained down the stretch will benefit young starters Tyler Skaggs and Patrick Corbin immensely, pointing to the strides Wade Miley made this season after pitching in the 2011 pennant run.
No one guaranteed that all the experiences would be pleasant.
Skaggs has run into some of the unwanted but not unexpected growing pains in his last two starts. He pitched with the flu last Friday in San Diego, lasting three innings, and he went only four innings Friday, when a bad inning and a bad pitch led to San Francisco’s 6-2 victory at Chase Field.
Skaggs, who turned 21 in July, labeled his last two performances “unacceptable.”
The D-backs prefer to look at the bigger picture.
“You look at all the 21-year olds who have been in the game through the history of the game, they learn a lot of lessons,” D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said.
“It’s painful and it’s tough for him. He goes out and busts his tail. The result isn’t what he wants it to be. Your hope is that he has the character that will make him better. If we didn’t believe that, I don’t think he’d be here.”
The Giants scored five runs off Skaggs in the third inning, with Hunter Pence’s grand slam on a high fastball capping an inning that the D-backs could not recover from even though they put 19 runners on base and drove 14-game winner Matt Cain from the game in the sixth inning. It was a sloppy inning. Cain reached on a walk. John McDonald then made a diving stop behind second on a grounder, but a backhanded throw to second was not handled.
Skaggs has given up a home run in each of his five starts, and Pence’s was the most damaging, coming after Cain beat a throw to the plate on Buster Posey’s chopper to third baseman Ryan Wheeler with one out and the bases loaded. The slam made it 5-0.
Gibson sent Skaggs out for the fourth inning, and he responded with a 1-2-3 inning that included one of his two strikeouts. It was sort of a pop quiz, and he passed.
“One of the reasons we let him go back out for the fourth was because we thought he needed to do that and build some character. He had to get back on the horse. He needed to know make good pitches, which he did,” Gibson said.
Skaggs gave up five hits and struck out two in four innings. His one walk was to Cain to open the third inning.
“You can never walk the pitcher. The whole inning kind of exploded,” said Skaggs, who threw a good curveball to Pence, a borderline strike that was called a ball, before the home run.
He started well, giving up only two singles with one out in the second inning, one when he failed to cover first base on a grounder down the line that he believed was going to go foul. The game was scoreless entering the third.
“The first two innings were good, and the third inning things just got out of hand. As a young pitcher, you have to learn how to get out of jams like that. I was fortunate enough my first two outings to get out of jams. It’s my fault,” said Skaggs, 1-2 with a 5.55 ERA.
“It has been unacceptable on my part the last two outings. I just can’t pitch like that. It’s almost embarrassing.”
The D-backs (71-73) remained 4 ½ games behind St. Louis in the race for the second wild card, however, when the Dodgers beat the Cardinals 8-5. The Dodgers’ victory kept the Giants’ lead in the NL West at 7 ½ games with 18 to play.
Chris Johnson had three hits and both RBIs for the D-backs, singling in a run as a pinch hitter in the sixth inning and singling in a run in the ninth. He was the only D-back to get a hit with a runner in scoring position — the D-backs went 2 for 16 as a team, squandering their early opportunities against nemesis Cain.
The D-backs had six base runners and made Cain throw 48 pitches in the first two innings but could not score, even with three walks and a bunt single in the first. Cain is 2-0 in three starts against the D-backs this season and 12-6 against them in his career.
Adam Eaton, hitting leadoff for the eighth straight game since Chris Young suffered a quadriceps injury in San Francisco, began the first by working a nine-pitch walk. He fell behind 0-2 but fouled off three two-strike pitches before reaching first. Aaron Hill then beat out a bunt down the third-base line, but the rally stalled when Jason Kubel struck out and Eaton was thrown out attempting to steal third. Paul Goldschmidt and Miguel Montero walked to load the bases before Justin Upton fouled out.
Wheeler’s single, an infield error and Skaggs’ sacrifice bunt put runners on second and third in the second before Eaton flew out to short left and Hill grounded out.
Part of the trouble was finding holes. Jason Kubel lined into a double play with no outs in the sixth, and Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval made a diving catch of a Chris Young line drive that was already past him with the bases loaded and no outs in the sixth
Those were the kinds of opportunities the D-backs took advantage of when sweeping a two-game series against the Dodgers earlier in the week.
“We certainly had our opportunities. We didn’t play well tonight, so we made it harder on ourself,” Gibson said.