Giants' starters are study in consistency

SAN FRANCISCO — When Yusmeiro Petit made a spot start Sunday after the Giants had clinched the National League West title the previous night, it broke a remarkable run for the team's five-man rotation.

The quintet of Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Tim Lincecum, Barry Zito and Ryan Vogelsong had made 132 consecutive starts without an interruption in their rotation schedule. It was the second-longest run of reliability for the Giants since the team moved to San Francisco in 1958.

What's more, the Giants have had only one other game this year that required a starter outside of their formidable five. Minor leaguer Eric Hacker was called up April 27 to make a start as the result of a rainout in New York.

Beyond that, 151 of the Giants' 153 games have been started by the same five men. If they stay on schedule the rest of the way as planned, they will have started 160 of the team's 162 games.

How significant is that? Well, it's never happened in San Francisco, whether in the four- or five-man rotation. And since five men became the standard in the 1980s, only three other teams in Major League Baseball have had the same group of fivers reach the 160-game mark in total starts.

"That's really unbelievable," catcher Buster Posey said. "I think it's probably something that should be talked about more. It says just how good those guys are, how consistent they've been, and how much work they put in before the season and then between every start."

Indeed, the durability of the starting staff is one of the biggest reasons the Giants have been able to overcome so many setbacks in other areas. Whereas each of the five pitchers has had his ups and downs, their ability to take the ball every fifth game has provided the club a level of dependability other teams in the N.L. West have lacked.

The Los Angeles Dodgers, who lost Ted Lilly early in the season and had Chad Billingsley miss considerable time, have had nine pitchers make at least five starts. The Arizona Diamondbacks have had nine pitchers make at least four. The Colorado Rockies have used 14starters, the San Diego Padres 15.

Meanwhile, the Giants' five could join some very elite company.

The 2003 Seattle Mariners had the only five-man rotation in history to take every start in a 162-game season. The 2005 St. Louis Cardinals and 1993 Los Angeles Dodgers each had five starters combine for 160. The Giants could join that group this year, as could this year's Cincinnati Reds, who have had only one game started by someone outside their top five.

"Just from a catcher's point of view, it's nice to know who you're going to be catching every day and what to expect," Posey said. "I think that's really overlooked."

Other than a back issue that forced Vogelsong to miss his first start of the season — the Giants covered his absence through off days — no starter has missed a turn all year. And when Vogelsong makes his next start, all five will have 30 or more. That will be a franchise first.

Cain and Bumgarner are already over 200 innings, and the other three will likely log at least 180 (Zito is the lowest at 1721/3). They've combined for 9382/3 innings — roughly 70 percent of the team's total — and they will push a combined 1,000 innings and 16,000 pitches by the end of the regular season.

They also have combined for 67 of the team's 89 wins.

"Your main guys have got to make all their starts, or at least most of them, otherwise you can't win," pitching coach Dave Righetti said. "I'm sure every one of our guys has personal things they wish they could have done a little bit better. But as a group, they'll look back and always feel good about what they've done this season. It's phenomenal."

The pitchers themselves are more self-effacing about what they've accomplished but are clearly proud of it.

"I think you have to have a little luck involved because sometimes you can't prevent injuries," Cain said. "But just doing things in between starts will prevent some problems, if nothing else just keeping the soreness level down. It says a lot about guys staying in their routine, but it also says a lot about our trainers and our strength guys making sure we stay on top of our conditioning."

Zito is particularly high on Carl Kochan, the Giants' first-year strength and conditioning coach who has devised specific routines for each of the starters based on their ages, skill sets and mechanics.

"He's just incredible," Zito said. "He's been a huge presence in our clubhouse. I don't think he's gotten much attention, but the way Carl does things has made a big impact on us being ready to pitch every time out."

Lincecum believes the biggest key is the shared burden of performance — that it's better to have five aces than one.

"It's not about being the No. 1 or the No. 5, it's just about being in the rotation," he said. "For us, it's about winning, going out and giving a good effort and knowing what you have to do, which is give the team quality starts. We don't put it all on one or two guys."

Mike Krukow, who made 355 big-league starts during a 14-year career, thinks Righetti and bullpen coach Mark Gardner deserve a lot of the credit.

"They were starting pitchers themselves, they understand what it means to go above and beyond, and most of all they understand the importance of mechanics," Krukow said. "You hurt yourself when your mechanics are poor, and one of the reasons these guys always answer the bell is they're mechanically sound."

Under Righetti, the Giants have been known for their durable staffs. In 2002, when the Giants lost the World Series in seven games, they had five pitchers — Livan Hernandez, Russ Ortiz, Ryan Jensen, Jason Schmidt, Kirk Rueter — make 158 of the team's 162 starts, including 135 in a row at one point (Kurt Ainsworth made the other four that year).

In 2010, when the club won the World Series, only 12 starts were made by pitchers outside their top five, and seven of those were by Todd Wellemeyer early in the season.

This year's rotation has a chance to top them all. Righetti said maintaining a level of fitness always helps keep a staff up and running, and he cites the individual struggles of this year's group as a classic example.

"Each guy has gone through his moments where he didn't pitch well in stretches due to mechanics or whatever," he said. "But all of it leads back to being in shape and just feeling good enough to pitch through it or you can't make the adjustments you need to make. You have to go sit down because you can't pitch at all. But with this five, that hasn't happened."

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