August 2009

Lincecum’s next start pushed back a day

SAN FRANCISCO — The Giants announced what appeared to be a wise move after Sunday’s 9-5 victory, disclosing that right-hander Tim Lincecum’s next start will be delayed by a day.

Lincecum thus will start in Philadelphia on Thursday, giving him five days’ rest — one more than usual. He threw a season-high 127 pitches during his eight shutout innings Friday against Colorado, compelling the Giants to allow him more recovery time.

The ubiquitous To Be Announced temporarily fills Wednesday’s spot in the Giants’ rotation. They can’t recall right-hander Joe Martinez, who was optioned to Triple-A Fresno on Friday and must stay there at least 10 days (a period which extends virtually to the end of the Minor League regular season). Other possibilities abound at Fresno, including Ryan Sadowski, who had an earlier stint with the Giants; Matt Kinney or Ramon Ortiz, both big league veterans, or 10-game winner Steve Hammond.

***** 
Eli Whiteside, who caught all six games of the Giants’ homestand while Bengie Molina nursed a tight right quadriceps, contributed significantly to the club’s success. He hit only .238 (5-for-21), but threw out three of four runners attempting to steal bases and handled the pitchers smoothly.

“He saved us on this homestand with his play,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “Any time you have a guy who has spent some time in the Minor Leagues like Eli has, they learn the game. They get so much more experience versus a young guy who might be rushed up here.”

*****

There was no such thing as a routine fly ball at AT&T Park on Sunday. It could have been the shifting breezes; it could have been the changing sky, as the fog burned off and the sun alternately retreated behind and emerged from clouds.

Giants first baseman Travis Ishikawa had an adventurous time with Troy Tulowitzki’s third-inning popup, falling over backward at the pitcher’s mound after making an off-balance catch. Colorado left fielder Ryan Spilborghs seemed to have a shot at catching Fred Lewis’ sixth-inning double but missed it, and right fielder Brad Hawpe played Juan Uribe’s eighth-inning fly ball into a single and a two-base error.

“The park was playing a little funny today,” Giants right-hander Matt Cain said. “Balls were going a little farther than they should, the way this park [usually] plays. … Once it went up in the air, you really didn’t know where it was going to go or where it was going to come down.”

– Chris Haft

 

Kent gets nailed to Wall, nicely, on Saturday

Many observers consider Jeff Kent a Hall of Fame second baseman. But the Giants’ Wall of Fame comes first.

Kent’s achievements as a Giant from 1997-2002 will be celebrated Saturday when his Wall of Fame plaque is unveiled along the King Street sidewalk outside of AT&T Park. The ceremony begins at 3 p.m.

Kent, who spoke at length on various topics during a conference call Monday, met with reporters Friday afternoon in the Giants’ dugout and said that he’s “kind of in awe” of the honor, which is reserved for players who spent at least nine seasons with San Francisco or made at least one All-Star team during a minimum Giants tenure of five years.

Kent, 41, retired after last season with a .290 batting average, 377 home runs and 1,518 RBIs in 17 big league campaigns. He averaged .297, 29 homers and 112 RBIs per year with the Giants, winning the National League Most Valuable Player award in 2000 and exceeding 100 RBIs each season.

The 41-year-old Kent lives in Austin, Texas with his wife, Dana, and their four children. He has kept busy with the three motorcycle shops that he owns and a golf course he’s involved with, when he’s not driving kids to and from school.

Kent had a reputation for being sometimes abrasive with the media, but now that he no longer dwells on the rigors of competition, he has been more than accommodating as his Wall of Fame day has approached. Since we’re happy to let Kent speak freely as long as he wants, here’s the bulk of his comments Friday, presented verbatim (with some comments deleted for relevance or simplicity) and preceded by the respective questions.

The big day is here; are you more excited? When you spoke Monday seemed genuinely emotional and excited.
I am. I’ve spent my time just relaxing and staying away from the game since I retired, and that’s been special in itself — trying to let my body heal up and my mind relax. And I guess going through a time of do I have some anxiety about being away from the game. So I really wanted to stay away from it and I don’t have any regrets about leaving. With that being said, you’re able to push away the game and now move on to a new phase. The new phase is trying to revisit some of the great moments and great places where I played and obviously, this one being the greatest of all places I ever played and the most emotional place that I ever played was here in San Francisco. I’ll be honored with my ugly mug on the wall. Hopefully they have the mustache on there, too.

It’s really going to be cool. I have my wife and kids here, and my [youngest] boy turns six tomorrow and the only thing he wants to do is go in the locker room. So there’s a major attachment I have to the game and I’m glad that it’s going to exist here in San Francisco.

… This is the first time I’ve actually set foot [at AT&T Park], not wearing any type of baseball paraphernalia and walking through the halls thinking, “Yeah, I can still play,” knowing that’s not me speaking. it’s just the emotional attachment of knowing that this was the greatest place I ever played.

Have you seen the other plaques to get a perspective of who you’ll be joining?
 … I’m kind of taking this all in with my family. They made the sacrifices, too. I went to Cooperstown a month or so ago to play in the Hall of Fame Game and I purposely didn’t do the VIP tour of the Hall of Fame museum because I wanted to share that with my family. We’re going to go back on our RV trip; we’ve got about three years of what we want to do mapped out. … That’s going to be absolutely neat because my kids bring me into the history of the game more than I did. I was never really a big historian of the game. … Being able to walk through those and read them and tell my kids that I took advice from that guy or played with this guy or this guy was really good and this guy was a pain in the butt — it’s going to be neat to share that.

Have you paused to reflect on your spot as a second baseman in this game during this time?
A little bit. Not much. I’ve been so involved in my businesses and driving the kids to school, I haven’t really sat back. This is the start. This event, this weekend, is the start. My retirement speech, I got emotionally involved, it was like a thousand pounds lifted from my shoulders when I said I’m done. Tomorrow will be more emotional, too, but I think it’ll be more happy and grateful than emotional. This is the start of trying to figure out where I fit in. But I’m not so worried about it. Because I’m a baseball player. I played the game. Everything else, I didn’t care about much. … The awards, the pats on the back, the articles, the stats, they don’t hold a lot of weight for me.

The fans gave you a hard time when you came back with the Dodgers. What do you think it’ll be like tomorrow?
I don’t know. I don’t have any clue. I know they’re bitter at me because I was a Dodger, and they should be. I was a little hesitant to walk on the field (because) my first day as a Dodger was here in San Francisco on Opening Day (2005). That was the loudest boo I think I ever heard. And I say that laughingly because I respected it. And it was actually, for me, a sign of appreciation. … Tomorrow, I don’t know. I’m nervous. Because of the love that I have for the fans and the respect I have for the fans. I don’t know how it’s going to play out. But I guarantee that however it plays out tomorrow, it’ll have no effect on the appreciation I had playing for these fans. The times they came out at Candlestick [in] the wind and cold weather, and then opening the ballpark here and seeing 50,000 people coming out every day … I hope they can understand the respect that I have for them, at least. If they still hate me for being a Dodger, I hope they do. Because that means that they’re a good Giants fan.

(Pointing over his shoulder at the diamond) … I hope that the fans really do understand and appreciate the fact that I have blood, sweat and tears left on that field. It’s out there, more so here than any other place I played. I think these people understand that.

Many athletes, once they leave, have an appreciation for the sport and the experience that you can almost get only in retrospect. Is that something that you would advise a younger player to have more mindfulness about?
I kind of define your question (as), if I had to do it over again, would I enjoy more of the game when I was a player or would I think more of other things as a player than I did? If that’s your question, I would say, I thought about those things. But I didn’t know if I were to be more of this over-cordial person, come into my house and let you know everything about me, that would affect my play on the field. I tried to do everything I could to be a baseball player. If I were to tell somebody, you need to be more cordial or enjoy the experience more, I might be jeopardizing their play on the field. … I was purposely not that cordial and open. I really was in my house. This is my house.

Do you remember the sound during Game 5 of the 2002 World Series, when you guys were pouring it on?One of the happiest times of my whole life.

Now that I hear that they booed Manny [Ramirez] as bad or worse than they booed me, maybe I have a leg up on him.

– Chris Haft

Promising health update for Molina

SAN FRANCISCO — This isn’t extremely detailed, but manager Bruce Bochy said after Thursday night’s 11-0 loss to Arizona that the MRI of catcher Bengie Molina’s right quadriceps revealed a “mild strain.”

The strain was known. The “mild” part was a little less certain.

So, Bochy said, “I think we got some pretty good news there.”

– Chris Haft

Aurilia ready to play but remains on DL

SAN FRANCISCO — Infielder Rich Aurilia was eligible to be activated from the 15-day disabled list Thursday. He remained in limbo instead.

“I think he’s physically ready,” manager Bruce Bochy said of Aurilia, who had tendinitis in his left ankle. “We just don’t have a move to make right now.”

In other words, the Giants would rather have rookie Ryan Rohlinger on their 25-man roster than Aurilia, who has a wealth of experience and, despite his .220 batting average, remains more than capable of battling the best of pitchers, particularly during the late innings.

So Aurilia must wait until roster limits expand to 40 next Tuesday to be activated. Wisely, he remained mostly mum regarding Thursday’s non-events.

“I don’t make those decisions,” he said. “I’m healthy and ready to play.”

– Chris Haft

Tight quad sidelines Molina again; picture Torres

SAN FRANCISCO — Catcher Bengie Molina was out of the lineup for the second game in a row with tightness in his quadriceps. Eli Whiteside replaced Molina, the Giants’ cleanup hitter who’s batting .261 with 15 home runs and 64 RBIs.

Manager Bruce Bochy sounded optimistic that Molina would return soon. But he didn’t want to rush the veteran. “Let’s get that thing healthy,” Bochy said, referring to Molina’s injury.

Third baseman Pablo Sandoval (strained right calf) also began his second consecutive game on the bench, though he remained available to pinch-hit, as he did Tuesday night.

The Giants want both Molina and Sandoval at full strength by Friday, when they begin their critical three-game rematch against the Colorado Rockies.

*****

The Giants posed for their team picture Wednesday, and it was too bad that outfielder Andres Torres wasn’t around. Torres is playing in Arizona as he recovers from a hamstring injury.

Torres hustled his way onto the Opening Day roster and was instrumental in a couple of victories earlier this season. The team photo simply wouldn’t be complete without him.

– Chris Haft

 

Don’t forget Cain, Uribe … and Viva Gigantes!

SAN FRANCISCO — With the Giants’ 5-4 victory Tuesday over the Arizona Diamondbacks, Matt Cain has gone winless in six starts. Don’t let that fool you.

Cain has a 2.72 ERA in this span, allowing 36 hits and nine walks in 46 1/3 innings. That computes to an impressive average of 8.74 hits and walks per nine innings. He’s obviously pitching like the All-Star he is.

Cain remained dominant at AT&T Park, where he owns a 6-2 record with a 2.28 ERA. He has pitched at least seven innings in all eight of his starts since the All-Star break to increase his total to 177 1/3, making him a cinch to surpass the 200-inning mark he aims at every year.

*****

Arizona ace Dan Haren entered the game with a 1.65 ERA in nine starts against National League West clubs. But Juan Uribe, enduring a 1-for-15 skid, pierced Haren’s invincibility with a second-inning home run. All six of Uribe’s hits against Arizona this year have gone for extra bases.

The D-backs played without third baseman Mark Reynolds, who was experiencing flu-like symptoms, and Justin Upton, who remained on the disabled list with an oblique injury. But Haren was the great equalizer.

*****

The Giants improved to 7-1 all-time when wearing their “Gigantes” jerseys. They donned them Tuesday to observe Latino Heritage Night.

– Chris Haft

 

All hope is not lost, but …

SAN FRANCISCO — The Giants’ season and their playoff push are far from over. But after their 6-4, 14-inning loss Monday at Colorado, anybody feeling less than hopeful is excused.

In 40 years of following this team, this is among the most crushing come-from-ahead defeats I’ve witnessed (albeit on TV; I wasn’t on assignment for the Rockies series). Granted, the Giants are well-positioned to shrug off the effects of this setback and losing three of four to the Rockies, who lead them by four games in the National League Wild Card standings. If the Giants can recover against Arizona while Colorado struggles against the Dodgers in the next few days, San Francisco will be poised to regain ground when the Rockies visit AT&T Park next weekend.

After all, it’s not even September yet.

But for now, the Giants are reeling.

The bullpen that has sustained the Giants so well this season is in rough shape. Most relievers are suddenly overworked. Those who aren’t no longer inspire confidence, such as Merkin Valdez. If the Giants put second baseman Freddy Sanchez on the disabled list, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them fill his spot on the 25-man roster with a reliever, though lacking a full complement of position players handcuffed manager Bruce Bochy somewhat in the 14-inning marathon.

The Giants’ plight will be worsened if third baseman Pablo Sandoval is out for more than a few days with his calf injury.

Tuesday’s pregame hours could be intriguing as the Giants evaluate the fitness of Sandoval and their bullpen.

– Chris Haft

Lewis is a lucky charm; contemplating Bill Hall

CINCINNATI — Fred Lewis will take the Giants’ lineup to home plate for the umpires before Wednesday night’s game against the Cincinnati Reds.

That’s because he did it before Tuesday’s game, which the Giants won. And before Monday’s game, which the Giants won. Baseball folks are superstitious that way.

Typically, bench coach Ron Wotus does the honors. But the Giants will ride Lewis’ luck as long as they can. Besides, Bochy and Wotus pretty much know each ballpark’s ground rules. They can adjust to Lewis’ interpretation.

“We had to talk to him for a while to get them all figured out, but he was pretty close on them,” Bochy said jokingly.

*****

The Milwaukee Brewers have until Friday to try to engineer a trade for utility man Bill Hall, who they designated for assignment last week. I heard third-hand that the Giants might be among the interested teams. Now, I’ll readily admit that “third-hand” is a pretty flimsy source. Except that this particular source often knows what he’s talking about.

Still, it’s difficult to figure out why the Giants would need Hall. They’ve already got Juan Uribe as an infield handyman, and though they could use a spare right-handed-hitting outfield, it’s not a crying need. I’m guessing nothing will happen, though I’ve been wrong a few million times before.

*****

FYI: Catcher Buster Posey, who needed a few days off to nurse a minor injury, returned to Triple-A Fresno’s lineup Tuesday and went 2-for-5 with an RBI single and a run scored. 

– Chris Haft

Giants sign No. 1 pick Wheeler

NEW YORK — The Giants approached Monday’s signing deadline for the second year in a row and ended the drama by signing right-hander Zack Wheeler, their No. 1 selection in June’s First-Year Player Draft, to a reported $3.3 million bonus.

Wheeler, the sixth player taken in the Draft, received the second-largest bonus in Giants history. Catcher Buster Posey commanded a $6.2 million bonus last year. In both cases, the agreements weren’t officially announced until shortly before the midnight deadline.

With Wheeler in the fold, the Giants signed each of their top 17 picks and 34 of 50 overall.

Since Wheeler signed a 2010 contract, he won’t play for any of the Giants’ Minor League affiliates in the season’s final weeks. Bobby Evans, the Giants’ vice president of baseball operations, said via text message that Wheeler will work out at the club’s Scottsdale, Ariz., training headquarters until the Minor League season ends, then will return later in September to participate in instructional league.

Wheeler posted a 9-0 record with a 0.54 ERA in 13 games for East Paulding High School in Dallas, Ga., this season. The 6-foot-4, 185-pounder struck out 151 and walked 20 in 77 2/3 innings. He allowed 31 hits as opponents batted .118 against him. Named 2009 Gatorade High School Player of the Year for Georgia, Wheeler compiled a 95-36 record in four varsity seasons.

– Chris Haft

Correction: Wilson better than realized

SAN FRANCISCO — I goofed. Giants closer Brian Wilson pitched a career-high 2 2/3 innings Saturday against the New York Mets, not 2 1/3 as I reported in my game story.<p/>

Wilson’s outing was destined to last 1 2/3 innings until Bengie Molina hit his tiebreaking home run in the top of the 10th. That’s when the Giants’ braintrust decided to leave Wilson in for one more inning. “At first they wanted to tell me that was it,” Wilson said.

Technically, Wilson received a blown save, since he inherited a 4-2 lead before allowing Fernando Tatis’ RBI single and Gary Sheffield’s sacrifice fly. But he pitched perfect innings in the ninth and 10th, helping the Giants improve to 7-4 in extra-inning decisions.

The only drawback of all this was Wilson’s inflated pitch count. He threw 40 pitches, about twice as many as usual, which could rule him out of action Sunday.

– Chris Haft

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