After failing to make it past three innings in back-to-back starts, San Francisco's Ryan Vogelsong appears to have regained his composure.
The Giants certainly hope this is the case after relying heavily on the bullpen in their last game.
Vogelsong looks to help the NL West leaders sweep a three-game series from the lowly Astros on Thursday night in Houston.
San Francisco (73-57) remained 3 1/2 games ahead of Los Angeles with Wednesday's 6-4 win over the Astros, but it wasn't easy. The Giants scored four times in the first inning - highlighted by Hunter Pence 's three-run homer - but Barry Zito struggled to keep the lead.
Zito was done after yielding three runs in a season-low 2 1-3 innings, and six relievers helped San Francisco hold on for its seventh victory in nine games."The bullpen really picked us up," manager Bruce Bochy said.
Vogelsong (11-7, 2.90 ERA) will now try to give the relief corps a break.
The right-hander gave up three solo homers and a single over 6 1-3 innings in Friday's 5-3 win over Atlanta, and credits a change in his mechanics following a couple of subpar showings that dropped him out of the NL ERA lead. Prior to facing the Braves, Vogelsong was shelled for eight runs in 2 2-3 innings against Washington on Aug. 13 and pitched three shaky innings in a 7-1 defeat in San Diego on Aug. 19.
"I felt like I was swinging off the ball a little bit the last few games, and I was showing the ball maybe too early," he told the Giants' official website. "I just really tried to work on getting some better direction to the plate and hide the ball a little bit longer."
He was encouraged by his progress despite having trouble keeping the ball in the park after surrendering one home run in his previous six games.
The Astros (40-90) aren't as big of a threat to go deep, having hit two homers in their last six games. Houston, owner of baseball's worst record, has also lost four straight and 11 of 12.
The Giants have won seven of eight meetings this year, and haven't had more victories against the Astros since 2000, when they went 8-1.
Pence has been a nightmare for the Astros since they traded him last July, batting .370 with four homers in seven games against his former team with Philadelphia and San Francisco. One of those home runs came off Jordan Lyles (3-10, 5.47), who gets the ball Thursday.
Lyles gave up a run and three hits in six innings of Friday's 3-1 victory over the New York Mets , his first since beating San Diego on June 26. The 21-year-old righty was 0-6 with a 6.79 ERA in his nine starts in between, with Houston losing each one.
"Hopefully this is the right step moving forward," he told the Astros' official website, "and hopefully I can build on it and finish strong this year."
Although Lyles is 5-17 in 34 career starts and has never won two in a row, he did defeat the Giants in his lone outing in this series. He gave up two unearned runs in five innings of a 7-5 victory last Aug. 20.
Vogelsong, who is making his first appearance in the season series, had a 3.14 ERA in losing both of his starts to Houston last year.
|San Francisco Giants|
|August 29, 2012||Clay Hensley||15-Day DL||Strained right groin|
|August 23, 2012||Justin Christian||15-Day DL||Sprained left wrist|
|August 22, 2012||Buster Posey||Day-to-Day||Hamstring tightness|
|August 14, 2012||Brad Penny||15-Day DL||Right shoulder impingement|
|August 07, 2012||Shane Loux||15-Day DL||Recurring neck strain|
|July 31, 2012||Aubrey Huff||15-Day DL||Strained right knee|
|August 28, 2012||Bud Norris||Day-to-Day||Left game - blister|
|August 22, 2012||Justin Maxwell||Day-to-Day||Bruised right index finger|
|August 07, 2012||Jordan Schafer||15-Day DL||Left shoulder separation|
|August 02, 2012||Francisco Cordero||15-Day DL||Inflamed right big toe|
|July 31, 2012||Wilton Lopez||Day-to-Day||Right elbow tightness|
|July 15, 2012||Jed Lowrie||15-Day DL||Sprained right ankle|
HOUSTON (AP) -- Ryan Vogelsong had a tough time early in his start on Thursday night.
But after using six relievers a night before, San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy was forced to stick with him despite giving up four runs through three innings.
Vogelsong (12-7) bounced back, pitching three scoreless frames before Hunter Pence hit a go-ahead two-run single in the seventh inning and the Giants rallied again for an 8-4 win over the Houston Astros .
"He kept grinding and that was a gritty effort," Bochy said. "He knew that we needed some innings out of him and he kept going and ends up getting a win. That shows you how tough he is. That was a tough start the first three innings."
The Giants were down 4-0 after four innings. They cut the lead to one with a three-run fifth inning, and Pablo Sandoval singled in a run in the seventh to tie it. Pence, who hit a three-run homer on Wednesday, then caused trouble for his former team again, this time with a two RBI grounder off Fernando Rodriguez (1-9) to shallow center field that put San Francisco on top 6-4.
San Francisco came back to win the opener of the series and Thursday's win completed their sixth sweep this season.
"Great comeback - a couple of great comebacks here," Bochy said. "They played us tough."
Joaquin Arias added a solo homer in the eighth for the NL-East-leading Giants.
Vogelsong allowed seven hits and four runs. Sergio Romo got the last out of the ninth for his eighth save.
Tyler Greene homered for the Astros, who dropped to 1-9 under interim manager Tony DeFrancesco. DeFrancesco took over on Aug. 19 after Brad Mills became the first manager in the majors to be fired this season.
"The bottom line is we had lead going into the seventh inning, and somebody is going to have to step up out in that bullpen, and they're going to have to make pitches when they have to," DeFrancesco said.
The announced attendance was just 12,835, which set a record for the smallest crowd in the history of Houston's 12-year-old ballpark for the third straight game. The struggling Astros were competing for fans on Thursday night with both the Texans, who were hosting the Vikings in a preseason game, and Rice which took on UCLA.
Pence walked in the eighth inning and scored from first when Brandon Belt tied a career-high with his fourth hit of the night - a double to right field - to extend the lead to 8-4.
Belt, who is from Nacogdoches, Texas, had a large group of family at the park for the first two games of the series. Unfortunately his wife and several members of the group went home early and missed Thursday's game after becoming ill with what he thinks was food poisoning the night before.
"Too bad my family already left," Belt said, adding that he was up all night Wednesday tending to his sick wife.
Things looked good for the Astros early. Jose Altuve hit a leadoff single before scoring on a two-out double by Jason Castro , which a diving Pence barely missed in right field.
Jimmy Paredes singled to center field to score Castro and put Houston up 2-0.
Houston's Matt Dominguez , who was called up from Triple-A Oklahoma City on Thursday, hit his first career triple to lead off the second inning. He scored on a sacrifice bunt by Brian Bogusevic to push the lead to 3-0.
Greene's opposite field solo shot in the third inning left Houston on top 4-0.
"I was just kind of off early with everything - mechanically, tempo. Everything was just kind of out of whack," Vogelsong said. "It wasn't really one thing that I changed to get going, it just kind of started falling into place."
Houston starter Jordan Lyles yielded seven hits with three runs in five innings.
Gregor Blanco singled and advanced to third on a one-out single by Vogelsong in the fifth inning. Angel Pagan cut Houston's lead to 4-1 with his run-scoring double before an RBI single by Marco Scutaro .
The Giants got within 4-3 when Pagan scored on a sacrifice fly.
Lyles got into trouble in the second inning when three consecutive singles left the bases loaded with no outs. He wriggled out of that jam by retiring the next three batters to end the inning. The last out of the inning was a nifty one, as Lyles grabbed a comebacker from Vogelsong.
NOTES: Astros' OF Justin Maxwell entered the game as a defensive replacement in the seventh inning. It was the first time he's played since Aug. 21 because of a bruised right index finger. ... Houston left-hander Dallas Keuchel was optioned to Oklahoma City to make room on the roster for Dominguez. ... Houston OF Ben Francisco , who was scratched from Wednesday's lineup with discomfort in his right wrist, also sat out Thursday. ... The Astros open a series with Cincinnati on Friday and the Giants travel to face the Cubs.