Giants strike early, cruise to win over Braves

Giants strike early, cruise to win over Braves

SAN FRANCISCO -- Creating offense in the first inning has been a particularly difficult task for the Giants this year. That changed Friday, as Brandon Belt and Joe Panik tallied a pair of run-scoring base hits in the bottom of the first that set the stage for a 7-0 win over the Atlanta Braves at AT&T Park.

San Francisco entered the series opener with the fewest runs (44) in the first inning in the Majors this season. But after Buster Posey and Brandon Crawford hit consecutive infield singles with two outs, the Giants finally came through. Belt launched a base hit to center field to score Posey, and Panik lined a ball down the left-field line to score two more. Angel Pagan then added a two-run home run in the second, and thanks to seven scoreless frames from Jeff Samardzija, the Giants cruised to just their third series-opening victory since the All-Star break.

"You always want to go start-start-start, quality starts and zeros," Samardzija said after helping the Giants blank an opposing team for the second straight night. "You know as a starter when you do that you let those hitters get back in the dugout and they're feeling good. It just ends up falling in your favor."

Giants pitchers have pitched 22 consecutive scoreless innings. In addition, thanks to the Dodgers' 6-4 loss to the Cubs, San Francisco is now just one game behind Los Angeles for first place in the National League West.

The Braves offense had plenty of opportunities to match the Giants' offensive production in the first two innings. But the batters went 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position and scored zero runs despite loading the bases with nobody out in the second. San Francisco fared much better against Joel De La Cruz, and the Braves rookie exited after allowing six runs (three earned) in four innings.

"They capitalized with runners in scoring position early and we didn't," Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman said. "We got down by too much and we just couldn't come back. Samardzija had that two-seamer going today and he had that split working, too. He's tough when he's on."

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Another gem: Samardzija initially appeared to be missing the command that allowed him to take a no-hitter into the seventh inning of his last start. But after working his way out of multiple jams in the first two innings, the right-hander proved to be dominant. Samardzija held an opponent scoreless for just the second time this season. He also turned in his third consecutive quality start while recording just his second win since the All-Star break.

"He did a great job of pitching out of those jams," said Giants manager Bruce Bochy. "He just kept his poise and found a way to get out of it. He saved the game for us at that point for us. I think that gave him a lot of confidence; he settled in and pitched a real nice game."

Samardzija goes seven strong

Wasted chances: The Braves squandered two doubles in the first inning and did not capitalize after each of their first three batters reached safely in the second. Ender Inciarte began the game with a double, but then made a mental mistake that resulted in him being thrown out at third base on Adonis Garcia's grounder to shortstop Crawford. Inciarte also accounted for the second out in Atlanta's once-promising second inning.

"I was so sure [Crawford] was playing behind my left shoulder," Inciarte said. "So I anticipated anything hit to the right side, I was going to go. Whenever that ball was hit, I didn't have second thoughts and went to third. It was a bad decision." More »

Crawford snares a line drive

Staying hot: Pagan added on to the Giants' three-run lead in the second inning after smashing a two-run home run into the right-field arcade. Pagan has now hit safely in 21 of his last 22 games. But the left fielder entered Friday batting just .135 with runners in scoring position in his last 26 games. Pagan overcame that obstacle with a runner on third and two outs in the second, hitting his ninth homer of the season as San Francisco jumped out to a 5-0 lead.

"To get those runs early and then to add on was big," said Crawford. "In the second half we hadn't been doing that, but lately we have been a lot better at that, and that continued tonight."

Pagan's two-run jack

Quick strike: De La Cruz surrendered four consecutive two-out hits in the first inning and then allowed Gorkys Hernandez to open the second inning with a sharp grounder (exit velocity was 98 mph per Statcast™) that caromed off second baseman Jace Peterson and was ruled an error. Just three of the six runs De La Cuz surrendered were deemed earned, but as he completed his second straight rocky start, there was further reason to believe he'll soon exit the rotation to make room for prospects who will be counted on in future seasons.

"[De La Cruz] threw the ball OK, but when [your defense] makes some miscues, you've got to be able to get the next guy out," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "He wasn't able to do that. I think in the third inning, things were little bit better and crisper. But to assess his performance, it wasn't real good."

QUOTABLE
"When you get some hits, the pain goes away." -- Freeman, who recorded a pair of hits, including one of the first-inning doubles, while dealing with the back discomfort that has lingered since he flipped over a railing during Thursday's game in Arizona.

WHAT'S NEXT
Braves: Mike Foltynewicz will be on the mound when Atlanta and San Francisco resume this three-game series Saturday at 9:05 p.m. ET. Foltynewicz limited the Giants to one run over six innings on May 30. He has posted a 5.48 ERA over eight starts since the All-Star break.

Giants: Jake Peavy will make his first start since July 30 when the Giants face the Braves on Saturday at 6:05 p.m. PT. Peavy, who moved to the bullpen after the club acquired Matt Moore, is starting in place of an injured Matt Cain. The right-hander is 5-9 with a 5.47 ERA as a starter this year.

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Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.

Justin Wise is a reporter for MLB.com based in the Bay Area.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.