ATLANTA -- While most folks calling for the Giants to improve themselves before the Trade Deadline focus on hitting, an increasingly vocal minority has insisted that upgrading the pitching staff should be general manager Brian Sabean's priority. The latter group might be on to something. The Giants learned long ago that they need more than Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain to maintain a formidable starting rotation. This truth was reaffirmed in Tuesday night's 8-1 loss to the Atlanta Braves.
The magic Ryan Sadowski initially displayed upon joining the Giants was nonexistent against the Braves, who thumped him for eight runs and eight hits in 3 2/3 innings. "The command was bad and the stuff was bad," the refreshingly candid right-hander said. Recalled earlier in the day from Class A San Jose to reclaim his spot in the starting rotation, Sadowski (2-2) has allowed 10 earned runs in 8 2/3 innings over his last two starts, compared with the 13 scoreless innings he threw in his first pair of outings for the Giants. Sadowski likely will take his next scheduled turn Sunday at Colorado. "That's the plan right now," manager Bruce Bochy said. But combine Sadowski's return to earth with the inconsistency shared by Jonathan Sanchez and Barry Zito and the uncertain timing of Randy Johnson's recovery from a strained left shoulder, and the Giants' rotation looks decidedly vulnerable. That's despite the National League-best 3.56 ERA San Francisco's starters took into Tuesday's game. The Giants have climbed above .500 largely because their bullpen has been just as effective as the rotation. But all it takes to upset that favorable balance and overwork the relievers is a few more abbreviated performances such as Sadowski's within a short span. A pitching staff's slow yet inexorable meltdown tends to occur when a team is facing the type of challenging schedule that currently confronts the Giants. They're five games into a stretch of 20 consecutive games, which includes visits to two parks that give pitchers insomnia -- Colorado's Coors Field (despite the humidor-narcotized baseballs) and Houston's Minute Maid Park. If the Giants remain in the Wild Card race when they observe their next scheduled off-day Aug. 6, they should consider themselves fortunate. Or thank the fresh faces Sabean may have added before July 31. Already, the Giants' postseason rivals are smelling their blood, now that they've posted a 1-4 record on their three-city, 10-game trip and have spent two days out of the Wild Card lead. "This is a team we need to beat," said Braves starter Derek Lowe (9-7), who worked six typically efficient innings. "They're ahead of us in the Wild Card chase. So, so far, so good." As if the Giants didn't have enough to worry about, they acquired a new concern as shortstop Edgar Renteria received a postgame cortisone shot to soothe his tender right elbow. Bochy said that Renteria will need to rest for at least a couple of days before returning to the lineup. Now it's clear why Renteria has hit .149 (7-for-47) in his last 14 games. Swinging the bat pains him. "I can do nothing to help the team," said Renteria, who hoped in vain that last week's All-Star break would help his elbow heal. Juan Uribe will play shortstop while Renteria sits. A healthy Renteria could have gone 4-for-4 and it might not have been enough to help Sadowski, who called his sinking fastball "awful" after his first Giants start since July 8. Sent to San Jose to maintain a semblance of a routine during the All-Star break, Sadowski allowed one unearned run through six innings in a July 13 start at Visalia. But he refused to attribute his troubles against the Braves to the prolonged layoff. "If I would have thrown [at Visalia] like I threw today, those guys would have hit me hard, too," Sadowski said. Referring to the surging Braves, who have hit 19 home runs and built a 12-6 record in July, Sadowski added, "You run into a hot offense and you make bad pitches and they make you pay." Brian McCann tormented Sadowski with an RBI double in the first inning and a three-run homer in the fourth. Martin Prado rapped three singles off Sadowski, including a run-scoring hit in the fourth. But Sadowski insisted that his most formidable nemesis was himself. "One of the negative things that happens, when you go on such a good run like I was on, is when things start coming apart, you've got to be tough enough not to break down mentally. And I definitely did," said Sadowski, whose ERA rose from 1.00 to 4.15. "I started giving in. And you can't throw guys like [the Braves have in] the middle of their lineup cookies and expect to get outs."
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.