Ryan Vogelsong came into last night’s game with a 1-4 record and a 8.06 ERA, which was the highest ERA among all qualified starting pitchers in the National League. The good news for the San Francisco Giants is that Vogelsong looked spectacular in his start last night against the Nationals. The bad news is that Vogelsong was hit by a pitch mid-swing in the fifth inning. The worse news is that he dislocated a joint in his pinky on his pitching hand and has fractures above and below the knuckle. Vogelsong will have surgery today at Stanford Hospital and will be out for at least 4-6 weeks. Pins will likely be inserted into his pinky during surgery to assist the healing process.
Although the recovery is listed at 4-6 weeks, it will most likely take longer than that though for him to return to full strength. Vogelsong won’t be able to pitch until he’s fully healed and then will have to build up his arm strength again.
“It stinks,” Vogelsong said. “It stinks because it had been so rough, to go out there and feel like my old self again…it stinks.”
Vogelsong was having his best start of the season before his unfortunate injury occurred. He pitched five innings on 79 pitches (49 strikes), allowed three hits, struck out two, and walked one. He faced 19 batters and induced seven groundouts and four flyouts. With this quality performance, Vogelsong got the win tonight and improved his record to 2-4. His command of his fastball and changeup were great, he looked confident again, he gained count leverage several times, and he was able to hit the corners of the strike zone accurately, which is when he’s at his best.
Vogelsong also had two straight 1-2-3 innings in the first and second, and he showed he was able to get outs when he needed them. Angel Pagan helped him out in the second inning with a fantastic catch on Adam LaRoche’s deep flyout to center field. In the third inning, Zach Duke and Denard Span hit back-to-back singles, and Vogelsong was able to get out of it by getting Steve Lombardozzi to fly out. Vogelsong forced LaRoche to hit into a double play in the fourth inning to get out of a jam, and he forced Span to ground out after walking Craig Stammen.
Vogelsong has shown issues maintaining his consistency when pitching through an opponent’s batting order for a second time. However, after facing the Nationals’ lineup a second time, Vogelsong still had great command of his fastball and changeup and seemed to make the right adjustments in order to get outs. For example, Vogelsong struck out Bryce Harper in the first inning and got him to ground out in the fourth inning. It appeared as if he had resolved any mechanical issues that had been bothering him the past couple weeks. It also helped that Vogelsong received six runs of support in his five innings pitched.
“It’s a real shame because tonight he was the Vogey that we know,” Bruce Bochy said. “It’s a tough one. We feel bad for him.”
The Giants have been very lucky that their starting pitching staff hasn’t suffered any serious injuries in the past couple years. The starting rotation has struggled so far this season but not because of any serious injuries. With Vogelsong expected to be out about six weeks, the other starting pitchers have to step up now more than ever. The Giants will most likely make a roster decision soon as to who will replace Vogelsong’s spot in the lineup until he’s fully recovered. So what options do the Giants have?
1. Activate LHP Mike Kickham from Fresno.
Unfortunately, the Giants don’t have much depth at the starting pitcher position in their minor league system. Kickham currently has a 4.72 ERA, but he has looked much better this past month. In his last four starts, the left-hander has a 2-1 record, a 1.80 ERA, 25 strikeouts, and six walks. Kickham is still young, but he’s the most viable option out of Fresno for the Giants.
2. Move Chad Gaudin into a starting role.
Gaudin has been used as the long reliever so far this season, and he’s done well. He has a 2.10 ERA this season, and his longest outing was when he threw 72 pitches in relief of Vogelsong on May 15th. Gaudin is a versatile veteran who has starting, closing, and relief experience and could easily step into the role of a starting pitcher if needed to.
If Gaudin moved into a starting role, the Giants could potentially call up a pitcher like Heath Hembree from Fresno to fill Gaudin’s previous role. Hembree has had a fantastic season so far with the Grizzlies and was expected to be called up at some point in the season because of his stellar pitching. The right-hander has a 2.70 ERA, 21 strikeouts, and five walks in 19 games this season. The Giants could also choose to not make an additional roster move after moving Gaudin to a starting role, because they are already carrying 13 pitchers since they recalled Jean Machi from Fresno on Saturday.
It’s just a matter of time until the Giants make a move. They have an off-day on Thursday, so the Giants could potentially just skip Vogelsong’s next start while keeping the rest of the starters on their normal rest schedule. However, it’s not clear if the Giants would want to disrupt the normal rest pattern for the other starters in order to buy themselves a couple extra days.
As Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle said, Vogelsong has come back from having Tommy John surgery, pitching overseas in Japan, and being cut from several other major league clubs. He’s a fighter and will surely come back from this injury stronger than ever. It’s both ironic and sad that Vogelsong was having his best start of the season when he suffered such a horrible injury. Baseball can be rough sometimes. However, Vogelsong is one of the hardest workers on the team, and the Giants will try their best to win games without him.