SAN FRANCISCO -- Just think what Jonathan Sanchez might have done if he used all of his pitches. Sanchez sustained a mild bruise on his left ring finger Thursday as he raised his hands to try to shield himself from a first-inning foul ball Eugenio Velez lined into the Giants' dugout at San Diego. Early in Friday night's game against the Cincinnati Reds, Sanchez threw a changeup but felt pain in the finger. So he resorted to a mix of fastballs, sinkerballs and sliders. The results couldn't have been much better if Sanchez mixed in screwballs, gyroballs and eephus pitches. Amid Tim Lincecum's repeated excellence, Matt Cain's power pitching and Kevin Correia's 7 2/3 shutout innings against St. Louis on April 10, Sanchez turned in what might have been the finest effort by a Giants starter this year. He took a two-hit shutout into the ninth inning and emerged with his second consecutive victory as the Giants subdued the Cincinnati Reds, 3-1.
Bengie Molina drove in two runs to help the Giants win their third game in a row, all of which have been close enough to require Brian Wilson's services for the save. "I wouldn't be surprised if I had a few ulcers by the end of the season," said Wilson, who shares the National League lead with eight saves in nine opportunities. It also wouldn't be surprising to see Sanchez establish himself as another potentially dominant member of the Giants' rotation, joining Cain and Lincecum. Sanchez struck out 10 batters, matching a career high he reached April 9 against San Diego. The last Giants left-hander to record at least two double-digit strikeout games in a season was Shawn Estes, who had three of them in 1998. Wilson saw this kind of brilliance from Sanchez in 2005, when they were teammates at low-Class A Augusta. Sanchez struck out 166 batters in 125 2/3 innings in 25 starts that year to further his reputation as a Giants prospect. "They labeled him the definition of missing bats," Wilson recalled. "We always made fun of him for that, but it's true. He's got a live arm and has been striking out a lot of guys since we started playing. It would only hold true that he would do it here." As everybody who follows the Giants knows by now, Sanchez's inability to maintain a consistent release point in his delivery has prevented him from harnessing his devastating stuff. Just last Sunday at St. Louis in his previous appearance, Sanchez flung 101 pitches in just five innings and walked four, although he held the Cardinals scoreless. Against the Reds, he needed just 99 pitches to last eight innings and finished with 107 after pinch-hitter Brandon Phillips homered and Ryan Freel singled to open the ninth, prompting Wilson's rescue.
"I was getting on top of the ball better," Sanchez said. "My sinker was working all night."
Since Sanchez has made just 13 starts in the Major Leagues, the Giants will wait as long as it takes for him to find a groove.
"Part of it is maturing and developing the confidence that you can pitch up here," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "That's happening for him. He has to realize how good he can be."
Before Phillips' homer, Cincinnati moved only three runners into scoring position against Sanchez. With the tying run at the plate after Freel's hit, Wilson struck out Jerry Hairston Jr., retired Ken Griffey Jr. on a grounder and coaxed Edwin Encarnacion's popup to end it.
Ranked last in the Major Leagues in scoring, the Giants squeezed out a fourth-inning run on doubles by Eugenio Velez and Molina off Aaron Harang (1-3), who lasted 7 1/3 innings. They scored twice in the eighth after Fred Lewis doubled and Velez singled. Lewis held at third base on Velez's hit, but proceeded home as Griffey's throw from right field eluded catcher David Ross and Harang. Velez, who went to second on the play, stole third base and sped home on Molina's sacrifice fly.
The Giants haven't needed much offense lately. Cain, Lincecum and Sanchez have combined to allow two runs in 21 1/3 innings during the club's winning streak.
"This is the type of ball we need to play," Bochy said. "We're not a club that can go banging it with the other team. We have to pitch, catch the ball and find a way to get runs across the board."
|The Giants struck out 11 batters on Thursday, earning fans an $11 discount on tickets for Tuesday's game against the Rockies.|
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Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.