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SF Giants, D-backs will pit top two starters against each other in pivotal series with playoff implications

SF Giants, D-backs will pit top two starters against each other in pivotal series with playoff implications

DENVER — Battling his bothersome hip, Alex Cobb has had his past two starts pushed back. But the 35-year-old right-hander remains on track to start the Giants’ first game Tuesday in Arizona, and with Logan Webb lined up behind him, San Francisco will have its top two arms going in its two most important games of the season.

“I love the fact that those guys are pitching in Arizona,” manager Gabe Kapler said before Sunday’s series finale against the Rockies.

Before getting to Arizona, Kapler’s squad had to win Sunday to avoid being swept in a four-game series against last-place Colorado.

“I want to win today’s game,” he said. “It’s a pretty important one too.”

The two-game series in Arizona looms large, though arguably less so than when they made the decision to push Cobb’s start back. Nobody inside the organization envisioned losing the next three games to the Rockies, dropping them 2½ games back of Arizona, Miami and Cincinnati.

The pitching matchups reflect the stakes at hand: Cobb will be opposed by Zac Gallen and Webb by Merrill Kelly, pitting both clubs’ top two starters against each other.

While even a sweep, as it currently stands, would still leave the Giants on the outside looking in, they need to win only one game to clinch the head-to-head tiebreaker with Arizona. San Francisco already owns the tiebreakers against Cincinnati and Miami and would also own a four-way tiebreaker with one win in Arizona.

“It’s still a big series,” Cobb said.

Cobb was chatting at his locker with trainer Anthony Reyes as the club assesses the situation with his hip. The impingement on his left side has been an issue since mid-June, but it has flared up enough in recent starts to necessitate added precaution.

The issue was “prevalent” during his 131-pitch complete game, and then he lasted only three innings in his next start at San Diego. After that, Cobb received a cortisone shot, which forced his next start to be pushed back by three days. He was scheduled to start Saturday in Colorado but, again, will pitch on additional three days of rest in Arizona, instead.

“I think we know that the more rest it has in between, the more time it has to calm down,” Cobb said. “It really only acts up when I get into a game. I pitch and then it’s sore, and it gets better. It’s really just in the game that I aggravate it. When I throw in between starts, you can tell it’s going to be there. But it’s nice that I’ve gotten extra rest these past two outings, so it should help.”

Kapler said, “I don’t know if his hip is ever going to be perfect for the rest of the season, but a couple of extra days will probably be helpful.”

Doctors don’t believe the issue will require surgery, Cobb said. He has experience with hip operations. In 2019, he saw Dr. J.W. Thomas Byrd in Nashville for an operation to fix an impingement in his right hip. That procedure ended his season. Dr. Marc Philippon, in nearby Vail, is another specialist Cobb would consider.

“I should get more clarity on it, honestly,” Cobb said.

‘Not too late’

The message from Kapler to his club after the uninspiring start to its final road trip: “It’s not too late.”

But the manager wasn’t just talking about the postseason race, which will be decided over the next 13 games.

There’s still time for adjustments to bear fruit and impact their fate over the final two weeks, he said.

“This is the time of year, and it’s not just exclusive to the Giants but around baseball, people start thinking about what adjustments they’re going to make in the offseason to get ready for ‘24,” Kapler said. “Because they feel like if you make any adjustments now, you don’t have enough time to see the results of those adjustments. I think that’s absolutely untrue. …

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“A lot of the messaging for today is there’s still plenty of time to make small adjustments that are going to make us better, both in the short term and in the long term. That short term means today, tomorrow and the next day but also toward the end of the season and for ‘24.”

It’s also about managing players’ mindset, he said.

“If you take a half an hour conversation and you complain for 20 minutes of it about all the (stuff) that’s going wrong and who’s at fault and who has to do a better job, it’s not a very efficient use of that half an hour,” Kapler said. “That half an hour should be used for looking forward, what adjustments can we make, how can we scale these conversations?”

‘Prime Time’

The talk of the town here is the transformation taking place just up the road, in Boulder, led by Deion Sanders.

Sanders’ Colorado Buffaloes hosted the rival Colorado State Rams on Saturday night in one of college football’s premier games of the weekend, and a few Giants players hustled 30 minutes or so from the team hotel to see what all the hype was about.

The foursome of pitchers — Cobb, Webb, Ross Stripling and Luke Jackson — arrived just in time for the second half. Their seats, at around the 30-yard line, provided the perfect viewing angle for a dramatic finish that featured Shedaur Sanders lead the Buffaloes 98 yards with less than a minute left in regulation to force overtime.

“It was electric,” Cobb said. “We had a blast.”