SAN FRANCISCO -- Allow your imagination to wander, and wonder: What would happen if Madison Bumgarner pitched against the Giants?The results probably would barely differ from what Bumgarner has endured all season -- including Thursday night, when the Giants lost, 3-0, to the Reds. Pay no attention to Bumgarner's 2-8 record. He owns a 1.93 ERA in his past nine starts and a 3.23 mark overall. The Giants have scored one run or fewer -- that would be zero -- in seven of his defeats. Bumgarner did all he could to reverse his fortunes. He yielded one run in seven innings, offsetting the eight hits he allowed by walking none for the first time this season. But Reds starter Johnny Cueto (3-2) muzzled the Giants, whose six shutout defeats are tied for fourth-most in the National League. San Francisco faded meekly against Cueto and two relievers, prompting scattered booing from the announced sellout crowd of 41,106. Reds pitchers retired 18 of the last 19 Giants hitters, including the final 12. To make matters more frustrating, Cincinnati scored each of its runs after having two outs with nobody on base. But pitching lapses weren't the Giants' most pressing issue on an evening when they mustered four hits. They're batting .204 and have scored 15 runs through the first seven games of this homestand. Somehow, they're 4-3 in this stretch and are clinging to first place in the NL West. That's a testament to their excellent pitching. The source of the hitters' malaise is just as apparent, at least to Giants manager Bruce Bochy. "They're trying too hard," Bochy said. "We just have to get them to relax. They're pressing a little bit because of the tough times we're having right now, trying to get runs. Sometimes you want to be 'the guy' too much. That's what it looks like to me." "Everyone's trying to get the big hit before the pitch is even thrown," said Nate Schierholtz, who batted three times with runners in scoring position and finished 0-for-4. The Giants could partly attribute their struggles to Cueto, who struck out eight in seven innings and trimmed his ERA to 1.93. "He got out of trouble twice with a runner on third," said Reds manager Dusty Baker. "That's big when you can do that and get all the strikeouts. He's turning into that kind of pitcher." Nevertheless, said Schierholtz: "I can't really say that I didn't get pitches to hit. I think a lot of us felt like we did." Cueto staggered through the first inning, throwing 12 balls in 19 pitches. But Andres Torres was thrown out trying to steal second base after drawing a leadoff walk. Miguel Tejada, who made two remarkable defensive plays, followed with his first of two doubles but advanced no farther. Freddy Sanchez and Aubrey Huff singled solidly to open the fourth, but after Schierholtz's fly to right field advanced Sanchez to third, Cody Ross struck out and Brandon Crawford flied out. Tejada doubled again to open the sixth. Displaying curious behavior for a No. 3 hitter, Sanchez sacrificed Tejada to third instead of swinging away. Under the circumstances, with Cincinnati leading 1-0 at the time, Bochy approved the careful strategy. "I know Freddy's trying to do the right thing," Bochy said. "He looked over, and really, at that point, we just want to tie the game. So he wanted to make sure he had his job done. "For the most part, I don't bunt in that situation. But we're having a tough time scoring runs and we had a couple of pretty good hitters coming up. So he did what he thought he needed to do at that point." Cueto responded by striking out Huff, who's batting .148 (4-for-27) since his three-homer outburst at St. Louis on June 2, and retiring Schierholtz on a ground ball. Bumgarner seems to have inherited the distinction of Most Luckless Giants Pitcher from Matt Cain, who has endured feeble offensive backing through much of his Major League career. Bumgarner acknowledged that he has already discussed this phenomenon with Cain. "He's obviously been through it a lot longer than I have. He's helped," Bumgarner said. Bumgarner absolved his teammates from blame. Asked if a Giant or two had approached him to express remorse, Bumgarner said, "I don't expect them to apologize. Hitting's the hardest thing to do." "He knows he did all he could do to win the ballgame," Bochy said. "We just need to get a couple of guys hot. Right now, we're having a tough time doing that."
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.