February 22, 2024
Throwing 131 pitches and taking the ball five days later? That's September baseball, Alex Cobb said: "We're in playoff mode."

SAN DIEGO — It was a couple weeks ago, in Philadelphia, that Alex Cobb felt the tide of the Giants’ season turn. The temperature dropped. Football was on the televisions in the clubhouse. Gone were the dog days; the final push for the postseason was here.

“That always brings you that little bit more of adrenaline,” he said, “knowing that you’re getting to the end of the road of the season.”

Perhaps it’s no coincidence, then, that in his next start, he twirled the gem of his career. A few feet of air between Spencer Steer’s two-out line drive and the outstretched glove of Luis Matos in right field was all that separated him from a no-hitter. He dug deep and found 131 pitches, the most he’s ever thrown in one game.

Five days later, he will take the mound again Sunday for the finale of the Giants’ four-game series against the Padres.

Nobody is expecting another 8⅔ innings of no-hit ball, right? “I hope not,” Cobb chuckled. “It would be fun, though,” manager Gabe Kapler chimed in.

“It’s a new outing,” Cobb said. “There was an anomaly of an outing, once-in-a-career type of outing. You appreciate that for what it is, you turn the page and go into this next outing facing the Padres, as we talk today tied for the last wild card spot, knowing that you need to give your team a good chance to win.”

Kapler pushed the boundaries of his comfort zone by pushing Cobb — and Kyle Harrison — to season- or career-highs in pitches in their last outings. After throwing 91 over 6⅓ shutout innings against the Reds, Harrison took the ball on four days’ rest Saturday against San Diego.

Kapler said he’ll monitor them closely this time around, though no differently than in their last turns.

“We’ll monitor velocity. We’ll monitor command. We’ll monitor if Kyle or Alex or whoever is the best option to get hitters out,” Kapler said. “And probably most importantly, what are the pitchers saying to us between innings.”

Kapler said after Cobb’s near-no-no that they would consider giving him an extra day of rest. Whatever thought process there was, it didn’t make its way to Cobb. He saw Sunday’s game on the schedule and figured he was starting.

“It’s just my day,” he said. “They checked and asked how I felt. I felt normal, normal post-start pitching. I think the state of where we’re at, we have an opportunity here to make some ground, stay in the postseason depending on what happens tonight, you just want to be a part of that.”

Asked how his arm is holding up, Cobb said, “It’s September. So coming off, what, 131 (pitches)? Probably a little tired. But it’s good.”

With September comes the aches and pains of the season entering its sixth and final month. But for the GIants

“It feels like 2021,” Wilmer Flores said after Friday night’s loss, referring to their race with the Dodgers for the NL West.

This year, with the Dodgers running away with the division, they aren’t battling one team but five. Entering Saturday tied with the D-backs for the third and final wild card, they’re bunched together within five games of the Cubs, Reds and Marlins, too, for the final two playoff spots.

“If you look at it like a marathon, I think a marathon (runner) would look at the last quarter mile or whatever they’ve got and start to ramp it up a little bit, dig a little deeper, push a little harder, knowing that you can empty the tank,” Cobb said. “I think that’s what September does for guys.”

Every game could be considered a must-win for the Giants. But, Cobb said, there’s isn’t so much a sense of urgency in the clubhouse as a renewed confidence.

“It feels like if you asked us two weeks ago, it would’ve felt like it was almost a doomsday feeling,” he said. “Now there’s just a lot more optimism. Kind of like we got out of our funk.”

The club made it through the three-week gauntlet of playoff contenders still in the thick of the wild card race. They lost five of the six straight series against winning clubs, but none of their wild card competition capitalized to seize control of the race. If things break their way next week at Wrigley Field, they could overtake the Cubs for the second spot, too.

After that, the schedule eases slightly with six games against the woebegone Rockies and another three against the below-.500 Guardians.

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“We obviously know we need to win all these ballgames. We’re in playoff mode,” Cobb said. “But I think that there’s more of a sense of confidence in the way everything has kind of shifted.  … It’s not that we don’t know we need to win games. But it’s just not like we feel like we’ve hurt ourselves too bad with how much we’ve been playing poorly. We feel like we’re in a good position right now.”

Notable

— RHP Ross Stripling (back) rejoined the club from his rehab assignment with Triple-A Sacramento but wasn’t activated. He was scheduled to throw three innings in a rehab start Friday but went only one frame, which Kapler said was to keep their options open to “find the right time to deploy him.”

— IF J.D. Davis (left hand soreness), who was a late scratch Friday, was back in the lineup as the designated hitter Saturday. With lefty Blake Snell on the mound, the Giants also sat Brandon Crawford in favor of right-handed-hitting Paul DeJong, who is hitless in 21 at-bats since his 3-for-5 club debut last week.

— OF Bryce Johnson, who was designated for assignment last week, cleared waivers and was sent to Triple-A Sacramento, the club said.

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