August 2009

Giants might bid adieu to Aurilia

SAN FRANCISCO — Nothing’s official, so this could be pure speculation. But a huge hint was dropped Monday night that when right fielder Nate Schierholtz is activated Tuesday, releasing veteran infielder Rich Aurilia will be the corresponding roster move.

If so, it’ll be an untimely development for an individual who has conducted himself with class through 12 Major League seasons. The thinking here is that the Giants could have used Aurilia’s bat off the bench down the stretch — if he’s indeed gone.

A Giants official said that no move had yet been made. But shortly after reporters were admitted into the Giants’ clubhouse following their 4-2 loss to the Dodgers, Aurilia and bench coach Ron Wotus were seen exchanging a hug. They wouldn’t have been doing that sort of thing if Wotus planned on hitting Aurilia grounders during batting practice on Tuesday.

Aurilia remained mostly mum — and cordial. “I’ve got nothing to say, guys,” he said. “Good night. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

*****

Some bright spots for the Giants:

– Bengie Molina homered for the third time in four games.

– Randy Winn, who entered the game in a 6-for-42 (.143) skid, went 2-for-4.

– Eugenio Velez extended his hitting streak to 16 games. He’s batting .420 (29-for-69) in that span.

– The bullpen was outstanding. Justin Miller worked two scoreless innings, Sergio Romo continued his dominance of the Dodgers (they’re 1-for-32 in seven games off him) and Merkin Valdez coolly stranded a runner on third base.

But …

– The Giants have lost back-to-back home games since the Angels swept them in mid-June.

– Chris Haft

Zito’s a harsh self-critic; Wilson loves the challenge

SAN FRANCISCO — Barry Zito received a warm ovation from the AT&T Park fans upon leaving Saturday’s game once he walked Wladimir Balantien to open the seventh inning. But while Zito might have impressed observers, he sounded anything but impressed with himself.

Zito called his outing “a grind,” though his statistical line might suggest that he cruised through Cincinnati’s lineup in the Giants’ 4-2 victory. The left-hander allowed both Reds runs and only three hits in six innings. Zito, who’s 3-1 with a 2.32 ERA in five starts since the All-Star break, has walked nine and struck out 25 in 31 innings in that span.

Zito meant that his results didn’t come easily. Manager Bruce Bochy, of course, was thrilled that Zito delivered, extra effort or no extra effort. Bochy pointed out that Zito has been the Giants’ “tough-luck pitcher” this year, having entered Saturday’s start with the Major Leagues’ lowest run support.

“I think he’s throwing the ball better than his record indicates,” Bochy said. “He has been exceptional this last month. He’s throwing strikes and pitching with a lot of confidence right now.”

Zito has won three consecutive decisions for the first time since May 23-June 4, 2007, his first couple of months as a Giant.

*****

A temporarily overlooked element of Brian Wilson’s blown save and loss Friday night was the simple fact that Bochy summoned him with the bases loaded and one out in the EIGHTH inning. Though Wilson has converted a National League-high seven saves of more than one inning, each of those was a 1 1/3-inning stint. Had he saved Friday’s game, his 1 2/3-inning outing would have been his longest of the season in a save opportunity. He pitched 2 1/3 innings in a 10-inning victory April 22 against San Diego and two innings July 17 in a 14-inning loss at Pittsburgh. Both were scoreless performances.

Second-guessing managers for using their closer for more than one inning is a favorite fan pastime. But Bochy hasn’t hesitated to insert Wilson in the eighth inning, and he won’t hesitate to do so again in the future.

“The game’s on the line,” Bochy said. “That’s where you want your closer.”

Speaking after he recorded his 28th save of the season in Saturday’s victory, Wilson said that entering games in the eighth inning is OK with him.

“They obviously have confidence in me to come in and shut the door,” Wilson said. “I’m not going to complain about that, because what’s the team going to think about a guy who complains about pitching? I play this game for the love of it. Any chance I get to pitch is a good chance.”

In a remark that bordered on a Yogi Berra-ism, Wilson added, “If you’re going to come in the ninth, you might as well come in the eighth, too.”

– Chris Haft

Looking past Reds to Dodgers? Naaah

SAN FRANCISCO — Bruce Bochy seemed horrified at the mere thought that any of the Giants might — m-i-g-h-t — be looking past this weekend’s series against the Cincinnati Reds to the three-game set against the National League West rival Los Angeles Dodgers beginning Monday.

“We’re playing the Reds right now,” Bochy said before Friday night’s 10-5 loss to Cincinnati. “That’s our focus. That’s how it has to be.”

Fresh off the disabled list and a Minor League injury rehabilitation assignment, infielder Rich Aurilia said that he’d be more than happy to help Bochy point the less-experienced Giants in the proper direction, if necessary.

“Hopefully we can instill that in some of the younger guys. Just worry about winning tonight and not about what happens Monday,” Aurilia said.

Still … as a public service, here are the pitching matchups for the Dodgers series:

Monday: Hiroki Kuroda (4-5, 4.44 ERA) vs. Jonathan Sanchez (5-9, 4.49);

Tuesday: Randy Wolf (5-6, 3.55) vs. Joe Martinez (2-0, 5.87);

Wednesday: Chad Billingsley (11-6, 3.73) vs. Tim Lincecum (12-3, 2.20)

Los Angeles right-hander Jason Schmidt was in line to face his ex-teammates, but he returned to the disabled list with a shoulder injury.

*****

Get this: Buster Posey hit his third home run for Triple-A Fresno on Friday night. As a shrewd witness in Fresno observed, the pitcher who yielded Posey’s homer, Clay Hensley, happened to allow Barry Bonds’ 755th career homer in August 2007. Hensley was then pitching for the San Diego Padres.

*****

Shortstop Edgar Renteria probably would have preferred a more pleasant 34th birthday. His double error in the fifth inning handed Cincinnati an unearned run. With two outs, Renteria fumbled Willy Taveras’ grounder, then threw wildly past first base. That allowed Taveras to reach second base and score on Alex Gonzalez’s subsequent single.

Nevertheless, I will leave AT&T Park tonight with a higher opinion of Renteria than I had when I arrived here. A Reds coach who I deeply admire told me before the game that Renteria’s positive influence, particularly on younger Latin American players, has been obvious. This echoes what a Giants coach recently told me. I suppose I feel somewhat ashamed that people had to point this out to me; this is something I should be able to observe myself. But Renteria is extremely soft-spoken and goes about his business in an unassuming manner, never calling attention to himself. I’m sure Renteria’s intangibles are an asset. I’m also sure he prefers to operate below the radar, so to speak.

*****

Also:

– The Reds have won six consecutive games against the Giants.

– Eugenio Velez extended his hitting streak to 13 games. He’s batting .429 (24-for-56) in this span.

– Pablo Sandoval recorded his fourth multiple-hit game in a row, hiking his batting average to .336.

– The last time San Francisco committed five errors in a game — June 25, 2005 at Oakland in a 6-3 loss — the club took that hangover into its next performance, a 16-0 loss to the A’s which had to have been one of the Giants’ worst defeats since moving to San Francisco in 1958. I’ll go out on a limb and suggest that the current Giants won’t follow up Friday’s dud with another one.

– Chris Haft

Aurilia returns to active roster

SAN FRANCISCO — The Giants regained a potentially valuable performer for the stretch drive Friday as they recalled infifelder Rich Aurilia from his Minor League injury rehabilitation assignment and optioned first baseman-outfielder John Bowker to Triple-A Fresno.

Short-term, Aurilia can supplement the Giants’ infield depth, since Juan Uribe has been bothered by a hamstring injury. Uribe did not appear in three of San Francisco’s last four games entering Friday.

More importantly, Aurilia’s .210 batting average belies his ability to put together a solid at-bat when it matters most. He remains competent in late-inning pressure situations, when he invariably works the count, shortens his swing, doesn’t panic with two strikes and, more often than not, makes meaningful, productive contact.

Aurilia’s only hits in 17 at-bats during his rehab assignment with Fresno and Class A San Jose were two home runs.

“It was valuable for me in the sense that I got to play and get some repetitive at-bats,” said Aurilia, whose five-game stint was precipitated by an infected right big toe. “I got out of it what I wanted to get out of it.”

Aurilia acknowledged that returning to Class A for the first time since 1993 awakened memories he would have preferred to remain dormant. San Jose’s ballpark lacks a center-field batter’s eye and, many believe, adequate lighting. “It makes you appreciate how spoiled we are up here,” Aurilia said.

Bowker played only twice in his second stint of the season with the Giants, but he went out in memorable fashion by belting a monstrous triple to center in Wednesday’s victory at Houston. Don’t be surprised if Bowker rejoins the Giants in September when rosters are expanded to 40 players.

Manager Bruce Bochy said that Bowker calmly accepted his demotion. “He understood that we have a need right now [for Aurilia] to give us insurance in the infield,” Bochy said.

– Chris Haft

On improvements in Velez, Giants

SAN FRANCISCO — Anybody watching Eugenio Velez play would agree that he doesn’t look like the same guy who has been erratic, at best, in his previous Giants stints.

He’s waiting for a good pitch to hit, instead of swinging anxiously. He looks sure-handed defensively and is no longer an error waiting to happen, though he made a mistake Saturday night by not rushing from the outfield grass to charge Ryan Howard’s roller.

Manager Bruce Bochy has noticed a difference in Velez, who’s hitting .444 (12-for-27) since his recall from Triple-A Fresno.

“I think more than anything, he’s comfortable, and he’s got that sense of belonging that you need when you’re up here,” Bochy said. “It probably helped him to go down to [Triple-A] Fresno and get consistent playing time. He’s got loads of talent and we know it. He looks very relaxed and he’s laying off pitches that he swung at before.”

*****

This Phillies-Giants series was a potential Division Series preview, but you’ll never get the Giants to discuss that sort of thing. They’re still striving to reach the postseason, obviously enough, so they won’t jump to conclusions.

Having established control in the National League East, the Phillies feel less restrained when it comes to addressing the subject of the postseason. Left-hander Cole Hamels, who yielded  all of San Francisco’s runs in five-plus innings Sunday as the Giants won, 7-3, was at ease with looking toward October.

And he thinks the Giants have a good chance to be part of it.

“They definitely have the type of team that will go to the postseason, just for the fact that they have really strong pitchers,” Hamels said. “It will be interesting. … Definitely fun to watch what goes on.”

Hamels pondered the several long drives that the Phillies hit during the series and said, “If we play at our field, I think it will be different. I think if you saw where we hit balls, those are definitely out of our ballpark. The score could definitely be a little different.

“But then again, you know what? They can hit balls just as well as we can.”

– Chris Haft

Sanchez, Joaquin in; Sadowski, Guzman out

SAN FRANCISCO — As expected, Freddy Sanchez’s status was officially added to the 25-man roster Saturday, but it’s unknown at this point whether he’ll be in the lineup against the Philadelphia Phillies.

First baseman Jesus Guzman was optioned to Triple-A Fresno to clear roster room for Sanchez.

Another sequence of player moves has been signed, sealed and delivered: Right-hander Ryan Sadowski was optioned to Fresno, while right-hander Waldis Joaquin was recalled from Double-A Connecticut. Joaquin could be here for only a few days — to be precise, until the Giants need a fifth starter, which will be Wednesday at Houston.

Sadowski reported discomfort in his shoulder after his four-inning stint Friday against Philadelphia, but had the malady been serious, he likely would have gone on the 15-day disabled list. After pitching shutout ball over 13 innings in his first two starts, Sadowski allowed 14 earned runs in 15 1/3 innings spanning four outings.

Joaquin opened the Giants’ eyes in Spring Training. He posted a 2.08 ERA and struck out nine in 8 2/3 innings spanning eight appearances. With Connecticut, he was 4-5 with a 2.67 ERA in 36 games, having allowed only 36 hits but walking 28 in 54 innings.

– Chris Haft 

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