Giants pitcher Matt Cain takes a seat in the dugout between innings in Wednesday’s game. (Josie Lepe/Bay Area News Group)
SAN FRANCISCO — Bryce Harper’s absence from the Washington Nationals lineup Wednesday proved to be a moot point as Ryan Zimmerman continued to torment the Giants pitching staff while Max Scherzer silenced their bats.
With Harper serving the first game of his suspension for Monday’s fight with Hunter Strickland, Zimmerman carried the Nationals offense, providing all the runs they needed to beat the Giants 3-1 at AT&T Park.
As Zimmerman took care of business at the plate, the 2016 National League Cy Young Award winner mowed through the Giants order, surrendering just one earned run on five hits hits while striking out 11 batters in a complete game.
Scherzer’s dueling mate, Matt Cain (3-4), ran into some tough luck in the opening inning, thwarting his effort to build off the seven-inning, one-run outing he put together against the Atlanta Braves on Friday.
After the leadoff man Trea Turner reached base on a rare fielding error by Brandon Crawford, his third of the year, Daniel Murphy squeaked out an infield hit by catching the Giants shortstop out of position as he covered second base on a stolen base attempt.
Ordinarily, Murphy’s grounder to short would have produced a routine 6-4-3 double play, but Crawford couldn’t field the ball cleanly because his momentum was carrying him in the opposite direction, allowing the Nationals to put runners on first and second.
Zimmerman turned the series of unlikely events into a first inning nightmare by smacking Cain’s next pitch, a low curveball, into the left field stands.
The home run, his 15th of the year, wound up being the exclamation point on a scorching hot series for Zimmerman, who collected five hits, five RBI and four runs in three games against the Giants.
Cain eventually left the game after throwing 94 pitches through five innings, surrendering two earned runs on eight hits and a walk.
Zimmerman’s home run proved to be all the offense that Scherzer (6-3) would need. The Nationals ace retired the first 10 batters he faced before Eduardo Nunez scored the Giants lone run in the fourth, racing in from first after Jayson Werth lost a Buster Posey fly ball to left in the lights at AT&T Park.
As stingy as Scherzer was, the Giants managed to put runners on second base in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings, but they failed to pick up the timely hit needed to dig into the Nationals lead.
Scherzer also collected a hit and a walk at the plate. He made Crawford’s tough fielding night even worse by striking him out three times.
— Outfielder Hunter Pence will start his minor league rehab assignment with the Class A San Jose Giants Wednesday night.
Pence, who’s missed the Giants last 17 games with a strained left hamstring, is slated to play five innings for the San Jose Giants at San Jose Municipal Stadium Wednesday and another seven innings Thursday.
“He’s probably going to want to come up then,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “But we’ll see how he’s doing. I’m thinking it could be 15, 20 at bats; could be more, could be a couple less. We’ll see how’s he moving around, how he’s swinging the bat.”
— As Pence prepared to return to the diamond in San Jose, left-handed starter Madison Bumgarner continued his rehabilitation program at China Basin. Bumgarner threw a baseball for a second-consecutive day, tossing “about” 45 pitches on flat ground in the outfield at AT&T Park. After throwing from 45 and 60 feet on Tuesday, Bumgarner moved out to toss some balls at 75 feet Wednesday, another positive development for the Giants ace who separated his left shoulder in a dirt bike accident in Colorado on April 20.
— Outfielder Bryce Harper served the first game of his suspension Wednesday after Major League Baseball reduced it from four games to three earlier in the day. Major League Baseball knocked a game off Harper’s suspension after he agreed to drop his appeal. At game time, there still wasn’t any word on whether Strickland’s six-game suspension would also be reduced. Strickland, who is appealing his suspension, pitched in the eighth, striking out one batter and allowing a walk.
— Conor Gillaspie is on track to resume his rehabilitation from back spasms this weekend.
The Giants had been expecting to activate Gillaspie from the 10-day disabled list during their current homestand, which concludes Wednesday. But the 29-year-old infielder experienced tightness in his back while swinging a bat last week, delaying his return to the lineup.
“He’s starting to do baseball activities,” Bochy said. “I think he can resume his rehab this weekend. He’ll stay here while we go on the road.”