SF Giants’ bullpen steps up big time to blank Brewers, improve to .500

MILWAUKEE — The Giants said they planned to quickly flush their stinker of a series finale in Minnesota, and they kept their word Thursday, earning a 5-0 win in their first of four games against the Brewers.

Winning for the eighth time in their past 10 games, it should come as no surprise that the bullpen played a major part. Wait, you say, that bullpen, the one that was third-worst in the majors over the first month of the season and had blown 12 leads this season? The Giants looked to them to take down a full game for the second time this week and, continuing a string of strong performance, did it immaculately.

Even the best bullpen games can resemble a puzzle missing some of its pieces, but the Giants (25-25) put together a stained glass masterpiece to even their record back to .500. Manager Gabe Kapler mixed and matched six arms, who combined to blank the Brewers for nine innings — San Francisco’s fourth shutout of the season.

Scott Alexander opened with a 1-2-3 first, and Giants pitchers retired the first 11 batters they faced, surrendering only four hits the rest of the way. With 13 strikeouts, their pitching staff recorded double-digit strikeouts for the 20th time this season.

Michael Conforto continued his hot hitting with a mammoth home run that nearly hit the SUV on display on the concourse in right-center field — his team-leading 11th of the season and his seventh since May 10, a span of 14 games, averaging one every other day — and reached base in all of his other three at-bats, even adding his second steal of the season.

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LaMonte Wade Jr. also swiped a bag, after delivering the Giants the first run of the game with an RBI single in the fifth. The Giants’ pair of rookies padded the lead in the eighth after Conforto’s home run, with Casey Schmitt doubling home two runs and Patrick Bailey trading places with him.

The bullpen was the biggest source of the Giants’ troubles as they sank as many as six games under .500. Suddenly, it appears to be among the majors’ best.

Over this 10-game stretch, Giants relievers (including Alexander’s “start” Thursday) have posted the best ERA of any group in the majors (0.92) and, after fanning 13 more Brewers batters, also lead the majors in strikeouts (64) taken down the second-most innings of any group in the majors (49) while posting the best ERA (0.92).

Alexander turned in his sixth consecutive scoreless appearance, matching Camilo Doval for the highest usage over the past 10 games.

Doval’s services weren’t required Thursday, after San Francisco rallied for a four-spot in the top of the eighth. All seven of their previous wins were within three runs; Doval closed out six of them. Alexander saved the other, and on Thursday made his first appearance this season as an opener.

The Giants improved to 3-1 in bullpen games this season.

A day after a game full of defensive miscues reminiscent of last season, center fielder Mike Yastrzemski turned in possibly San Francisco’s web gem of the year so far. Darin Ruf, who caught on with Milwaukee after being designated for assignment by San Francisco earlier this month, launched the Brewers’ best-hit ball of the game in the first inning. It sent Yastrzemski to the track in right-center, where he leapt, twirled and intercepted the ball from its home-run trajectory.

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All Ruf could do was smile and shake his head as he headed back to the first-base dugout, thwarted by his former teammate.

Ruf spent a substantial chunk of time before the game on the Giants’ side catching up with old teammates.

“I like him better in our lineup,” manager Gabe Kapler joked. “You know how I feel about Darin. I think the world of him. I think he’s a great hitter and as good a clubhouse guy as there is. … Hopefully it works out well and he has a lot of success after we leave town.”


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— The Giants acquired some catching depth in a minor trade, according to Robert Murray and Jeff Young of FanSided. They reportedly traded for ex-A’s farmhand Jacob Nottingham, a 28-year-old backstop with a .184/.277/.421 slash line in 53 career major-league games and .249/.329/.413 over 10 minor-league seasons. With Nottingham expected to report to Triple-A Sacramento, the move could signal that the club is prepared to carry three backstops on its roster when Joey Bart is ready to come off the injured list, with rookies Patrick Bailey and Blake Sabol.

— Bart (right groin) is “doing well,” per Kapler, but still about five or six days away from running the bases. … Outfielder Austin Slater (left hamstring) is expected to begina rehab assignment this weekend, though Kapler said “nothing is set in stone.” … Joc Pederson (right hand) still isn’t able to swing a bat after being hit by a pitch in the hand while squaring up to bunt on May 12. “I don’t think it’s happening as fast as Joc would like or as fast as we would like,” Kapler said. “But there’s nothing we can do to speed this one up.”

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