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Villar, Hjelle lead way as SF Giants clean up play to beat Rockies

Villar, Hjelle lead way as SF Giants clean up play to beat Rockies

No need for a “minor miracle” Tuesday night.

A night after committing four errors — matching a season-high — yet still pulling out a win over the Rockies, the Giants played a clean game Tuesday night, benefitting from an effective bullpen, more pop from their September star and Austin Slater’s return to the starting lineup to pull out a 6-3 win over Colorado.

The Giants won their second game in a row to improve to 71-77, safely seven games ahead of Colorado (64-84) in last place and three ahead of fourth-place Arizona (68-80). Securing at least a split in this four-game series, they will go for only their second road series win of three games or more since mid-June with Logan Webb on the mound Wednesday.

Here are some takeaways.

Slater’s return: After missing 14 games with hand sprain he suffered when he dislocated his left pinky finger on a headfirst slide into second base, Austin Slater was activated from the injured list Monday and on Tuesday slotted into the Giants starting lineup for the first time since Aug. 30.

Rockies left-hander Kyle Freeland had limited the Giants to one run and three hits through five innings in what was shaping up to be a rare Coors Field pitcher’s duel. Of course, it didn’t, and Slater opened the floodgates in the sixth inning.

The left masher sent a line drive into right center and chugged into second base — the oven mitt on his left hand is his new sliding glove — kicking off a string of three straight doubles. Slater traded places with Thairo Estrada, who scored on another two-bagger from Evan Longoria.

Joey Bart showed off his wheels, scoring the first of two seventh-inning runs all the way from first base  — after a triple in the third that was later changed to an E7 — on another double by Slater, who finished 2-for-4 and also made the game-ending catch on a sliding grab in foul territory in left field.

Villar, the September star: With his blast to left field to lead off the seventh, David Villar widened the Giants’ lead to 4-1 and pocketed his fifth home-run since being called back up from Triple-A on Sept. 2.

Since launching four in a seven-games stretch earlier this month, Villar had been homerless in his past seven games entering Tuesday night. He more than made up for the time off, with a little help from Coors Field’s mile-high conditions: the homer traveled 424 feet, the longest of his major-league career, besting a 408-foot blast at Dodger Stadium during his earlier homer spree.

Villar’s five September home runs lead the Giants this month. So does his .969 OPS.

Although he slid back into the six-hole this series, Villar had recently made his first appearances in the heart of San Francisco’s lineup, batting cleanup once and second twice during the most recent home stand.

Manager Gabe Kapler has made it clear that, of anybody in the Giants system, Villar has earned — and is getting — the longest look of anyone this September. Tough as it may be to judge September performance, the 25-year-old isn’t wasting his shot and should enter next spring with a chance to win a roster spot.

Opening success: For the seventh time this season, the Giants handed the ball to reliever John Brebbia to start the game, and for the seventh time, he tossed a scoreless inning.

Brebbia’s opener duties now comprise one tenth of his major-league-leading 70 appearances this season, and he’s been just as reliable in almost any other inning, too. In seven starts: zero runs, seven hits, one walk. Overall: 51 strikeouts, 18 walks, 63 hits, 20 earned runs in 63 innings. His 2.86 ERA ranks behind only closer Camilo Doval.

As the Giants use this month to lay the foundation for next year’s bullpen — Scott Alexander, Alex Young, Yunior Marte, Thomas Szapucki and Cole Waites all auditioning for roles; lower-leverage usage of Tyler Rogers and Jarlín García — Brebbia is emerging, along with Doval, as one surefire building block.

Behind Brebbia, Sean Hjelle had an encouraging bounce-back outing — six hits scattered over four-plus innings, two runs allowed, three strikeouts and no walks — three days after allowing six runs in one-plus innings against the Dodgers.

Coors Field is rarely a welcome sight for any pitcher, but perhaps anything is an easier assignment than the Dodgers.

That’s now two strong outings from Hjelle in three appearances this September, after also tossing five innings of one-run ball in the second leg of the Giants’ double-header loss in Milwaukee. He has flashed newfound velocity — up to 96 mph — in all three but only found success when he’s had command of his full complement of offspeed pitches.

After tossing 5⅔ innings without an earned run Monday night, the Giants bullpen limited Colorado to three runs in a six-man effort, improving to 7-9 in bullpen games this season. That’s a 1.98 ERA in 13⅔ relief innings in the first two games of this series — at Coors Field.

Clean baseball: After committing four errors in the series opener Monday night — matching a season-high — Kapler called it a “minor miracle” to still escape with a 10-7 win, thanks to Estrada’s three-run blast in the top of the 10th.

No needs for miracles Tuesday night.

The Giants played a clean game defensively.

They even benefitted from a Rockies miscue, when left fielder Yonathan Daza misjudged a deep fly ball from Joey Bart in the third inning. It traveled 411 feet — a home run all 29 other ballparks — but in the large confines of Coors Field, Daza appeared to track it down on the warning track. The ball, however, fell to the dirt, and Bart chugged into third base.

It was initially ruled a triple — it would have been the first by a Giants catcher this season — but was later changed to an error on Daza. Bart scored the only run by either team through five innings on a single by Mike Yastrzemski.

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