May 2009

Uribe has steady job — for now

SAN FRANCISCO — Juan Uribe is doing more than just filling in for third baseman Pablo Sandoval.

“To be honest with you, he’s our everyday third baseman right now, until we do finally decide what’s the best place to leave Pablo,” manager Bruce Bochy said before Saturday’s Giants-St. Louis Cardinals game.

In short, the Giants could decide that their best infield includes Uribe at third base and Sandoval, who moved across the diamond after missing four games with tightness in his right elbow, at first base.

Defense ultimately could be a determining factor. Travis Ishikawa, who was starting to hit proficiently before losing his role to Sandoval, is a superior defender at first. Uribe is more than capable defensively, but Sandoval frequently made highlight-quality plays at third before being injured.

The Giants signed Uribe precisely for instances such as this one. He’s a former regular, having averaged 490 at-bats per year with the Chicago White Sox from 2004-07, who remains capable of playing second base, shortstop or third on an everyday basis for prolonged stretches.

– Chris Haft

 

Burriss seizes chance to swing

SAN FRANCISCO — With, two outs, a run in, Fred Lewis on third base and the Giants leading 3-0 in Friday night’s fourth inning, the St. Louis Cardinals elected to pitch to Emmanuel Burriss, San Francisco’s eighth-place hitter. The alternative, which some teams might have selected, would have involved walking Burriss to face pitcher Matt Cain.

But St. Louis refused to bypass Burriss, who singled home Lewis for what proved to be a key run (they all are in close, low-scoring games) in the Giants’ 4-2 victory.

Burriss actually wasn’t surprised that the Cardinals pitched to him.

“Cain swings the bat pretty well,” Burriss reminded. “He’s not like a run-of-the-mill pitcher. He probably has more pop than I do. So having him behind me, I knew I was going to see some pitches.”

More pop, indeed, Cain has hit four career home runs to one for Burriss.

Burriss continued the Giants’ recent productivity with two outs. They’ve recorded 22 of their last 30 RBIs in those situations.

– Chris Haft

Sandoval returns as first baseman; Romo in, Frandsen down

SAN FRANCISCO — In returning to the Giants’ lineup Friday after missing four games with tightness in his right elbow, Pablo Sandoval moved across the diamond from third base to first.

The change made sense, at least from the viewpoint of Sandoval’s care and feeding. He’ll be required to make fewer challenging throws as a first baseman, thus reducing the risk of re-injury.

But, as manager Bruce Bochy said, “If we felt there was a risk, he wouldn’t be out there. He’s comfortable throwing now.”

Bochy also admitted, “Is he 100 percent? Probably not,” adding that Sandoval’s stay at first base “could (last) a while.”

Sandoval leads all Giants regulars in hitting (.304 entering Friday), explaining the club’s eagerness to welcome him back. “We need his bat in the lineup,” Bochy said.

Sandoval’s shift will trim Travis Ishikawa’s playing time at first base. Ishikawa had been surging, going 7-for-11 in his previous three games to raise his average from .219 to .262. Expect Ishikawa, a superior defender to Sandoval, to enter games in the late innings when the Giants are tied or ahead.

Juan Uribe will continue to play third base while Sandoval mans first, a position he played 17 times for the Giants last year.

*****

Right-hander Sergio Romo’s activation from the 15-day disabled list prompted the Giants to option infielder Kevin Frandsen to Triple-A Fresno. Frandsen went hitless in 16 at-bats during his six-game stint with the Giants.

“There’s not a lot of playing time for him here right now,” Bochy said. We don’t want him sitting here. It’s not going to help his career.”

Frandsen impressed the Giants with his polished defensive skills at shortstop, a position he’s still learning. “He’s a lot more under control and playing with a lot more confidence,” Bochy said.

Frandsen left the clubhouse before reporters were admitted. “Like anybody, you don’t want to go [to the Minors], but he understood,” Bochy said.

*****

The Giants have been invited to tour the White House on Wednesday while they’re in the nation’s capital to play the Washington Nationals. A Giants media relations official said that President Obama won’t be around, so the ballclub won’t get the royal treatment that championship sports teams receive when welcomed by the Chief Executive.

Every day in uniform’s a good day; so are days out of uniform

SAN FRANCISCO — It was suggested after the Giants’ 6-3 victory Wednesday over Atlanta, which completed a three-game sweep and gave them four wins in their last five games, that Thursday’s scheduled off-day was ill-timed and might halt the team’s momentum.

But center fielder Aaron Rowand, an expert in team dynamics, wasn’t worried.

“Honestly, I don’t think anybody’s really thinking about that,” Rowand said. “During a 162-game season, any off-day’s welcome. I don’t think an off-day is going to stop any sort of momentum. I think everybody’s pretty excited about the way we played the last three days and we’re going to try to carry it on against the Cardinals.”

Manager Bruce Bochy, however, stuck to the time-honored philosophy. “You’d rather have the off-day when you’re struggling a little bit,” he said.

*****

One Giant who can use the off-day is right fielder Randy Winn, who left the game after fouling a pitch off his left knee in the fifth inning. Winn insisted afterward that he felt OK, and he appeared to walk through the clubhouse without limping.

*****

It got overlooked by the Randy Johnson victory countdown and the rousing offense, but the play of the game had to be second baseman Emmanuel Burriss’ running catch of Matt Diaz’s pop-up to open the fifth inning. Burriss sped into foul ground and snared the ball near the right-field bullpen.

*****

Bengie Molina’s fifth-inning single interrupted a 2-for-35 slump. However, Molina came to the plate twice more and was retired both times, extending his skid to 3-for-38.

Slight change: Romo’s return expected Friday

SAN FRANCISCO — Right-hander Sergio Romo was expected to be activated from the 15-day disabled list Wednesday. But the Giants have announced a slight change in plans.

Romo now will pitch a simulated game Wednesday afternoon at AT&T Park. Assuming he feels fine physically afterward, he’ll return to the active roster Friday, since Thursday’s a scheduled off-day.

Tuesday, Romo rejoined to the team, having completed his injury rehabilitation assignment. Giants relievers have excelled lately, and the last thing Romo wants to do is upset the bullpen’s equilibrium.

He said he wouldn’t have come near the clubhouse “if I felt I’d hurt their chances of winning. I honestly feel that I can come in and be effective. … I don’t want to hurt the karma, the way things mesh. I just want to come in and pick up where I left off last year.”

Last year, of course, Romo thrived as a rookie, finishing 3-1 with a 2.12 ERA in 29 appearances. He struck out 33 and walked eight in 34 innings.

– Chris Haft

Lewis finds power source: Griffey

SEATTLE — Fred Lewis politely said that he didn’t want to delve too deeply into his home run surge, which consists of two in two days.

But another Giant helpfully pointed out that Lewis tends to flex his muscles whenever he’s playing in front of his baseball hero, Ken Griffey Jr.

There’s definitely something to this theory.

The first time Lewis played against Griffey, during a 2007 Giants-Reds series in Cincinnati, Lewis hit a grand slam on July 4 at Great American Ball Park.

Last year, Lewis homered on April 26, the middle game of a Giants-Reds three-game series at AT&T Park.

Now this, with Griffey in the Seattle Mariners dugout. Maybe the Giants should leave a life-sized cardboard image of Griffey in Lewis’ locker.

*****

As you might guess, getting to Seattle from Des Moines, Iowa, was quite an adventure for Eli Whiteside.

Summoned to the Giants to provide catching depth, Whiteside learned of the move Saturday night after Triple-A Fresno’s game at Iowa, too late to go anywhere. So he caught a 6:30 a.m. flight from Des Moines, changed planes in Minneapolis and headed for Seattle, where he arrived at 11 a.m. He reached Safeco Field at about 45 minutes later, not knowing he was in the lineup against the Seattle Mariners.

“That was the best thing about all of it,” Whiteside said, not minding at that he was thrust so quickly into a Major League game. “I didn’t have time to think about anything, pretty much. Just get in there and play.”

That’s something Whiteside hadn’t done in the Majors since the end of the 2005 season with Baltimore. Many players would have given up beating their head against the wall, but not Whiteside.

“It’s something I’ve been waiting for for four or five years now, since the last time I was up here,” he said.

– Chris Haft

 

Sandoval’s elbow causes concern; more from Sabean

SEATTLE — Pablo Sandoval has a tender right elbow which he injured in Friday night’s seventh inning as he dove to stop a Kenji Johjima grounder. This limited Sandoval to designated-hitter duties Saturday, a role he’ll probably occupy again Sunday.

But Sandoval’s diminished ability to throw affects more than just whether he can play third base.

Manager Bruce Bochy will be forced to keep catcher Bengie Molina in the lineup until Sandoval can throw again. Molina already has started eight games in a row and might not rest again until Thursday’s scheduled off-day. Meanwhile, his batting average has taken a beating, dropping from .304 to .276 during a 1-for-17 skid entering Saturday. Bochy said he wanted Sandoval to catch Sunday, but Molina likely will have to keep toiling.

Bochy said that emergency No. 3 catcher Kevin Frandsen is not ready to start a game behind the plate.

Summoning a catcher from Triple-A Fresno is an option — it’d probably be Eli Whiteside, since Steve Holm was demoted last week and has to stay put for at least 10 days — yet neither Bochy nor general manager Brian Sabean indicated that this would happen soon.

***** 

More stuff from general manager Brian Sabean, who spoke Saturday with reporters covering the Giants (a main story is on the website):

On closer Brian Wilson, who has lost three of his last five outings while compiling a 12.28 ERA: “[He has] had some trials and tribulations, but that’s going to be natural; He’s still cutting his teeth doing that job.”

On the team in general, other than its lousy hitting: “I like the effort and I like the fact that we’re doing two things you have to do to compete, and that’s pitch and play defense.”

When asked if he has seen enough of first baseman Travis Ishikawa to evaluate him fully: “I don’t think so. … With him it’s consistency. We’ve seen him have some really good at-bats against some really good pitching and then just the opposite. In his case, while we really love the defense. … The strikeouts (29 in 93 at-bats entering Saturday) don’t help and the low on-base percentage (.298) doesn’t help.”

On Pablo Sandoval’s progress at third base: “At least in this snapshot, he’s shown that he can play that position and it’s more than making routine plays. He’s much more accomplished than I think we all thought, at least up to this point.”

Finally, Sabean squashed any speculation that he came here to get fired or discuss his job security with managing general partner Bill Neukom, who’s also in town. They did not discuss his job status, said Sabean, whose contract expires after this season. Sabean planned to spend the weekend scouting amateur players for next month’s draft, but decided to see the big club after the excruciating three-game sweep in San Diego.”I don’t want the reputation of not being around when things are a little upside down,” Sabean said. 

– Chris Haft

Velez, not Frandsen, sent down; Renteria returns; Tim’s dry wit

SEATTLE — In a mild surprise, the Giants optioned Eugenio Velez to Triple-A Fresno to clear room for infielder Juan Uribe, who was reinstated from the bereavement list Friday.<p/>

Velez actually had begun to hit proficiently despite playing sporadically. He collected two hits in each of two starts during the San Diego series, hiking his batting average from .111 to .194.

But the Giants want Velez to play more regularly. And manager Bruce Bochy indicated that with only Bengie Molina and Pablo Sandoval available to catch, San Francisco can use the versatility of Frandsen, who has sharpened his skills at the position behind the scenes. Bochy said that Frandsen’s skills behind the plate exceeded those of a typical “emergency” catcher.

Also, as expected, Edgar Renteria returned to shortstop after missing six games with a strained right hamstring. Though Renteria entered Friday hitting a pedestrian .256, he ranked second on the club with 17 RBIs upon being sidelined. Bochy acknowledged that the Giants could have used Renteria during the San Diego series, which consisted of three low-scoring one-run defeats.

“He’s such a professional hitter,” Bochy said of Renteria. “We missed him. We played such tight ballgames. A guy like that could have made a difference in all those games.”

*****

Seattle-area native Tim Lincecum held a dugout news conference for local media hungry for a word from The One Who Got Away.

Lincecum said all the right things, including when he was asked about whether he dwells on the Mariners’ bypassing him in the 2006 First-Year Player Draft. “Not any more,” Lincecum said. “It’s just one of those things that happened and you go with it. I’m happy where I am.”

Lincecum spun a good line when asked what he remembered about Randy Johnson, who he grew up watching when the left-hander starred for the Mariners in the ’90s.

“The mullet and the fastball,” Lincecum said. “Not necessarily in that order.”

– Chris Haft

 

Lincecum to relieve in Seattle? Not a chance

SAN DIEGO — It was worth asking about, though it might have been a silly idea. After all, some of you might have been thinking about the same thing, once it became certain that Tim Lincecum wouldn’t start in Seattle.

Checking into the possibility, however remote, that Lincecum might give Seattle fans what they want and pitch in relief during the Giants’ upcoming Interleague series in his hometown, I talked to the Cy Young Award winner himself and pitching coach Dave Righetti. Conceivably, Lincecum could be used in relief on Saturday, the day he’d normally throw in the bullpen between starts, or perhaps Sunday.

Lincecum said that he had not requested to be used in relief. He indicated that making such demands would be out of character: “That wouldn’t be my way,” he said.

Righetti reacted much more strongly when posed the question. “Heck no,” he said, though he actually said something a little more salty than “heck.”

“No, no definitely not. We wouldn’t do that,” Righetti continued, adding that Jonathan Sanchez would be the only starter the Giants would consider using in that role “because he has [relieving] experience.”

Sorry, Seattle.

*****

So Jesus Guzman grounded into a double play in his first Major League at-bat in Thursday’s seventh inning with runners on the corners and one out. But don’t let the GIDP in the boxscore deceive you.

Guzman made solid contact, but the ball hit the side of the mound, so it caromed more directly to Padres shortstop Chris Burke. Otherwise, Guzman might have had an RBI single.

“I thought he had a good at-bat,” Bochy said, referring to the fact that Guzman hit a couple of stinging fouls off reliever Joe Thatcher before hitting into the double play. “He got a bad break there.”

Then again, the words of Lincecum were applicable in this situation, though he was speaking of his inability to field a third-inning comebacker by Burke, who came around to score.  “Shoulda, coulda, woulda,” Lincecum said.

– Chris H.

Rowand ascends to leadoff spot

SAN DIEGO — At the very moment I started to write this, Aaron Rowand doubled off the left-field wall in Wednesday’s fifth inning for his second hit of the game against the San Diego Padres.

Perhaps that’s an indication that manager Bruce Bochy’s lineup innovation will help Rowand and the Giants.

Bochy moved Rowand to the leadoff berth, which he last occupied May 30, 2007 as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies.

“I just wanted to shake things up a little bit,” went Bochy’s simple explanation. After all, the Giants ranked 14th in the National League in runs scored entering Wednesday.

Rowand, who has hit fifth, sixth and seventh this season, backed Bochy’s decision.

“He asked me what my thoughts were, and I said, ‘I don’t mind,’ ” Rowand said. “If he wants to put me in the ‘one’ hole, I’m completely fine with it.”

Rowand also joked, “I told him it’s about time he realized he should put speed at the top of the lineup, anyway.”

Though Rowand began the game with a .246 batting average, he probably can’t do much worse than the recent Giants leadoff hittters. Fred Lewis and Emmanuel Burriss hit proficiently lower in the order but slumped when Bochy switched them to leadoff. Lewis and Burriss batted .197 and .148, respectively, at leadoff.

Overall, the Giants’ leadoff numbers have been dreadful. Their No. 1 hitters began this game ranked last in the NL in several offensive categories, including batting average (.208), runs (14) and OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage, .555). The respective league averages in those categories were .265, 25 and .720.

Rowand spent some time at leadoff during his 2001-05 tenure with the Chicago White Sox, starting 59 games in 73 appearances at that spot before Wednesday. His performance as a leadoff man was respectable, demonstrated by his .293 average and .882 OPS. Rowand also collected 15 home runs and 43 RBIs in 259 at-bats while hitting leadoff.

Of course, a leadoff batter might actually hit first only once a game, as Rowand noted. Thus, he said he felt no pressure to change his hitting approach. “It’s not anything different from hitting anywhere else in the lineup,” he said.

– Chris Haft 

 

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