July 2009

Torres to DL, Bowker returns

SAN FRANCISCO — The Giants placed outfielder Andres Torres on the 15-day disabled list with an strained left hamstring Friday and replaced him on the active roster by recalling first baseman-outfielder John Bowker from Triple-A Fresno.

With right fielder Nate Schierholtz and infielder Rich Aurilia already on the disabled list, Torres’ injury further diluted the Giants’ contingent of position players. That, manager Bruce Bochy explained, was why the Giants had hoped to avoid sidelining Torres.

“He’s very valuable on this ballclub,” Bochy said. “It’s a tough loss for us.”

Torres hurt himself as he rounded first base on a fly out to right field in Thursday night’s second inning. He said that this injury wasn’t as serious as the one which affected the same hamstring and forced him to the DL in late April. But Torres plays at one gear — fast — which leaves him susceptible to mishaps. He was running full speed although he had hit a routine fly.

“I have to learn when to go hard and when not to,” Torres said.

Torres’ overall numbers, which include a .247 batting average, two home runs, 13 RBIs and five stolen bases in five tries spanning 53 games, aren’t overwhelming. But he contributed significantly to each of the Giants’ four consecutive victories:

– His two-run triple was the biggest hit in Monday’s three-run second inning that lifted the Giants to a 4-2 decision over Pittsburgh;

– He doubled and scored what proved to be a key run in the seventh inning of Tuesday’s 3-2 win;

– Despite going 0-for-4 Wednesday, he drew a two-out walk that prolonged the 10th inning for Randy Winn’s single, which scored the game’s lone run and concluded San Francisco’s three-game sweep of Pittsburgh;

– After Philadelphia jumped ahead with a first-inning run Thursday, Torres stimulated the Giants with a leadoff bunt single that ignited a two-run uprising in their half of the inning and reclaimed momentum for them.

Bowker’s stay could be extremely brief. Bochy hinted that Bowker could return to Fresno when newly acquired second baseman Freddy Sanchez is activated before Saturday’s game.

– Chris Haft 

Sanchez stars, Aurilia slugs, Giants rock steady

SAN FRANCISCO — Here’s why Jonathan Sanchez’s victory Thursday over the Phillies was more impressive than it looked:

Philadelphia typically mauls left-handed starters like Sanchez. Entering their encounter against him, the Phillies were 22-11 against lefty starters with a Major League-high 46 home runs. Philadelphia also led all National League teams in doubles, extra-base hits, RBIs and total bases against left-handers.

So for Sanchez to limit Philadelphia to two runs and three hits in 5 2/3 innings was a definite accomplishment.

*****

This comes courtesy of Doug Greenwald, Triple-A Fresno’s broadcaster:

Rich Aurilia hit a two-run homer in the third inning of Fresno’s game against Colorado Springs. Aurilia needed an injury rehabiIitation stint while his infected big toe heals.

Meanwhile, Greenwald pointed out that this was Aurilia’s first Triple-A homer since 1997.<p/>

*****

By defeating the Phillies in Thursday’s series opener, the Giants sealed a winning July. The Giants improved to 14-12 for the month, continuing their trend of posting winning records each month. It all started with a 10-10 April, continued with a 15-14 May and peaked with a 17-10 June.

– Chris Haft

Sanchez returns to scene of gem

SAN FRANCISCO — Tonight (Thursday) should be a special one at AT&T Park.

Not just because the Giants apparently have rebounded from their dreadful road trip.

Not just because the trades for Ryan Garko and Freddy Sanchez have given the team unseen but definite impetus toward the postseason.

Not just because the World Champion Philadelphia Phillies are in town.

It’s largely because Jonathan Sanchez will be making his first home start since no-hitting San Diego on July 10.

Can you believe that? Nearly three whole weeks have elapsed since Sanchez threw his gem. Of course, that’s due to the vagaries of the schedule. Sanchez’s feat immediately preceded the All-Star break, and then the Giants began the second half with their three-city sojourn.

When Sanchez takes the mound, fans ought to give him the roaring salute he deserves for becoming the first Giant in 33 years to throw a no-hitter. I’m sure they will.

– Chris Haft

Pittsburgh’s Sanchez speaks; Zito stays calm

SAN FRANCISCO — Courtesy of my Pittsburgh counterpart, Jenifer Langosch, here are some thoughts from Pirates second baseman Freddy Sanchez, who has been linked in trade speculation to the Giants.

Asked if he knew whether anything was up between San Francisco and Pittsburgh, Sanchez said Tuesday, “As far as I know, it’s just speculation. Obviously, until something is in stone and it’s there, then it would be otherwise. I don’t know any more than anyone else right now.”

Sanchez acknowledged that it was somewhat strange to be sitting in the dugout across the field from the club he could be joining.

“But rumors are rumors,” he said. “There has been a lot of speculation on guys who haven’t gone anywhere at all. Speculation is speculation, but it is a little different when you are in the place that they’re talking about.”

When the Giants were in Pittsburgh recently, I talked to Sanchez for a Giants Magazine feature I did on Matt Cain. Sanchez was very friendly and extremely cooperative. From a reporter’s perspective, he seems like he’d be an excellent addition.

But if you’re reading this, you don’t care about that garbage. You just want somebody who can help the Giants score runs. Then know this: Sanchez is truly a professional hitter. That’s an overused cliche, but having watched him take batting practice, I believe it’s applicable. In Pittsburgh I saw him fire line drive after line drive the opposite way to right field, then concentrate on hitting the ball up the middle in his next round before concluding by yanking the ball to left field. Too many idiotic hitters waste their BP swings by trying to hit home runs. Not Sanchez. His was the best batting practice I’ve seen since Bill Madlock during his brief Giants tenure, or maybe Will Clark at his peak in the late ’80s-early ’90s.

*****

Barry Zito pitched 5 2/3 effective innings but was not involved in the decision. Zito yielded nine hits and walked two yet surrendered just one run, which the Pirates scored in the first inning on Andrew McCutchen’s double and Delwyn Young’s bloop single.

Zito left the bases loaded in the third inning by retiring Andy LaRoche on a popup. He also bequeathed two baserunners in the sixth to Sergio Romo (3-1), who seems to have regained manager Bruce Bochy’s confidence. Romo ended the threat by striking out McCutchen on three pitches.

But Zito plainly wanted to work out of the jam himself.

“I definitely support the team, but yeah, I didn’t expect to get taken out at that point,” Zito said. He diplomatically added, “I certainly support Boch’s decision as manager. He’s been in the game a long time. It worked out.”

– Chris Haft

Thursday leftovers: No ifs, ands or bunts

ATLANTA — A discerning manager does not ask his players to perform tasks they’re incapable of handling. That largely explained why Bruce Bochy didn’t order Fred Lewis to bunt in a pair of situations Thursday when most players might have been asked to sacrifice.

Lewis has one career sacrifice bunt. Bochy figured the Giants were better off letting Lewis swing away.

Bochy had an additional reason to avoid the bunt when Lewis batted in the fifth inning with Barry Zito on second base, Randy Winn on first and nobody out. With Zito as the lead runner, Bochy said, “I didn’t have any speed there.”

Lewis’ next at-bat followed Randy Winn’s leadoff double in the seventh. Lewis flied to center without Winn advancing. That wasn’t the sort of “productive out” the Giants had hoped for. Besides, said Bochy, “I wanted three shots” at driving the run in. As it turned out, Winn was marooned on second base, but the Giants scored four runs in the eighth to settle matters.

*****

Jeremy Affeldt hiked his Major League-leading total of double plays induced to 14 during his scoreless eighth. He’s having one of the best years I’ve seen from a reliever.

“The guy really could have made the All-Star team, when you look at the job he’s done,” Bochy said.

*****

Nate Schierholtz is one tough dude. His left leg looked as if a saber-toothed tiger had tried to have it for lunch.

Schierholtz nearly mangled his leg while leaping at Turner Field’s right-field wall, which has a cyclone fence “padding” in some parts.

“Just wait until you see my leg,” Schierholtz said after the Giants’ 5-1 win as he greeted reporters at his dressing stall.

We could have waited a little longer. The outside of Schierholtz’s leg was scraped almost from top to bottom. Discoloration — budding bruises? — were spread throughout.

*****

Has anybody noticed:

Barry Zito is 3-1 with a 2.42 ERA in four career appearances against Atlanta?

Infielder Matt Downs wears No. 37 — same as late-1980s right-hander Kelly Downs?

– Chris Haft 

Cain’s Sunday start confirmed; Johnson needs more time

PITTSBURGH — Right-hander Matt Cain was universally pronounced fit to start Sunday’s series finale here, now that he has shaken off the effects of being hit by a line drive in his pitching arm.

“I should be fine,” said Cain, who threw a regular between-starts bullpen session Thursday during the Giants’ workout at PNC Park. “I have swelling [in the arm], but nothing out of the ordinary.”

The Giants anticipated days ago that Cain, who took a direct hit last Saturday from a line drive off the bat of San Diego’s Tim Stauffer, would be able to face Pittsburgh, though he was forbidden from performing in Tuesday’s All-Star Game. Despite the widespread confidence, prompted when X-rays taken of Cain’s arm were negative, Giants manager Bruce Bochy acknowledged that the 25-year-old’s condition was a “slight concern.”

Cain admitted that he “kind of wondered what it would be like going full speed.” Overall, though, he sensed no hidden trouble. “I wasn’t really that worried about it,” he said. “My range of motion was fine.”

*****

By contrast, left-hander Randy Johnson is still recuperating from his strained left shoulder and isn’t expected to join the Giants on their three-city, 10-game trip.

Obviously, Bochy admitted, Johnson will need more than three weeks — the most optimistic estimate given for his recovery — to return to the mound. Sunday will mark two weeks since Johnson grabbed his shoulder and took himself out of a game against Houston.

– Chris Haft 

Villalona injured; Molina praises Sandoval; fun facts

SAN FRANCISCO — First baseman Angel Villalona, one of the Giants’ leading prospects, is expected to miss at least four weeks with a strained left quadriceps.<p/>

Villalona injured himself Tuesday while playing for the Giants’ Class A San Jose affiliate. His injury will prevent him from participating in Sunday’s Futures Game with the World team. In 74 games, Villalona, who hit .267 with nine home runs and 42 RBIs in 74 games, played in last year’s Futures Game at Yankee Stadium.

*****

Bengie Molina delivered a high compliment to Pablo Sandoval after Thursday’s 9-3 vvictory over Florida.

“I really really hope that pablo can hit 30 home runs and get 150 RBIs,” said Molina, who’s tied with Sandoval for the team lead in RBIs with 50. “I wish and hope he beats me in RBIs, homers and average … I love that kid. After Roberto Clemente, he’s my favorite player. And he should have gone to the All-Star Game.”

*****

Tim Lincecum became the third Giants starter to lose a no-hitter upon facing the first batter of the seventh inning. It also happened to Randy Johnson on April 19 against Arizona and Barry Zito on June 21 against Texas.

– Chris Haft

Burriss to undergo surgery; Rowand turns in gem

SAN FRANCISCO — Infielder Emmanuel Burriss’ season possibly has been ended by his broken left foot.

Burriss, who fractured his fifth metatarsal while running the bases earlier this week while playing for Triple-A Fresno, will undergo surgery on Friday in San Francisco and is expected to miss at least two months. Dr. Larry Oloff, the Giants’ foot specialist, will perform the procedure.

Burriss, 24, opened the season as the Giants’ starting second baseman but was optioned to Fresno on June 16. He appeared in San Francisco’s first 56 games but ultimately was compromised by his offensive inconsistency. He hit .238 in 61 games. With Fresno, Burriss hit .268 in 17 games.

Despite his demotion, Burriss remained valued by the Giants for his speed, ability to switch hit and flair for the spectacular on defense. The organization has continued to envision him as a potential starting middle infielder.

*****

Aaron Rowand turned in the play of the day Wednesday in the Giants’ 7-0 loss to Florida, catching up with Wes Helms’ fifth-inning drive and grabbing it a step in front of the left-center field wall. Rowand held onto the ball despite bumping into the wall close to the 404-foot marker.

Giants right-hander Ryan Sadowski appreciated the defensive support. Initially, Sadowski didn’t even turn around to follow the ball’s flight, since he was convinced that Helms had hit a home run. “I thought it was way gone,” Sadowski said.

Then he quickly became mindful of his pitcher-friendly surroundings and had a change of heart.

“I know this is a big yard, so let’s see what [Rowand] does with it,” Sadowski said.

– Chris Haft

Giants’ youth movement a starry success

SAN FRANCISCO — A look at the podium the other day as the Giants showed off their All-Stars, Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum, and their would-be All-Star, Final Vote candidate Pablo Sandoval, reflected the club’s makeover in recent years.

Giants management said that it wanted a younger team after jettisoning Barry Bonds following the 2007. Well, that has happened. Moreover, some of their youthful players have developed more quickly than the front office might have anticipated.

Just look at San Francisco’s All-Star trio (I’m counting Sandoval, for simplicity’s sake).

Sandoval is 22. Cain is 24. Lincecum is 25. What a triumph for the Giants’ scouting and development sector. If the Giants can somehow produce a few more players like them (Buster Posey? Madison Bumgarner? Angel Villalona?), maybe, just maybe, that elusive World Series Champions banner will fly from one of the center-field flag poles sometime in the next decade.

Randy Johnson, the 303-game winner whose experience and success legitimize pretty much everything he has to say about baseball, addressed the wondrous pair of Cain and Lincecum.

“To have two pitchers like that, doing what they’re doing on a high level every fifth day, it’s pretty exciting to watch,” Johnson said. “That was one reason why I got excited every fifth day, to go out there and be a part of that. To have both of them represent the Giants [as All-Stars] and be on top of their game right now, that’s great.

“I hope they can continue to do that in the second half because that’s what it will take, especially when we start playing the Dodgers and the Colorado Rockies and Milwaukee again — teams that are right behind us in the Wild Card and ahead of us in the division.”

– Chris Haft 

Affeldt excels; ‘D’ isn’t that bad; history’s safe

ST. LOUIS — If Jeremy Affeldt seems like he’s one of the best setup relievers you’ve seen, it’s not your imagination.

Affeldt worked a perfect ninth inning Wednesday to extend his scoreless-innings streak to 19. It’s the longest streak by a Giant since Noah Lowry and Jason Schmidt each put up zeroes for 19 consecutive innings in 2005. The last Giants reliever to enjoy a longer streak was Joe Nathan, who went unscored upon for 22 1/3 innings in a row in 2003.

During Affeldt’s 20-game stretch, he has allowed only 10 hits in 60 at-bats (.167). Moreover, none of the 10 baserunners he has inherited in his last 11 appearances have scored. He also leads NL relievers with 10 double plays induced.

*****

Despite their three errors Wednesday, the Giants actually played some decent defense.

Center fielder Aaron Rowand made a breathtaking diving catch of Skip Schumaker’s third-inning line drive. Left fielder Randy Winn duplicated the feat on the luckless Schumaker in the fifth inning.

*****

They say it’s difficult to sweep any opponent. History proves that this is so.

Had the Giants won Wednesday, they would have entered Thursday’s finale with a chance to record their first four-game series sweep in St. Louis since May 6-9, 1912. Nineteen-twelve! That’s when Christy Mathewson and Rube Marquard were the Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain of their day for San Fran — er, New York — and the roster included two star-crossed players: Fred Merkle (who failed to touch first base in a critical 1908 game) and Fred Snodgrass (whose error in the final game of the 1912 World Series helped opposing Boston prevail).

It’s worth remembering that four-game series aren’t played much anymore. Still, 97 years is a heck of a long time.

The Giants’ last four-game sweep of St. Louis anywhere occurred July 24-26, 1987 at Candlestick Park. It helped launch their second-half drive toward the National League West title.

– Chris Haft

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