March 2009

Frandsen optioned to Triple-A; Guzman reassigned

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — It’s official. The Giants announced Tuesday morning that infielder Kevin Frandsen has been optioned to Triple-A Fresno, meaning that Emmanuel Burriss will be San Francisco’s Opening Day second baseman.

The Giants also reassigned infielder-outfielder Jesus Guzman to Minor League camp. Guzman, who hit a robust .412 but couldn’t find a position, likely will try find one at Triple-A. He said he had not been told what spot he will play.

Though the Giants didn’t announce it, it’s believed that right-handers Justin Miller and Brandon Medders were reassigned to Minor League camp. Miller confirmed the move.

– Chris Haft 

Frandsen’s departure looks ominous

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Tuesday morning, before many of the Giants had even arrived for the team’s pregame workout, infielder Kevin Frandsen met with manager Bruce Bochy, then changed back into his street clothes and left the training complex. A transaction has not yet been announced, but it seems fairly obvious that Frandsen won’t be on the Giants’ Opening Day roster and that Emmanuel Burriss will be San Francisco’s starting second baseman.

– Chris Haft

Omar speaks on Burriss, Frandsen; Cain just wants to pitch

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Omar Vizquel, the still-popular former Giant, didn’t endorse either Emmanuel Burriss or Kevin Frandsen in the showdown for San Francisco’s second base job. But when Omar talks, he’s worth listening to, regardless of the subject. He paid sincere compliments to each player before Monday’s Rangers-Giants exhibition.

“Burriss showed a lot of improvement last year,” said Vizquel, who occasionally teamed up the middle with Burriss when the latter played second base. “I think everybody’s surprised at how well he did, coming from Single-A ball and taking the challenge to play short and second and do everything the right way. Obviously he’s young and has to learn all the habits and everything that happens in the major leagues.

“And Frandsen, a couple years ago, I thought he was the player everybody was looking to be the regular second baseman for awhile and then he got hurt. And when you get hurt you have to [take] a long time again to get used to everything. I don’t know how he’s doing this year, but he’s got the tools to be a Major League everyday player someday.”

***

It’s fair to suppose that Matt Cain, whose determination is beyond question, is dead set on not enduring another season like the previous two, when he posted respectable ERAs yet finished with dreadful records (7-16, 3.65 in 2007, 8-14, 3.76 in 2008) due to poor run support.

But Cain reminded reporters that the wins and losses assigned to a starting pitcher often depend on factors he can’t influence. So he’ll once again focus on lasting as long as he can in each game — a mindset that has enabled him to average 202 2/3 innings in his three full big league seasons.

“I try to keep that same goal, and I feel like that goal will pay off,” said Cain, whose solid effort against Texas (seven innings, four hits, one walk, eight strikeouts) was marred by two home runs.

Cain said that he employs different mental devices to push himself.

“You almost make it a little competition (with) yourself, staying in as long as possible, or you try to outdo the other pitcher — ‘Oh, he’s going back out there? Then I’m going back out there.’ You drive yourself in different little ways as well as trying to win.”

Both Cain and Tim Lincecum have been reluctant to throw their sliders, but since each has only one exhibition start left, the time to refine that pitch is at hand, if not overdue. Cain admitted this: “It’s kind of hit-and-miss right now. That’s kind of a big pitch. I need to be more consistent with it.” He concluded that his slider might react better out of the dry Arizona air, a common complaint from pitchers regarding their offspeed deliveries.

***

Jesus Guzman homered with two outs in the ninth and the Giants trailing, 5-4, to force extra innings. He’s now hitting .412 with five homers, a team-high (along with Juan Uribe) 15 RBIs, a .922 slugging percentage and a .444 on-base percentage.

But we’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Because of his lack of polish at any position, he won’t make the Opening Day roster. Expect him to receive plenty of defensive tutelage at Triple-A, though.

– Chris Haft

Decision near at second base? Just part of the intrigue

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — It was tempting to derive significance from Emmanuel Burriss’ second consecutive start at second base on Sunday. Previously, Giants manager Bruce Bochy had alternated Burriss and Kevin Frandsen day by day, virtually without fail.

But Bochy declined to say that this meant Burriss, who’s hitting .362, had won the second base tug-of-war with Frandsen, who’s batting .286.

Asked if anything should be read into Burriss’ back-to-back starts, Bochy replied, “Right now, no. I knew with (Pablo) Sandoval down (with a mild left ankle injury) that I was going to split the game at third. Instead of moving Franny from second to third, I was going to give him the back half of the game there.” Frandsen replaced Rich Aurilia, who started his second game of the spring at third base, in the fifth inning.

Still, the Giants’ apparent interest in seeing what Frandsen can do at other positions creates the appearance that Burriss will secure the second base job. If it’s any comfort to Frandsen’s faithful legion of fans, he’d still have a good chance to make the Opening Day roster as a reserve.

The returns of Keiichi Yabu and Ramon Ortiz from Minor League camp constituted another intriguing development. Installing a long reliever in the bullpen would make it easier for the Giants to open the season with an 11-man pitching staff (and keep an additional deserving position player on the roster, such as Frandsen, Andres Torres or Eugenio Velez). The Giants have experimented with their existing bullpen candidates by using them in multiple-inning stints. But Yabu, who often pitched in long relief last year for the Giants, and Ortiz, a former starter, could be better-suited for the role than anyone remaining in big league camp.

Bochy didn’t hide the Giants’ intentions while indicating that either Yabu, who yielded the game’s only run on Richie Weeks’ fifth-inning homer, or Ortiz could return.

“We’re staying open-minded here,” Bochy said. “… It (recalling players during Spring Training who have been sent to the Minors) is not unusual at all. We tell these guys that when you go down there, you’re not out of the picture. If we have the opportunity, we’ll bring you back. They’ve been doing what they need to be doing, and that’s throw the ball well down there.”

This final item isn’t controversial, Earth-shaking or intriguing at all. Just worth mentioning. Giants first baseman Travis Ishikawa turned in probably the club’s finest defensive play of the spring when he hurled himself to his right, snared Mike Lamb’s grounder and righted himself in time to flip the ball to Yabu covering first for the out.

Ishikawa looked like the reincarnation of J.T. Snow.

“That’s a highlight play right there,” Bochy said.

Ishikawa, a genuinely modest individual, couldn’t hide his delight.

“Those are the kind that you dream about, feeling like you get full extension and completing the play,” he said. “Offensively, I might not always be there, but (I’ll be) giving my all on defense as well.”

At various times this spring, Ishikawa has benefited from the tutelage of Snow and Will Clark, who made first base the glamorous position that it was when Orlando Cepeda and Willie McCovey roamed the bag (and the batter’s box) for the Giants. 

“You’ve got two of the better first basemen who ever played,” Ishikawa said, referring to Clark and Snow. “What better first baseman’s dream is that? Two Gold Glove-winning first basemen working with you — it doesn’t get better than that.”

– Chris Haft

 

Sandoval, Renteria sustain mild injuries

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Third baseman Pablo Sandoval and shortstop Edgar Renteria sustained mild injuries in the Giants’ 11-10 exhibition loss to the San Diego Padres at Peoria, Ariz.

Sandoval sprained his left ankle while trying to avoid a pitch and Renteria developed tightness in his right (throwing) elbow, Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. Bochy added that although Sandoval will rest for at least one day, the same injury might not sideline him in the regular season. Renteria, said Bochy, might play Sunday against Milwaukee.

Still, these minor ailments foil Bochy’s plan to play his regulars for three days in a row. He also wants them to play significant numbers of innings to condition them for the regular season. But the slow pace of Saturday’s game — it took about two hours to play four innings — forced Bochy to remove some of his regulars prematurely. Also, catcher Bengie Molina stayed in Scottsdale on Saturday to catch Tim Lincecum in a Minor League exhibition and probably will skip Sunday’s game to collaborate with Randy Johnson, who’s getting his work in by pitching in a Minor League intrasquad game.

Though Friday night’s Jack Taschner trade robbed the Giants of a left-handed relief option, Bochy said that he would not hesitate to use an all-right-handed bullpen, save for Jeremy Affeldt. Asked if he’d find this arrangement comfortable, Bochy said, “It will be if e feel we have at least a guy or two who can get left-handers out. It doesn’t matter if they’re left-handed or right-handed.”

One other news tidbit: Right-hander Osiris Matos stayed at home Saturday with flu-like symptoms.  

Worse than Candlestick? Quite possibly

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — One waited for trailers, cars and phone booths (excuse me, those are scarce nowadays) to blow through Scottsdale Stadium on Thursday night.

The Giants and Cubs played 6 1/2 innings through unforgiving winds before the game was called by agreement among the umpires and the teams’ managers. “You get the risk of injury. For the safety of the players, that was enough.”

The wind, which blew to right field, was measured at 25 mph with gusts reaching 30 mph at gametime. It was generally agreed that conditions worsened as the evening lengthened.

Giants right fielder Randy Winn resembled a cross between Fred Astaire and a drunk as he somehow caught three consecutive fly balls while battling the breezes.

“Miserable,” Winn said, describing the conditions which forced him to douse his eyes with Visine to remove the dirt that blew into them. “It was probably the most challenging outfield I think I’ve ever played.”

Winn never played at Candlestick Park, where the Giants dealt with infamous winds from 1960-1999. “If Candlestick was like that, I wouldn’t have wished that upon anybody,” he said.

Two drives to left field that appeared to be home runs upon contact — by San Francisco’s Bengie Molina in the first inning and Chicago’s Derrek Lee in the fourth — were caught in medium-deep left field, demonstrating the futility of hitting the ball into the wind.

Giants left-hander Barry Zito pitched adequately despite the elements, yielding three runs and seven hits in five innings.

“It was as bad as I’ve ever seen it, windy-wise,” Zito said. “It was really blowing you over in your windup. One time it even blew Bengie back out of his crouch. He had to call time out.”

Zito encouraged the Giants by striking out seven and even fanned the side in the first inning — retiring Alfonso Soriano, Mike Fontenot and Lee consecutively.

“It’s the result of being aggressive and just going after it,” Zito said. “I knew I had the ‘A’ lineup out there tonight. I wanted to come out and make a statement.”

– Chris Haft

Guzman’s first Giants project: First base

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Jesus Guzman, who has impressed the Giants this spring with his hitting while dismaying them with his fielding, has played first base for three days in a row in Minor League exhibitions as the organization strives to find a position he can handle adequately.

“He can get nine innings of learning the peripherals of first-base play,” manager Bruce Bochy said Tuesday.

Guzman has virtually no chance of making the Opening Day roster despite hitting .404 this spring. Not only has he looked inadequate defensively at first base and third base and in left field, but he also has played only 15 games above the Double-A level. Polished as Guzman seems at the plate, he must prove himself in all phases of the game.

Other items of note from Tuesday:

– Nate Schierholtz’s third-inning home run in the Giants’ 7-3 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks gave San Francisco at least one homer in 22 of its 29 Cactus League games. The Giants entered the afternoon with 37 homers, second in the Majors to Kansas City’s 41.

– Matt Cain lasted only five innings but was effective when necessary, stranding five runners in scoring position while yielding two runs and seven hits. “I probably felt more relaxed and comfortable toward the end. Sometimes it works that way,” said Cain, who struck out five during his 90-pitch outing.

– Closer Brian Wilson worked the ninth inning and allowed his first run in 10 spring appearances, though it was unearned. Bochy has been pleased with Wilson’s use of a changeup to complement his fastball and slider. “That can be a big pitch for him if he gets comfortable with it and feels like he can throw it anytime,” Bochy said.

– The Giants have re-signed right-hander Matt Kinney, who will pitch at Triple-A Fresno. Kinney, who pitched for the Giants in 2005, gives them more Minor League depth.

– Chris Haft

Sandoval continues to amaze; Lincecum, Posey linked

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — In the eighth inning of the Giants’ 5-1 loss to Seattle on Monday, Pablo Sandoval singled through the right side of the infield. Given Sandoval’s .442 batting average, that wasn’t startling.

What WAS startling was that Sandoval hit a pitch that skipped in the dirt. It was just another example of the 22-year-old switch-hitter’s free-swinging tendencies — and of his considerable skill.

“Some guys are meant to get hits all the time,” veteran Rich Aurilia marveled.

Hitting coach Carney Lansford said, “We have people coming out early to work with guys on that swing.” Lansford was joking … we think.

Another event worth remembering was the first on-field collaboration in an organized game between right-hander Tim Lincecum and Buster Posey, who caught the final three innings. If the baseball gods smile upon the Giants, this will be the first of many times Lincecum and Posey work together. It was believed to be the first time that winners of the Golden Spikes Award (given annually to the nation’s top collegiate player) formed a battery.

“He needs to get back there,” Lincecum said. “It’s good for both of us to get a feel for each other. It’s a little different because we haven’t gotten a chance to see what kind of pitcher and what kind of catcher we are.”

Lincecum related that Posey, who didn’t call pitches in college, understandably struggled with this task.

“He’s like, ‘I don’t know what [signs] to give you, man,’ ” Lincecum related good-naturedly. “He’s just throwing down numbers and stuff. I was like, ‘OK, sounds like a good pitch.’ ” 

What to expect on Monday

PHOENIX — In what could be one of the Giants’ most intriguing exhibition games in years (I know, “intriguing” and “exhibition” contradict each other), both Randy Johnson and Tim Lincecum will pitch against the Seattle Mariners in Scottsdale.

It’ll be a truly intriguing encounter for Mariners fans. First comes Johnson, who blossomed into a star while pitching for Seattle from 1989 to 1998. He’ll be followed by Lincecum, the Seattle-area native who the Mariners snubbed in the 2006 draft — leaving him for the Giants to take with the 10th overall selection.

Manager Bruce Bochy said Sunday that he expects Johnson, who missed his last start with irritation in his biceps, to pitch three innings. Bochy added that Lincecum just might work the rest of the game — which would enable the right-hander to keep pace with Barry Zito and Matt Cain in terms of advancing toward season-opening stamina. The aftereffects of bronchitis weakened Lincecum last Wednesday, when he allowed four runs and seven hits in 3 2/3 innings against the Cubs.

For several Giants, the morning will be unpleasant, or inevitable, depending on their point of view. Bochy and his staff will option or reassign a sizable number of players to Minor League camp, another sign that the Giants are getting down to serious business this spring.

– Chris Haft 

More from Saturday, March 21

– Angel Villalona, the Giants’ 18-year-old first base prospect, made his first appearance in a Major League exhibition game by pinch-hitting in the seventh inning of the split-squad game against the Padres. He struck out on three pitches.

– Aaron Rowand went 0-for-3, but his diving catch in center field with the bases loaded and two outs in the fourth inning saved at least two runs and set up the Giants’ surge against the Padres.

– Right-hander Keiichi Yabu, released Friday, was re-signed to a Minor League deal. The Giants now have 38 players on the 40-man roster. Expect them to make more tweaks to the bullpen. Left-hander Jack Taschner has been made available in trade talks, and the rumors about San Francisco acquiring lefty Will Ohman haven’t quite gone away.

– The Giants turned a triple play in the eighth inning against the A’s. Oakland’s lead runner was called out for running outside the baseline; Giants third baseman Ryan Rohlinger started the rest by throwing to second baseman Matt Downs, who then relayed to first baseman Scott McClain.

– Chris Haft

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