September 2009

Miller testing elbow already

SAN FRANCISCO — Right-hander Justin Miller, who went on the 60-day disabled list on Sept. 16 with inflammation in his throwing elbow, already has begun playing catch.

Miller threw at a 60-foot distance on flat ground Sunday, then lengthened that to 60-to-75 feet Tuesday. He plans to throw again Wednesday with greater intensity, which he said will give him a better indication of how to proceed from there in his rehabilitation.

Miller, 32, hopes to avoid surgery. He performed respectably for the Giants in middle and long relief this year, finishing 3-3 with a 3.18 ERA in 44 appearances.

– Chris Haft

Addition to ‘Walk of Fame’ humbles Sanchez

SAN FRANCISCO — Jonathan Sanchez gave witnesses the baseball thrill of a lifetime when he no-hit the San Diego Padres on July 10. Now, Sanchez gets to keep some of the thrill for himself.

With teammates, coaches and Giants manager Bruce Bochy looking on, a bronze plaque commemorating Sanchez’s no-hitter was unveiled Saturday morning at the club’s Walk of Fame, which is located at AT&T Park’s portwalk located behind the right-field arcade.

The Walk of Fame honors significant Giants moments that have occurred at AT&T Park. Sanchez is the fourth honoree, joining Barry Bonds, Robb Nen and Jason Schmidt.<p/>

Shortly before the unveiling ceremony, the friendly but usually taciturn Sanchez expressed gratitude for being immortalized by the organization.

“It’s going to be there as long as this stadium stands,” Sanchez said. “When I retire, I’m going to come back and say, ‘I was here.’ “

– Chris Haft

Posey gets first start

SAN FRANCISCO — The inevitable is about to become reality Friday night at AT&T Park, where Buster Posey will start his first Major League game.

Posey, the Giants’ catcher and, some believe, franchise player of the future, will combine with Tim Lincecum to form San Francisco’s battery. That’s a combination Giants officials hope will take the team to the Promised Land (i.e. the World Series) someday.

The Giants’ unlikely chances of catching Colorado in the National League Wild Card race, combined with Bengie Molina’s hand injury, prompted Posey’s entry into the lineup.

“It’s time,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “We know it’s a longshot where we are with nine games to go. And with Bengie banged up, it’s time to give Buster some starts and playing time. … It’s not an easy debut, catching Timmy and facing [Carlos] Zambrano, but he can handle it.”

Molina sustained a contusion on one of his fingers when a foul tip struck him on his left (gloved) hand, which has been sore much of the season. X-rays showed no fracture, but Molina was in intense pain.

Posey, the Giants’ No. 1 selection in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft, has appeared in three games, all as a late-game replacement. He entered Friday’s game with a single in three at-bats.

– Chris Haft 

Pondering ‘Willie Mac’ candidates

If you’re proud of your association with the Giants — whether you’re a player, club employee or fan — then Friday should be one of the biggest nights of the year.

Friday happens to be when the recipient of the “Willie Mac” Award, given annually to the most inspirational Giant, will be honored in a pregame ceremony. The award is named for Willie McCovey, who needs no introduction. Nor is it necessary to explain why the distinction was named for him. If you saw McCovey play and witnessed his grace, class and professionalism, or if you ever met him and realized that he possesses those same qualities off the field, you know that this isn’t any ordinary award and that Friday’s event isn’t just a routine observance.

The Giants have several worthy Willie Mac candidates this year, which helps explain why they’re destined for their first above-.500 finish since 2004. This is just my opinion, but I’d like to think others would share it. Here are the players who come to mind:

JUAN URIBE. Tales of his positive clubhouse influence followed him from Chicago, where the White Sox adored him. Uribe quickly began spreading that same good cheer among the Giants. Sometimes he has done it with the hearts games he led during Spring Training or his daily sessions of attack dominoes with Edgar Renteria, Brian Wilson and others. Sometimes he has done it with his veteran’s presence, such as when he went to the mound to counsel Jonathan Sanchez during a tight moment Wednesday night. Often he has done it simply through humor and remaining upbeat. Asked by one teammate if he ever felt down, Uribe’s response was, “Uribe’s never down.” And, of course, he has proven invaluable on the field.

BENGIE MOLINA. The Willie Mac winner in 2007-08 has remained a steady, calming influence. Pablo Sandoval admires him. Pitchers relish throwing to him. Every teammate appreciates his earnest, competitive spirit. It’s easy to say that the Giants shouldn’t re-sign Molina, who’s eligible for free agency, but they’ll miss a lot of his intangibles if they don’t. He’d be the award’s only three-time winner if he gets it again.

EDGAR RENTERIA. Since Renteria’s so quiet and unassuming, he tends to exercise his influence subtly or behind the scenes. He hasn’t delivered the offense the Giants sought when they signed him to a two-year, $18.5 million contract, but players, coaches and front-office members rave about his professionalism and impact on the team, particularly among the Giants’ younger Latin American players.

RANDY JOHNSON. Wednesday night’s telecast partially illustrated why Johnson’s on this list. There was, caught by the camera, filling Matt Cain’s ear with something. Whatever it was, it was valuable. The Giants’ pitchers have benefited immeasurably from having a 300-game winner and five-time Cy Young Award recipient in their midst who has been so willing to share his wisdom. “This is a guy we all look up to,” Barry Zito said. “I want to pattern myself after him in many ways.”

PABLO SANDOVAL. Why not? He plays hard, he’s always having fun and he’s the most effervescent Giant since Willie Mays circa 1951. Moreover, he has an appreciation for McCovey, as he revealed when he recorded his first “Splash Hit” home run on the 50th anniversary of Stretch’s Major League debut.

BARRY ZITO. This is Zito’s 10th year in the Majors, so he knows a little something about how to act as a big leaguer. He has disseminated his wisdom among younger players in tactful yet definitive fashion. Moreover, Zito has gained respect by improving his performance while ignoring the fan abuse he has prompted.

– Chris Haft

Right now, it’s easy to call Giants best in West

LOS ANGELES — Many of you won’t believe me, but I’m not being a homer.

The National League West standings tell the story of the season, and there’s no arguing with them. But right now, at this particular juncture, the Giants just might be the division’s best club.

The Giants remain flawed, of course, which says a lot about the quality of the NL in general. But forget about that stuff, and consider:

San Francisco beat Colorado in the season series, 10-8. The Rockies wish they never had to face Tim Lincecum or Barry Zito. Ubaldo Jimenez has Lincecumesque stuff, but he frequently looks less than invincible against the Giants. San Francisco also has a better bullpen than Colorado’s, especially with Huston Street sidelined.

The Dodgers’ starting rotation is in shambles. It was shocking to watch Chad Billingsley pitch in relief Friday. Remember, he was a National League All-Star this year. Billingsley and Matt Cain frequently are compared to each other, and Cain endured his own demotion to the bullpen … three years ago, long before HE became an All-Star. Who would be the Dodgers’ ace in their playoff pitching rotation? Clayton Kershaw, who’s still working his way back from an injury to his non-throwing shoulder? The Dodgers have a strong lineup, but they won’t win with that kind of pitching.

If 30 or 40 games remained in the regular season, the Giants would be in great shape. That’s not the case, so whatever happens, they’ll get what they deserve. But right now — and a significant member of the Dodgers personnel affirmed this to me Friday — the Giants are the division’s scariest club.

– Chris Haft

Molina fine with move to fifth

SAN FRANCISCO — Did you notice the subtle difference in the Giants’ batting order Monday? Bengie Molina batted fifth in the series opener against the Colorado Rockies — marking the first time that he hadn’t hit cleanup since the 2007 season. Pablo Sandoval replaced Molina in the four-hole.

Manager Bruce Bochy explained that he hoped to re-create the magic of Sunday, when San Francisco lashed 15 hits and defeated the Dodgers, 7-2. As Molina rested, Sandoval went 2-for-4 from the fourth spot. In fact, each of San Francisco’s collected multiple hits and combined to go 10-for-17 with five RBIs.

“I like the way it went yesterday,” Bochy said before Monday’s game. “It’s not a lot of tweaking, but we put some runs on the board.”

Molina, who hit mostly sixth in 2007 before replacing Barry Bonds at cleanup, accepted the move unblinkingly.

“I always respect what Bochy has to do,” Molina said.

Molina said that Bochy didn’t consult him before making the move but noted, “He doesn’t have to. He’s the manager; [Brian] Sabean’s the general manager. They’re the ones who make the decisions.”

Many critics have charged that Molina isn’t a prototypical cleanup hitter. But he has been extremely productive, at least by the club’s standards. He amassed a career-high 95 RBIs last year and entered Monday ranked second on the club in homers (17) and RBIs (70). “I’ve got nothing to be ashamed of,” Molina said. “I probably did much more than they expected.”

– Chris Haft

Giants go ‘fourth’ with Torres

SAN FRANCISCO — More than once in his postgame address Sunday, Giants manager Bruce Bochy expressed appreciation for Andres Torres’ bases-loaded walk in the sixth inning off Jeff Weaver that drove in San Francisco’s fourth run of the game.

“We had trouble getting that fourth run. That was frustration,” Bochy said, practically equating “fourth run” with “Holy Grail.” Added Bochy, “That’s why it was so important Torres drew that walk.”

Why did Bochy heap what might have seemed to be disproportionate praise upon Torres? It’s simple.

The Giants own a 54-14 record when they score four runs or more. With their excellent pitching, that number usually gives them enough offense to win. That’s why Torres’ RBI loomed as significant.

It also paved the way for Freddy Sanchez’s two-run single, which was the biggest hit in the four-run uprising.

Torres’ statistics aren’t spectacular (.250 in 59 games), but he has made contributions like this all season. And, for what it’s worth, his attitude is ceaselessly positive and he’s one heck of a nice guy. It’ll be interesting to see whether the Giants bring him back for 2010. He’s a pretty useful player to bring off the bench.

– Chris Haft 

Lincecum throws in ‘pen, looks good to go

SAN FRANCISCO — Right-hander Tim Lincecum, who was scratched from his most recent scheduled start last Tuesday with back spasms, threw off a bullpen mound Saturday without any apparent or immediate physical setbacks.

“Perfect,” was how Giants pitching coach Dave Righetti described the session.

This means that Lincecum should be fit to start Monday night against the Colorado Rockies. The last time Lincecum faced Colorado, August 28, he surrendered four hits in eight shutout innings as the Giants won, 2-0.

One cautionary note: Nothing’s official until the Giants say so, and that won’t happen until Sunday, when the team’s medical and/or training staff re-evaluates Lincecum. Occasionally, in any sport, an athlete recovering from injury will have a promising-looking workout but will report soreness or an aggravated ailment the next day.

Lincecum threw his entire variety of pitches during his workout, then did his required running in the outfield.

– Chris Haft

Just a guess: Lincecum should be OK

SAN FRANCISCO — The headline says it all. I’ve received no classified information, but I firmly believe that Tim Lincecum’s ailing back should not cause panic. Here’s why:

– First and foremost, it’s not an arm injury.

– Nor is it an oblique injury, although we reporters were told that Lincecum’s left side is affected. Side (oblique) strains have been the undoing of several pitchers, including Tim Hudson, another smallish hurler to whom Lincecum has been compared.

– Then there was the comment made by Bengie Molina after the Giants lost 4-3 Tuesday to the Padres. “It’s encouraging for us that he’s probably going to [make] his next start,” Molina said. “We need him on the mound.”

Does Molina know something that Lincecum or the Giants’ athletic training staff isn’t sharing with the public until they absolutely, positively have to open their mouths? Possibly. But I’m surmising that Molina’s remarks reflected the scuttlebutt in the clubhouse.

– Chris Haft

 

Bochy ‘fesses up on Penny hijinks; Velez glows

PHILADELPHIA — Now the story can be told. When Bruce Bochy managed the Padres and Brad Penny pitched against them as a visitor with Florida and the Dodgers, the velocity readings at the ballpark were about 5 mph slower than they should have been.

That’s because Bochy, knowing that Penny habitually checked the speed of his deliveries after every pitch, tried to mess with the right-hander’s head by ordering the velocity gurus to slow down his readings by 5 mph.

Penny casually mentioned this after throwing his eight shutout innings Wednesday night, and Bochy confessed to this crime Thursday.

Trouble was, Penny’s speed-run readings were still impressive. “I’d see ’94,’ ” Bochy said. When he reminded the crew to subtract 5 mph from the speed readings, the reply came, “We are.”

*****

Despite the Giants’ 2-1 loss Thursday, Eugenio Velez couldn’t resist a smile when he was asked to discuss his home run off his Dominican countryman, Pedro Martinez.

“Man, that’s my favorite pitcher,” Velez said. “I feel so excited because that’s the best pitcher I’ve faced.”

Velez jumped on the game’s first pitch, a fastball. He explained that this was the wisest approach to take against Martinez.

“With a pitcher like him, you have to be aggressive, always,” Velez said. “You’re going to see only one pitch [to hit], and then he’s going to make his pitch.”

*****

Bengie Molina, who returned to the starting lineup Thursday after an eight-game absence due to a tight right quadriceps, met with Bochy after Wednesday night’s game. Shockingly, they didn’t invite reporters to join them. But Bochy revealed that the talk was constructive and mostly involved Molina’s physical state. The chat apparently wasn’t dominated by Molina’s concerns about management’s plans for him in light of Buster Posey’s promotion, as was reported.

“We talked about [Molina's] start today and we’ll give him more time [off] if he wants,” Bochy said. “He wants to do all he can to help contribute to the cause here.”

*****

Asked what he thought the ideal scenario for Posey’s Major League debut would be, Bochy said, “I think it would be a start, to help him in his preparation.” That’s not likely, though, as long as Molina stays healthy and the Giants remain in contention.

– Chris Haft 

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