February 2010

Ishikawa sidelined but not forgotten

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Travis Ishikawa likely remains more than a week away from participating in workouts as he nurses the torn ligaments in his left foot. As part of a deep and relatively talented group of projected reserves, he conceivably faces a stiff challenge for a spot on the Opening Day roster.

Yet manager Bruce Bochy indicated Saturday that Ishikawa, despite losing his role as the Giants’ primary first baseman to free agent Aubrey Huff, has strong chance of claiming a Major League job.

It helps that Ishikawa plays excellent defense and hit .349 in 62 games at AT&T Park last year. The rest of the team batted .263 at home.

“You saw what he did at home. He’s a threat,” Bochy said. “I think ‘Ishi’ has shown that he can do some things to help you win ballgames. He’s still in the mix here.”

Ishikawa has tried to stay as sharp as possible by hitting off a tee and throwing in a batting cage, which he can do while wearing a walking boot on his left foot. Ishikawa, who underwent an MRI on Friday and saw a doctor Saturday, said that he’ll probably have to wear the boot for at least a week. But he’s healing.

“At least it’s going in the right direction,” he said.

*****

The Giants receive little “down” time in Spring Training. Their only scheduled off-day in the Cactus League season is March 18.

So Bochy, after consulting with general manager Brian Sabean, decided to excuse the team from workouts Tuesday. San Francisco opens the exhibition season Wednesday against Seattle.

Lest you think the Giants are a bunch of slackers, remember that they opened camp before most of their Cactus League brethren.

“We’ve had some long days here,” Bochy said. “This gives them a chance to freshen up before games start.”

*****

The alternative rock group O.A.R. visited Scottsdale Stadium and met several Giants, including leading musicologist Tim Lincecum, before Saturday’s workout. The group, in town for a concert, filmed excerpts for an upcoming video. Accompanied by Lincecum, band members took the mound and held a contest to see who could throw the hardest fastball. Left-hander Alex Hinshaw, another music enthusiast, served as catcher, while infielder Kevin Frandsen provided encouragement.

*****

Injury updates, comings and goings:

Second baseman Freddy Sanchez, recovering from left shoulder surgery, felt healthy and enthusiastic after his initial session of fielding ground balls. Sanchez said that he’ll continue to take grounders daily, though no timetable has been set for when he’ll begin swinging a bat.

Infielder-outfielder Mark DeRosa (left wrist) still hasn’t swung against Giants pitchers in “live” batting practice, though he has taken hundreds of hacks in the cages and against coaches. Bochy said he wasn’t sure when restrictions on DeRosa will be lifted, but it could be soon. “He’s eager to start letting it go,” Bochy said.

Catcher Eli Whiteside returned a day earlier than expected after his wife, Amy, gave birth to their first child, Whit.

Left-hander Madison Bumgarner returned home to North Carolina for personal reasons. He’s expected to return Sunday night and should make his scheduled appearance in Wednesday’s exhibition opener. Left-hander Dan Runzler was sent home with the flu.

Last but not least, pitching coach Dave Righetti was excused to travel to the Chicago area to be inducted into the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame. Former big leaguer Gary Gaetti was among the other inductees.

– Chris Haft 

Lincecum makes another tuneup

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — It’s February 26, not April 26 or September 26, so the sight of Tim Lincecum yielding line drives to John Bowker on back-to-back pitches Friday shouldn’t be alarming.

If anything, it was an encouraging sign from Bowker, who’s competing for a reserve outfield spot.

Bowker pounded a curveball that Lincecum dangled and a fastball that the two-time Cy Young Award winner left over the plate. Lincecum then coaxed a swing and a miss from Bowker on a breaking ball.

Overall, it was a matter of “getting work in” for Lincecum, who threw approximately 40 pitches to Bowker, Jesus Guzman, Brett Pill and Hector Sanchez. Lincecum is scheduled to start Wednesday’s Cactus League opener against Seattle.

*****

Second baseman Freddy Sanchez has insisted that his recovery from left shoulder surgery is ahead of schedule, and he’s about to prove it. Sanchez is expected to begin fielding ground balls Saturday in his first baseball-related activity since his Dec. 23 operation.

“Awesome” was how Sanchez described his feelings.

Sanchez still isn’t certain when he’ll begin swinging a bat, and he remains likely to open the season on the 15-day disabled list.

*****

Bruce Bochy, who possesses a dry and underappreciated wit, spun a good line when he delivered the news that catcher Eli Whiteside’s wife, Amy, gave birth to the couple’s first child, Whit.

Somebody asked whether the infant had gray hair, referring to Whiteside’s prematurely whitening locks. Bochy paused for a beat and replied, “DARK gray.”

*****

MLB Network will provide delayed telecasts of four Giants exhibitions from the Cactus League: March 16 vs. Cleveland, March 20 vs. Cincinnati, March 25 vs. Oakland and March 27 against the Los Angeles Angels.

– Chris Haft 

Epic showdown: Lincecum vs. Sandoval

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Imagining Pablo Sandoval facing Tim Lincecum is the sort of fantasy many fans probably entertain to break up the offseason monotony.

Well, fantasy became reality Wednesday at Scottsdale Stadium, where Lincecum pitched “live” (full-speed) batting practice to the Kung Fu Panda.

What unfolded was predictable. With pitchers being ahead of the hitters (have you heard that one before?) at this stage of Spring Training, Sandoval did not make authoritative contact off Lincecum. But Sandoval did swing four times in five pitches against the two-time National League Cy Young Award winner, so not much has changed.

Sandoval swung and missed on a Lincecum fastball and took an offspeed pitch before tapping two grounders to the right side. The first of those might have bounced through for a hit, depending on how the infielders might have been positioned. Sandoval finished his confrontation against Lincecum by fouling off a pitch.

“You’re always wondering if he’s going to hit one off the ground that you’re trying to bury, or that changeup right back at you that you left up by accident,” Lincecum said. “I see why he’s a tough guy to face.”

Lincecum, who’ll start next Wednesday’s Cactus League opener against Seattle, was pleased with his batting-practice stint overall. He also faced Nate Schierholtz, Aubrey Huff and Buster Posey, whose line drive to right field was the closest semblance to a hit.

“Everything kind of felt where it should have been,” said Lincecum, who threw all of his pitches.

*****

In other camp developments, infielder-outfielder Mark DeRosa (left wrist) took live BP but only “tracked” pitches and didn’t swing. He’s still expected to be able to participate fully in workouts soon.

Manager Bruce Bochy said that second baseman Freddy Sanchez (left shoulder, left knee) could be ready to begin fielding groundballs by the weekend.

MLB Network will air the Giants’ “Inside the Clubhouse — Town Hall Meeting” on four separate occasions (all times Pacific): Sunday, 9:30 p.m.; Monday, 7:30 p.m.; Tuesday, 1:30 p.m.; Wednesday, midnight.

– Chris Haft

The Man (Willie Mays) arrives

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Willie Mays’ presence is just as powerful as it was when he stood in the batter’s box.

Baseball’s greatest living player made his first appearance of the spring at San Francisco’s camp Monday and immediately commanded awe upon entering the clubhouse. You simply have to appreciate being in the same room with a genuine legend — particularly one as lively as Mays, who loudly greeted visitors.

Veterans such as Todd Wellemeyer, Aubrey Huff and Mark DeRosa, who had never seen Mays in the flesh, simply stared at the man. Players who previously had met Mays, such as Aaron Rowand and Kevin Frandsen, gleefully shook hands with him. Now the spring can begin, right?

Two rookies were especially intrepid. Outfielders Darren Ford and Thomas Neal, who hope to achieve a fraction of what Mays did as a Giant from 1951-72, sat for more than an hour with the Hall of Famer, absorbing advice — as well as some good-natured abuse.

Ford is 24 years old and has never played above Class A. Mays unabashedly recited some of the accomplishments he had piled up at the Major League level by the time he reached that age. Ford, perhaps the fastest player in the Giants organization, mentioned that he had won a stolen-base title; Mays reminded everyone within earshot that he led the National League in thefts four years in a row from 1956-59. “Then I quit,” Mays said, meaning that he ceased concentrating on stolen bases and focused more on slugging.

This was a you-had-to-be-there scene. Any comparison between Mays and Ford is certainly unfair. But Mays made all of this sound playful, not mean and condescending. The smile never left Ford’s face. Toward the conclusion of his visit, Neal and Ford had their fielding gloves on, listening to Mays — a 12-time Gold Glove Award winner — share secrets of his defensive excellence.

Roger Angell, one of the finest baseball writers ever, once wrote of Mays, perhaps the best all-around player ever, “The leader is still leading.” That was in a 1971 article. Some 39 years later, it’s still true.

– Chris Haft
 

Wellemeyer may get No. 5 shot

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Todd Wellemeyer might receive a legitimate chance to challenge Madison Bumgarner for the fifth spot in the Giants’ starting rotation, manager Bruce Bochy indicated Wednesday.

When Wellemeyer signed with San Francisco last week, Giants officials said that the right-hander was being regarded more as a long reliever than as a candidate for the rotation. But Bochy said that Wellemeyer’s presence “makes it more competitive” as he, Bumgarner, Joe Martinez and Kevin Pucetas vie for the rotation’s lone opening.

Some observers believe that Bumgarner, the Giants’ top pitching prospect who’s just 20 years old, would benefit from more Minor League seasoning before taking his inevitable place in the club’s starting five.

*****

Aaron Rowand is 10 pounds lighter than he was last spring, and not because Bochy asked him to bat leadoff.

“I don’t know if he had a crystal ball at his house,” Bochy said.

Rowand took it upon himself to lose weight before Bochy called him to discuss life at the top of the order. Rowand said that he weighs 215, compared to around 225 last Spring Training. He finished the season at 205, reflecting the schedule’s physical rigors.

The center fielder said that he slimmed down by improving his diet and adding bicycling to his workout regimen. Rowand estimated that he rode approximately 2,000-2,200 miles, hitting the pedals four times a week at an average of 25 miles per excursion. 

“I’m 32,” Rowand said. “I need to start doing more cardio stuff.”

– Chris Haft

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