May 2009

Leftovers from Giants 2, Mets 0 (5/17/09)

SAN FRANCISCO — A lot happened in this riveting game that couldn’t be squeezed into game coverage. In no particular order:

– Breaking down Matt Cain’s triumph was relatively simple. He limited Carlos Beltran, Gary Sheffield and David Wright, New York’s 3-4-5 hitters, to one hit in their first three plate appearances. In the series’ previous three games, that trio combined for 16 hits in their first three plate appearances.

– Kevin Frandsen went 0-for-4 in his (likely brief) return to the Giants, but he still contributed to the victory. He made a slick short-hop pickup as he charged Sheffield’s sixth-inning grounder, and he quickly collaborated with second baseman Emmanuel Burriss on an eighth-inning double play.

– After stealing 13 bases in the series’ first three games, the Mets had none in this one. Bengie Molina threw out Wright at second base in New York’s lone attempted theft.

– Cain on his three consecutive walks in the second inning: “I felt good. I was just missing a little bit here, a little bit there. He [plate umpire Brian Knight] wasn’t giving a ton either. So it was going to have to be that [kind of] day where you’re going to have to get it over the plate a little bit.”

– Brian Wilson, downplaying his ability to bounce back from absorbing defeats Thursday and Friday in the series’ first two games: “That’s what every closer is supposed to do.”

– Chris Haft 

Burriss survives close call

SAN FRANCISCO — The Giants already have watched right-hander Joe Martinez get skulled by a line drive. They didn’t need to see another teammate endure a frightening injury from a batted ball.

And they didn’t, fortunately enough. But it almost happened in Friday night’s second inning. Emmanuel Burriss, minding his own business in the on-deck area, was hit in the back of his neck below his right ear by a ball when Tim Lincecum fouled off a pitch.

Burriss was in obvious pain, but recovered quickly enough to bat (and strike out) immediately after Lincecum was retired.

“I got lucky as hell,” Burriss said. “That ball was coming right at my face. If I wasn’t paying attention or [if I were] looking at something else, that ball would have hit me square in the nose.”

That could have had extremely serious consequences. On August 31, 2007, St. Louis’ Juan Encarnacion was struck in the face by a foul ball hit by teammate Aaron Miles while in the on-deck circle. The resulting eye injuries ended Encarnacion’s career.

According to a sourced Wikipedia entry, Cardinals team physician Dr. George Paletta called it the worst injury he’d ever seen to the face on a baseball player. As the entry related, “Paletta said the eye socket was essentially crushed on impact, comparing the injured area to the disintegration of an egg shell or ice cream cone, and that the optic nerve had sustained severe trauma.”

Yes, Burriss was indeed lucky.

– Chris Haft

One final Zimmerman item; thoughts on Renteria (and Frandsen)

SAN FRANCISCO — Giants third-base coach Tim Flannery delivered the final word on the 30-game hitting streak that ended for Washington’s Ryan Zimmerman on Wednesday. Well, maybe you could choose from more than one word. Such as “classy.” Or “impressive.”

Zimmerman grounded into a force play in the ninth inning to end an 0-for-3 afternoon. Up came the Giants, trailing 6-2. Thursday, Flannery related that he approached Zimmerman, who was playing third base, before the bottom of the ninth and said, “We’re going to score four, tie this thing up and get you a chance to hit again.”

Zimmerman’s response, according to Flannery, was, “At this point, I’d rather take the win.”

Flannery was bowled over by Zimmerman’s selflessness. “Think about that,” he said. “How many guys would do that?”

*****

Should Edgar Renteria’s hamstring injury force him onto the 15-day disabled list, it’s tempting to assume that Kevin Frandsen would be recalled from Triple-A Fresno to fill the roster spot.

However, Juan Uribe is perfectly capable of starting at shortstop short-term. As much as many people want to see Frandsen back in San Francisco, he’d go to waste sitting on the bench behind Uribe and second baseman Emmanuel Burriss.

Unless, of course, the Giants’ braintrust decides that it wants Frandsen, who has played some shortstop at Triple-A, to handle the position instead of Uribe while Renteria mends. Otherwise, the Giants could call up just about anybody.

Many others would like to see first baseman Jesus Guzman get a shot. But he’s another guy who’d go to waste on the bench and should ascend to San Francisco only if he’s going to play more than semi-regularly.

*****

The note about Sergio Romo was filed shortly before he made his injury rehabilitation debut for Class A San Jose at Visalia. He pitched a scoreless inning, walking one and striking out one. Expect Romo back soon.

– Chris Haft

 

Leftovers from Wednesday, May 13: Zito, Pablo, Lewis

SAN FRANCISCO — Barry Zito’s fielding goofs in Wednesday’s third inning ultimately seemed insignificant. After all, he escaped a bases-loaded, two-out jam with no runs scoring by striking out Josh Willingham.

But both Zito and manager Bruce Bochy made the same point after the Giants’ 6-3 loss: The left-hander’s misplays forced him to throw more pitches, thus causing him to spend extra energy which he could have used later in the game.

First, Zito mishandled Shairon Martis’ comebacker for an error. One out later, he swatted at Nick Johnson’s grounder, which likely would have resulted in an inning-ending groundout to shortstop. Instead, Zito deflected the ball off course, leaving Renteria with no play.

“That was not a smart decision,” Zito said.

*****

Bochy said that he considered using Pablo Sandoval to catch Wednesday. But, said Bochy, “That would be pushing it.” Bochy was wary of how the position’s demands might have affected Sandoval’s left ankle, which the Kung Fu Panda tweaked while running out his would-be triple in Tuesday’s seventh inning. Sandoval’s trip ended with a pratfall between second and third base.

“He looked like a turtle on its back,” Bochy said. “But he was on his stomach.”

*****

Bochy opted to give one more day of rest to left fielder Fred Lewis, who sat out Tuesday’s game with a sore left toe. “It is, basically, a turf toe,” Bochy said, citing the malady familiar to athletes.

Fortunately for the Giants and Lewis, he lined a pinch-hit, RBI double in Wednesday’s ninth inning. That ended a stretch of 31 at-bats and eight games without an extra-base hit for Lewis.

 

Yogi, meet Pablo

SAN FRANCISCO — As I write this, there’s still a little more than an hour left (at least in the Pacific time zone) in Yogi Berra’s 84th birthday.

What does that have to do with the Giants?

Here’s the connection: Pablo Sandoval’s three-run, ninth-inning homer made him the hero of Tuesday night’s 9-7 victory over Washington. And, on Sunday in Los Angeles (I could have blogged this on that day, but for some reason decided to hold off), no less an expert than Dodgers manager Joe Torre compared Sandoval to Berra, the Hall of Fame catcher who was quite a free swinger himself.

That’s probably the most flattering comparison Sandoval has prompted since he ascended to the Majors last August.

“He’s like a Yogi Berra from both sides of the plate,” Torre said, then added half-jokingly, “How do you get him to swing? All you do is throw it.”

Torre proceeded to explain the challenge of pitching to hackers such as Sandoval.

“It’s very difficult if you’re the catcher. ‘Where do I go here?’ ” Torre said. “We can’t throw him a strike, but that doesn’t mean anything because he can hit the other stuff. It’s not a knock at the kid because he’s successful. And so was Yogi Berra. [It] is not comfortable for me to sit here [watching Sandoval] and think, even if we’re ahead on the count, ‘We’ve got him.’ “

– Chris Haft

Sandoval, Uribe to man infield corners? Possibly

LOS ANGELES — Giants manager Bruce Bochy indicated Saturday that he soon could employ a lineup featuring Pablo Sandoval at first base and Juan Uribe at third base.

The odd man out would be Travis Ishikawa, who started 20 of San Francisco’s first 29 games at first base. But Ishikawa entered Saturday batting .191 and was hitless in his last 16 at-bats.

By contrast, Sandoval, who rested Saturday after catching the previous evening, was hitting .298. And Uribe, who started his second consecutive game at third base and third game in a row overall, had hiked his average to .289 after collecting two hits in three of his previous five games.

Asked if a Sandoval-Uribe tandem were possible, Bochy replied, “Yes, it’s something we can do. It is an option. It’s something we have talked about.”

Bochy observed that Sandoval, the regular third baseman whose skill set includes playing first base and catching, would need virtually no preparation to play a game at first base, due to his excellent ability to adjust.

San Francisco’s offensive struggles might force Bochy to make this move sooner than later. They certainly explain Uribe’s increased presence.

“That’s why I’ve tried to get him a little more in the mix,” Bochy said. “He gives an added pop in the lineup when he’s in there.”

Bochy has not given up on Ishikawa, though he said somewhat ominously that he hasn’t determined how much longer the Giants will continue to give the 25-year-old rookie opportunities to recover his offensive equilibrium. For the immediate future, Bochy said that he might prolong Ishikawa’s mental break by resting him on Sunday 

“Travis has had his games where he throws out good at-bats and he’s had his games where he’s struggled,” Bochy said. “He’s battling his confidence a little bit.”

– Chris Haft

Wilson has a winning way

LOS ANGELES — Giants fans should feel free to cheer on the resurgent Barry Zito and the club’s meager yet resourceful offense. Just make sure to save some applause for Brian Wilson.

Had Wilson blown his save opportunity Friday night, he would have had a handy excuse. He hadn’t pitched since last Sunday. But he came through with yet another four-out save, his fourth of the season.

The prolonged rest helped, of course. But so did Wilson’s attitude after he yielded James Loney’s leadoff single in the ninth. Two batters later, Wilson coaxed Rafael Furcal’s double-play grounder to end the game.

“I feel like I’m a ground-ball pitcher,” Wilson said. “If a guy gets on, I’ve got a real good chance of getting a double play. If I can just back those thoughts up in my head and think positively — ‘OK, I’m going to end the game with a double play’ — I’m sure it’ll happen.

“It better happen.”

It has happened for Wilson seven times in eight save chances so far. Entering his second year as the Giants’ closer, the right-hander has a better grasp on his self-control and what to expect.

“I think I’m learning to stay relaxed, throw at the same speed and have more accuracy instead of tense up and throw hard,” Wilson said. “I think last year I saw every situation you can imagine. So I have that under my belt now. It’s a good learning experience.”

***
One factoid I should have included in the final version of my game story but didn’t: The Giants (15-13) are two games above .500 for the first time this year. They failed on four previous occasions to reach that level.

– Chris Haft
 

Despite slugging, Molina gets rest

LOS ANGELES — Most managers would have rushed to scribble Bengie Molina’s name on the lineup card after the catcher’s productive offensive effort Thursday. But not only did Bruce Bochy rest Molina in Friday’s series opener against the Los Angeles Dodgers, the skipper also cited a few sensible reasons for doing so.

One factor Bochy didn’t mention to reporters, because he didn’t have to, is that Molina has not caught Barry Zito’s last three starts. Pablo Sandoval, who started behind the plate Friday, was Zito’s batterymate twice in that span while Steve Holm caught the other game. Zito has been impressive in those three starts, recording a 1.33 ERA (three earned runs in 20 1/3 innings). Call it coincidence or call it a case of Zito and Molina not being on the same wavelength, which both deny. But with Zito pitching, the timing was right to give Molina a break.

Bochy pointed out that he didn’t want to tire Molina, who caught the first four games of this three-city trip. Moreover, Bochy added that the alternating starting time of those games — night-day-night-day — was grueling enough to prompt a breather for Molina.

Molina, said Bochy, will start Saturday and Sunday, thus restoring the Giants’ biggest offensive threat to the lineup. The 34-year-old entered the game tied for third in the National League with 27 RBIs and had seven home runs, compared to nine for the rest of the team.

So it’s not as if Bochy didn’t want to play Molina. But Bochy also wants to keep him fresh for the duration of the season. “It catches up with you,” Bochy said, referring to Molina’s activity. “I was getting concerned early in April.”

As this is being written, the game’s first pitch is about 45 minutes away. Bet on Molina to appear in the game anyway as a pinch-hitter, as he did in each of the three previous games he didn’t start.

***

Right-hander Sergio Romo keeps progressing. Bochy said that he threw an extended Spring Training game on Friday and will pitch one more of those games before reporting to high-Class A San Jose on Tuesday, assuming the reliever avoids further physical setbacks. Romo, 26, has been sidelined since late February with a strained elbow.

Bochy mentioned that the Giants envision Romo’s pitching at Triple-A Fresno before rejoining the Giants. But Bochy indicated that this step could be skipped — perhaps if Romo pitches unbelievably well at San Jose; perhaps if there happens to be a crying need for another bullpen arm at the Major League level. “Do we think that [Fresno] is a must? No,” Bochy said.

***

The weekly Minor League report issued to the media included the following factoid: Shortstop Brian Bocock was demoted from Double-A Connecticut to San Jose. Bocock, who demonstrated during his Giants stint last year that his hitting wasn’t equal to his fabulous fielding, inspired hopes by hitting a healthy .350 in Cactus League games this year. But his .171 average with Connecticut reflected a regression.

– Chris Haft 

Zito on Manny

DENVER — Barry Zito savors the competition he faces as a Major League pitcher. His comments about the Manny Ramirez situation demonstrated this.

Zito almost sounded like he would prefer to see Ramirez in the opposing lineup when he leads the Giants against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Friday night’s series opener at Chavez Ravine. Instead, Ramirez will be serving Game 2 of his 50-game suspension for performance-enhancing drug use.

Zito’s on record as saying that he enjoys facing free-swinging, right-handed batting sluggers. They often fall prey to his offspeed pitches. Ramirez fits this description.

But, for Zito, it’s also the heat of the battle that he cherishes. 

“If I look at facing Manny as a chore, I look at being in the big leagues as a chore. It’s kind of a microcosm of the same thing,” Zito said. “It’s fun to go out and compete and dig deep and see what’s in your heart that day. Against Manny, you have to dig a little deeper. That is fun.”

Giants players refused to criticize Ramirez, yet few went out of their way to express support for him. Zito was an exception.

“I think Manny’s a standup guy,” Zito said. “What his comments were today [about using a doctor's prescription] are probably what’s going on.”

Zito also had a healthy appreciation for Ramirez’s prodigious skills. “Manny boosted [the Dodgers] offensively and, I think, morale-wise last year when he came over,” Zito said. “He just brings an air of kind of relaxed confidence that really sparked them.”

– Chris Haft

What to look for on Thursday

DENVER — Manager Bruce Bochy said after Wednesday’s 11-1 loss to the Colorado Rockies that he’d probably make a couple of changes to the lineup for Thursday’s series finale.

One likely will be giving shortstop Edgar Renteria a rest, Bochy said. This will mean playing time for Juan Uribe, who hit the ball hard in his only at-bat Wednesday (a smash to shortstop) after entering the game late. He drove in San Francisco’s only run with that grounder.

As I pointed out in the game preview, first baseman Rich Aurilia has hit .300 lifetime (6-for-20) against Thursday’s starter, Jason Marquis. But Aurilia hasn’t started against a right-handed pitcher all season. Let’s see how that plays out.

By the way: The 11-1 score equaled the Giants’ worst margin of defeat this season. It happened in the Dodgers’ home opener on April 13, too.

– Chris Haft

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