April 2009

More on Martinez

SAN DIEGO — Something that escaped my sieve-like mind earlier was the development that Giants right-hander Joe Martinez had been moved from the Intensive Care unit at a San Francisco hospital into a regular room. This sounds like the prelude to Martinez’s being releaed from the hospital for good, which was supposed to happen in two or three days. Though he’s on the 15-day disabled list, I’m sure his teammates can’t wait to see him.

In case you missed it, Martinez was hit on the right side of his forehead Thursday against Milwaukee on a drive struck by Mike Cameron. Everyody ates The accident left Martinez with a big black eye, three hairline fractures in his skull, a consission and internal bleeding.

– Chris Haft

 

No controversy with Affeldt, etc.

SAN DIEGO — When Bruce Bochy removed Jeremy Affeldt after the left-hander fell behind 2-0 on pinch-hitter Edgar Gonzalez in the seventh inning, it was easy to imagine that the manager was impatient with the reliever for falling behind on the count.

That assumption, like many others, was false.

Affeldt had thrown 22 pitches, and probably would have needed a few more to finish the inning. With left-handed batters Andre Ethier, James Loney, Blake DeWitt and Doug Mientkiewicz awaiting the Giants in Los Angeles, Bochy wants Affeldt to be fresh. So he took the unconventional step of removing Affeldt in the middle of a plate appearance.

“I didn’t want to work him,” Bochy said. “We may need him tomorrow.”

***

Tim Lincecum’s next outing will be Saturday against Arizona. I expect him to pitch a strong game. Then again, I expected that here, and look what happened.

Lincecum doubtlessly has encountered mini-slumps like this before, and they didn’t stop him from reaching the Major Leagues. He’s good at analyzing himself, and if he has any questions, he can consult his father, Chris, who knows his pitching mechanics best of all. Lincecum might not finish 18-5 as he did last year, but he’ll remind everybody just how formidable he is sooner than later.

*** 

Ah, the first Giants-Dodgers series of the season. Time to unearth Willie McCovey’s great line about the rivalry: “You can hear the electricity.” The non-stop buzz, whether real or perceived, is intoxicating.

It’ll be intriguing to see how Randy Johnson, Monday’s starter for the Giants, responds to being thrust into baseball’s best rivalry (yes, I said “best.” I’ll explain some other time). As intense as Johnson is, it probably won’t make a difference in his approach. Not like when Juan Marichal or John “The Count” Montefusco would get extra pumped-up to face the Dodgers. The Big Unit gets pumped up to face everybody.

– Chris Haft

Are the starters really that bad? Likely, no

SAN DIEGO — At the risk of contradicting myself, I’m about to point out the redeeming qualities of the mostly underwhelming performances by the Giants’ starting pitchers through the first turn of the rotation.

As noted in Saturday night’s final game report, the rotation’s 6.46 ERA won’t help the Giants win. But, after all, it was just the first go-round. And if you really wanted to pick apart each game, you can see that quality exists. It’s just a matter of each pitcher gaining consistency. For example:

Opening Day starter Tim Lincecum struck out five in three innings. He lacked fastball command, allowing three runs in three innings, but there’s nothing wrong with his arm.

The next night, Randy Johnson remained in control until his fifth and final inning. If he can keep the ball in the park (homers accounted for all four runs off him), he’ll win more than he loses.

Matt Cain’s Thursday performance (one run and four hits allowed in seven innings) was beyond reproach.

Barry Zito looked so smooth in his final three innings Friday that you wonder how he would have done if he hadn’t stepped all over himself in the first inning (39 pitches, three runs).

Jonathan Sanchez was absolutely dominant, striking out five of the six Padres he faced in the first two innings. Then Henry Blanco took him deep twice, which was inexcusable, and he lost his release point.

As they say, if ifs and buts were candies and nuts, I could make a small fortune selling trail mix. But you can see how, with a little tweak here and there, the rotation could and should round into shape relatively soon.

– Chris Haft

Mr. Renteria, meet Mr. Burriss

SAN DIEGO — Shortstop Edgar Renteria and second baseman Emmanuel Burriss collaborated on a first-inning goof Friday that didn’t generate a run for the Padres but, in a more crucial situation, would be disastrous for the Giants — not to mention embarrassing.

Fortunately for the Giants, the misplay proved to be educational for the pair of middle infielders.

With Chase Headley on first base, Kevin Kouzmanoff on second, two outs and three runs in off Barry Zito, Luis Rodriguez hit a simple grounder to Burriss, who flipped the ball to second base for the inning-ending forceout. Except Renteria, who was playing Rodriguez over in the hole, wasn’t expecting to cover second and dashed madly to get there once he realized what his teammate was doing. Headley slid in safely before Renteria could step on the bag, loading the bases. Pitcher Shawn Hill popped up to end the inning, but Renteria and Burriss needed to talk. After the inning, they did.

“That comes from having only a spring together,” Burriss said. “I think it caught everybody by surprise. But I think you won’t see that again. We got it together. it’s a learning process, especially me being new to second base and being new to him.”

A scary, scary moment

SAN FRANCISCO — As of this moment, Joe Martinez’s condition remains unknown. We’re all praying that he’s OK.

Martinez needed one out to end the Giants’ 7-1 victory Thursday over the Milwaukee Brewers when Mike Cameron slammed a line drive back at the right-hander. The ball struck the right side of Martinez’s forehead with such force that the ball caromed all the way back to the Brewers’ dugout on the first-base side.

Martinez remained conscious but wisely sat on the mound, not trying to move and allowing Giants athletic trainers to attend to him. An angry red mark could be seen on Martinez’s forehead. Meanwhile, numerous players began praying — Brian Wilson, leaning against the Giants dugout railing; shortstop Edgar Renteria and all three outfielders, squatting on the outfield grass; Cameron, hunched over at second base and visibly upset. Randy Winn and Fred Lewis came over to console Cameron.

Giants head athletic trainer Dave Groeschner held a bandage to Martinez’s forehead as the pitcher walked off the field under his own power — an encouraging sign.

– Chris Haft  

Celebrating Lincecum and themselves

SAN FRANCISCO — The highlight of Wednesday night’s pregame ceremony in which Tim Lincecum was publicly presented with his Cy Young Award plaque (he initially received it at the Baseball Writers’ Association of America dinner in January) was the fan reaction.

Lincecum, the symbol of the franchise’s hope, received a standing ovation lasting nearly 30 seconds, reflecting the ardor he has inspired during a Major League career that’s not yet two years old.

Any Giants fan older than 45 years old probably savored hearing Mike McCormick, the club’s only other Cy Young recipient who received the honor in 1967, say while introducing Lincecum, “I’ve been waiting 41 years to pass the torch.”

Lincecum was gracious once he took the microphone, thanking “the best fans in baseball” and his father, Chris, who taught him his unique pitching mechanics. He also shook hands with each of his teammates, who had gathered behind him during the ceremony, as they left the field.

Just before that, Lincecum said in exhortation over the mike, “Let’s go get them in 2009.”

– Chris Haft 

Patience will be necessary

SAN FRANCISCO — An update: Unfortunately, more showers were expected to hit between 12:30 p.m. and 1 p.m., endangering Tuesday’s 1:25 p.m. scheduled starting time. Giants managing general partner Bill Neukom urged fans to be patient, indicating that the teams will try to wait out the weather for at least another hour or so.

Meanwhile, most hitters didn’t even bother taking batting practice. Why expend energy prematurely or even unnecessarily? One exception was Aaron Rowand, who strode into the clubhouse with a bat in his hand at around 11:30, having apparently spent some time in the batting cage.

Barry Zito played long toss, but this was part of his usual between-starts routine, not just a way to kill time. Pitchers Brian Wilson, Alex Hinshaw, Joe Martinez and Brandon Medders played bridge, and Rich Aurilia sorted out wristbands, batting gloves and other equipment at his dressing stall. Not too many players watched the Royals-White Sox telecast. Fascinating stuff.

– Chris Haft

 

Decision at high noon

SAN FRANCISCO — Giants manager Bruce Bochy said late Tuesday morning, just as the rain stopped falling at AT&T Park, that he and other principals would meet at noon to discuss their options.

Those options included declaring a rainout and playing a doubleheader Wednesday; adjusting Tuesday’s starting time (there were reports that the rain would cease from around noon to 3 or 4 p.m. or playing the game on a mutual off-day later in the season, which would be darned near impossible.

This is the Brewers’ lone visit to San Francisco, which heightens the urgency to play. Besides, no manager wants to try to get his team through a doubleheader at this juncture in the season.

“Do you want to do it this early? No. But it’s something we could get through,” Bochy said. “Everybody would play.”

Bochy indicated that he and his Milwaukee counterpart, Ken Macha, would pay particular attention to the early-afternoon forecast. “What we don’t want to have happen is we start the game and both teams lose their starter,” Bochy said.

The Giants have the ideal pitcher for this situation going to the mound: Tim Lincecum, who performed in foul weather numerous times while growing up in the Seattle area and attending the University of Washington.

As Bochy related, Lincecum could handle short notice to get ready to pitch. “Just give me 15 minutes,” Lincecum told the skipper.

– Chris Haft 

Opening Day fun facts

SAN FRANCISCO — Happy Opening Day! Let’s hope the rain stays away. A few Opening Day- and Giants-related notes, courtesy of the team’s media relations staff:

– The Giants have lost each of their last three openers, but have taken 15 of their last 24 and 31 of 51 since moving West in 1958;

– At 24 years and 296 days old, Tim Lincecum is the Giants’ third-youngest Opening Day starter, behind Juan Marichal (24 years, 172 days in 1962) and Mark Davis (23 years, 165 days in 1984) (courtesy of Bill Arnold/Sports Features Group). Lincecum is also the first Giants amateur draft selection to start an opener for the club since Terry Mulholland (1984 first-rounder) in 1995;

– Rich Aurilia, Brandon Medders, Andres Torres and Juan Uribe comprise the first foursome of non-roster Spring Training invitees to make the club since 1992 (Craig Colbert, Jim McNamara, Jeff Reed and Cory Snyder);

– Right-hander Joe Martinez and first baseman Travis Ishikawa are the only rookies on the Opening Day roster;

– Jersey number changes: Bob Howry from 62 to 46; Ishikawa from 5 to 10; Martinez from 64 to 53; Medders from 49 to 52; pitching coach Dave Righetti from 46 to 32; Jonathan Sanchez from 53 to 57; and Juan Uribe from 23 to 5.

Infield high rule

SAN FRANCISCO — Again delighting purists everywhere, manager Bruce Bochy said that the Giants will continue to take infield practice before the first game of each series or at least once per series.

Bochy pointed out Sunday that without this drill, outfielders would rarely have chances to throw to cutoff men and bases. Infield practice enables them to refine this fundamental.

Don’t expect the Giants to take infield before Tuesday’s home opener, though. “Too much adrenaline,” a coach said.

***

Pablo Sandoval did not start Sunday’s exhibition finale against the Dodgers due to what Bochy called “a little bit of the crud,” citing the catch-all term for the flu-like malady that typically nags players during Spring Training. Sandoval also caught on Saturday and could have used a rest.

He still tried to contribute, though. Sandoval rapped a pinch-hit double in the sixth inning and ended spring with a gaudy .457 batting average.

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