March 2010

Schierholtz picks himself up

Monday, March 29
PHOENIX — Don’t assume that Nate Schierholtz will easily give up in the Giants’ right field competition.

Schierholtz, whose status as the likely Opening Day right fielder was eroded by his inability to hit consistently, smacked an RBI triple and a double, drew a walk and scored three runs Monday in the Giants’ 8-6 exhibition victory over Milwaukee. “It was good for Nate to get a few knocks,” said bench coach Ron Wotus, who managed the final three innings after Bruce Bochy left to attend to a personal matter.

Schierholtz also played the entire game in right field, though that wasn’t tremendously significant.

Here’s what was significant: John Bowker, Schierholtz’s apparent chief rival for the job, kept hitting. Bowker hiked his team-leading totals to five home runs and 20 RBIs with a two-run homer in the fifth inning. He also doubled in the first, helping lift his batting average to .308. Schierholtz is at .241, but his superior defensive skill will continue to be a factor.

Bowker has a Minor League option remaining, but he could make the Opening Day roster if Fred Lewis’ ribcage injury lingers and forces him onto the disabled list.

*****

The afternoon’s most entertaining hitter, however, had to be Eugenio Velez.

Velez cranked a long, long, l-o-n-g drive past the right-field foul pole in the first inning off Milwaukee starter Dave Bush. Velez’s clout was ruled foul.

Undaunted, Velez crushed the next pitch to straightaway right field for a legitimate home run. Everybody knows that Velez is capable of spectacular deeds. But this?

“You don’t see that often, do you?” Wotus said. “We were talking about it in the dugout. [Shawon] Dunston said usually when you do that, it takes the air out of you.”

Historical/personal notes: Ed Bailey followed a foul home run with a “real” homer on the next pitch in Game 162 of the 1962 season to open the Giants’ scoring in their 2-1 victory over Houston that put them in a three-game playoff with the Dodgers. Somewhere I have a collection of highlight tapes that includes Willie McCovey performing the foul-fair/back-to-back act in the mid-1960s (I have a feeling he did this more than once).

And I distinctly recall attending a Giants-Padres doubleheader at Candlestick in 1974 or ’75 when Randy Moffitt faced Bobby Tolan with the bases loaded. Tolan yanked one foul into the upper deck before clobbering Moffitt’s next pitch almost as far, and this time fair, for a grand slam en route to another Giants loss.  

*****

To nobody’s surprise, center fielder Darren Ford won this year’s Harry S. Jordan Award in voting by his teammates, the coaches and the athletic training staff.

The award is given to the player in his first Major League camp whose performance and dedication best exemplifies the San Francisco Giants spirit. Past winners include Tim Lincecum (2007), Pedro Feliz (2001) and Russ Ortiz (1998).

Ford, 24, was San Francisco’s sensation of the spring, impressing all observers with his .500 batting average (10-for-20) and sprinter’s speed.

Reassigned to Minor League camp last Friday, Ford is likely to begin the season with Double-A Richmond.

– Chris Haft

RF up for grabs; long look for Posey; new pact for Cain?

Friday, March 26
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Don’t assume that Nate Schierholtz will be the Giants’ Opening Day right fielder.

Schierholtz was virtually handed the right-field job before Spring Training began, but his pedestrian offense and John Bowker’s torrid hitting prompted the Giants’ braintrust to rethink matters.

Schierholtz is a superior defender who has proven capable of handling AT&T Park’s tricky acreage in right field. But he’s batting .234 with a .280 on-base percentage and 12 strikeouts in 47 at-bats this spring. By contrast, Bowker began Friday tied for the Major League lead with 18 RBIs — due largely to his seven-RBI outburst Wednesday against Kansas City — and is hitting .298 with a .596 slugging percentage and a team-high four home runs.

Bowker also has been strikeout-prone, with 11 in 57 at-bats.

Giants general manager Brian Sabean confirmed that Schierholtz had slipped from his all-but-certain starting perch.

“He’s struggled to the point where you have to pay due respect to the other guys who are going well, including Bowker,” Sabean said Friday.

The Giants’ other reserve outfield candidates are Fred Lewis, who’s batting .222 but has a .528 slugging percentage; Andres Torres, who’s hitting .289 with a .418 on-base percentage and a .578 slugging percentage; and Eugenio Velez, a .298 hitter.<p/>

Referring to the preponderance of qualified outfielders, Sabean said, “Maybe our bigger challenge is how many infielders we keep over outfielders.” He cited left fielder Mark DeRosa, who can play every infield spot, and Velez, who made his first Cactus League appearance at second base Friday and booted a grounder for an error, as “dual-position guys” who can provide flexibility.

*****

Sabean also said that the Giants will keep Buster Posey with them through the conclusion of the exhibition season — though that doesn’t necessarily mean that the organization’s top prospect will make the Opening Day roster.

Reading between the lines of what Sabean said, it seems — <i>seems</i> — that Posey will begin the season with Triple-A Fresno. If that’s the case, Posey probably will join the Giants at the first sign of trouble.

“We’ll keep him to the end,” Sabean said. “I don’t know that the actual decision will need to go to the end. I think, internally, we know what we’re going to do, but obviously we’re going to hold that close to the vest because it’s subject to change and you never know what might happen.”

With the Giants trailing, 3-2, in Friday’s eighth inning against the Los Angeles Angels, Posey hit a windblown ground-rule double that tied the score and lifted his average to .415 with nine RBIs. He has a .442 on-base percentage and a .585 slugging percentage. Manager Bruce Bochy said that there are no plans to try Posey at any position other than catcher and first base.

*****

Friday ended with no official announcement regarding the reported contract extensions for relievers Brian Wilson and Jeremy Affeldt. This prompted speculation that the Giants are engineering an extension for a third player.

A likely suspect is right-hander Matt Cain, whose ridiculously affordable $6.25 club option for 2011 surely will be picked up by the Giants barring a disaster. It would behoove the Giants to reach an agreement with Cain. Otherwise, they’d enter the 2011-12 offseason facing the burden of negotiating with both Cain and Tim Lincecum, whose two-year deal will have expired.

– Chris Haft

SF trades Frandsen to Red Sox

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The Giants cleared 40-man roster room Friday by trading infielder Kevin Frandsen to the Boston Red Sox for a player to be named later or cash considerations.

Frandsen had value for his ability to back up at second base, shortstop and third base, but the Giants needed his roster spot more. As many as two non-roster pitchers, Guillermo Mota and Todd Wellemeyer, could make the Opening Day squad.

An emotional Frandsen, who grew up in San Jose rooting for the Giants, expressed appreciation for the opportunity he received from his hometown team, declaring that he realized he lived a dream for many people.
 

Burriss could be back this season

Thursday, March 25
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The Giants remain hopeful that infielder Emmanuel Burriss can play later this season after undergoing surgery last Sunday on his twice-fractured left foot.

Noted foot and ankle specialist Dr. Robert Anderson performed the procedure in Charlotte, N.C., replacing the screw inserted in Burriss’ foot after last July’s injury with a larger, longer screw. Ideally, this will prevent recurrences of the injury, such as the one Burriss endured in the Giants’ exhibition opener March 3. Giants head athletic trainer Dave Groeschner said Thursday that Dr. Anderson also extracted some bone marrow from Burriss’ hip and sprayed it across the fracture to facilitate healing.

Groeschner said that Burriss will on crutches for 10 to 14 days before shifting to a walking boot. If all goes well, the 25-year-old switch-hitter could be back on the field in 10 weeks.

Had Burriss remained healthy, he would have had a strong chance of making the Opening Day roster, given his ability to play second base and shortstop with equal skill. Kevin Frandsen’s just as versatile, if not more, but the Giants’ braintrust values Burriss’ speed — which he must strive to regain after his latest mishap.

******
Manager Bruce Bochy said that second baseman Freddy Sanchez, who has been hitting off a tee, will graduate to taking soft-toss batting practice Friday. Sanchez is still expected to be sidelined until late April or early May as he recovers from left shoulder surgery.

*****

A group of five position players defeated the starting pitchers in a pregame bunting contest, with a Frandsen bunt in the final round providing the difference.

“I consider that an upset,” Bochy said.

In the early rounds, participants were required to drop bunts within rectangles marked by strings about 20 feet up the first- and third-base lines in fair territory. Then third-base coach Tim Flannery, the team’s bunting guru who organized the contest, converted the rectangles to triangles, reducing the area for a “successful” bunt by more than half.

“It was a tough drill,” Bochy said. “A lot of them laid down perfect bunts that weren’t in the box.”

Tim Lincecum, Barry Zito, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez and Todd Wellemeyer represented the pitchers, while Frandsen, Andres Torres, Mark DeRosa, Pablo Sandoval and Eugenio Velez bearing the standard for the position players.

– Chris Haft

Cain looks ready for regular season

March 23
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Matt Cain had every right to feel tired Tuesday. But he didn’t look fatigued at all.

Cain recorded the longest Cactus League outing by a Giants starter so far, working 6 2/3 innings in Tuesday’s 6-1 victory over the Chicago White Sox. The Giants improved their Major League-best spring record to 16-6 with their sixth consecutive victory and seventh in their last eight games.

Cain surrendered just three hits. Fifth-inning fielding errors committed by first baseman Aubrey Huff and second baseman Matt Downs largely accounted for the lone, unearned run Cain yielded.

Though Cain pitched six innings in his previous appearance, a Minor League exhibition game last Thursday,the deepest he had gone in an exhibition game was a mere three innings. He relished the opportunity to push himself.

“You get to that kind of tired point and you have to start using your legs,” Cain said. “That’s what you want to get to toward the end of spring, to be able to carry that over into the season.”

Cain issued his first walk of the exhibition season when Paul Konerko drew a free pass with two outs in the fourth inning. That remained Cain’s lone walk in 15 1/3 innings this spring. The right-hander struck out just two batters but recorded several outs early in the count, helping him stay on the mound longer.

Cain augmented his effectiveness by using his slider for the first time this spring. “I’m feeling pretty good about everything,” he said. “I’m trying to make sure I can hit both sides of the plate with my fastball and throw strikes with my offspeed stuff.”

*****

The afternoon’s oddest play occurred in the fourth inning, when Chicago’s Gordon Beckham led off with a popup behind the mound. Huff and shortstop Edgar Renteria converged on the ball and collided. Renteria nevertheless caught the ball and held onto it while Huff fell over backward. Still on the ground, Huff pointed at Renteria as he asked him whether he made the catch.

“I will say, Huff wanted the ball,” manager Bruce Bochy said.

*****

Third baseman Pablo Sandoval ended his three-game absence in fine fashion by doubling twice in four at-bats, scoring a run and driving in one. “He didn’t look like he missed a beat,” Bochy said of Sandoval, who needed five stitches to close a cut on his right ankle last Friday after he slid into Cleveland catcher Lou Marson’s shinguard.

– Chris Haft

Posey (yawn) does it again

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Buster Posey’s feats of Cactus League skill have become almost commonplace.

Friday, Posey’s two-out, eighth-inning double off Cleveland left-hander Tony Sipp drove in Matt Downs with Friday’s tiebreaking run as the Giants proceeded to a 7-6 victory over a Cleveland Indians split squad.

Posey again displayed the almost preternatural calm that distinguishes him from most rookies. He fell behind on the count 0-2 before a passed ball sent Matt Downs, who drew a one-out walk, to second base.

Posey then whacked a low curveball into left field and hustled into second base with a slide as Downs came home.

With his .382 batting average and ability to play first base as well as catch, Posey is increasing the Giants’ temptation to keep him on the Opening Day roster.

Manager Bruce Bochy praised Posey’s two-strike approach. “He doesn’t panic,” Bochy said. “He really kept his composure.”

*****

Eugenio Velez received a chance to prove himself in center field. The results were favorable — mostly.

Velez went 3-for-3, drew a walk and scored twice. He also recorded three consecutive outs spanning the first and second innings, making nice running catches on drives hit by Jhonny Peralta and Austin Kearns.

But Velez seemed to drift under a couple of seventh-inning fly balls that were wind-aided and fell for extra-base hits. Maybe the breeze rendered the plays impossible. But the impression here was that a more polished outfielder would have come closer to making the catches.

It’s believed that Velez and Andres Torres are in competition for the same reserve outfield spot. They’re both fast, they both switch-hit and they both can play all three outfield spots. Torres appears to be the better defender. But Velez, who’s out-hitting Torres .367-.290, may have an edge on offense.

*****

Travis Ishikawa, who has overcome torn ligaments in his left foot, made his first Cactus League appearance as a pinch-hitter in the fourth inning. Ishikawa was robbed of a hit by first baseman Matt LaPorta’s diving play. Bochy said that Ishikawa will substitute at first base Saturday against Cincinnati and will start Sunday against Arizona.

*****

Brian Wilson, who has been pitching in the middle innings, received his first “save opportunity” Friday and struck out the side.

Wilson said that though it’s only the Cactus League, “you still have to treat it as a save situation. Whether it counts or not, you still have to get ready.”

– Chris Haft

Hard slide sends Sandoval to bench

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval left Friday’s exhibition game against the Cleveland Indians after sliding hard into home plate to score a first-inning run.

Sandoval scored from first base on Aubrey Huff’s one-out double. Sandoval ran ful-speed all the way and plowed feet-first into Cleveland catcher Lou Marson, though there wasn’t a rough collision. Sandoval did not appear injured upon returning to the dugout, but Kevin Frandsen replaced him at third in the top of the second inning.

– Chris Haft 

Ishikawa approaches return

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Travis Ishikawa could return to first base for the Giants by this weekend.

Ishikawa was expected to play first in a Minor League exhibition Wednesday, marking his initial appearance in the field this spring.

Ishikawa tore ligaments in his left foot before camp opened but has progressed steadily. He said that he accumulated 11 at-bats in Minor League intrasquad games Monday and Tuesday. While his Giants teammates enjoy Thursday’s off-day, Ishikawa will report to the Minor League complex to play another game. Barring setbacks, he believes that he can play in a Cactus League game by Friday or Saturday.

Ishikawa has tested his foot by running the bases after each game. “I don’t know what the speed looks like, but I’m pushing it pretty hard,” he said Wednesday.

The Giants will welcome Ishikawa’s return. Given starting first baseman Aubrey Huff’s occasional defensive struggles, Ishikawa likely will receive plenty of activity as a late-inning replacement this season.<p/>

*****

Wednesday was a promising day for what could be two-fifths of the Giants’ starting rotation.

Barry Zito worked 3 1/3 innings and allowed just one run despite yielding four hits and walking three. He faced a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the third inning when he forced ex-teammate Eric Chavez to hit a comebacker, generating a forceout at home plate. Catcher Bengie Molina barely missed completing an inning-ending double play with his throw to first.

Molina praised Zito’s ability to throw his fastball inside to right-handed batters. “I was very excited every time he hit that corner,” Molina said.

Right-hander Todd Wellemeyer, who’s moving closer to locking up the rotation’s fifth spot, pitched a perfect fifth inning in what amounted to a bullpen tuneup for his start Saturday against Cincinnati.

All spring, Wellemeyer has insisted that he feels like the pitcher who finished 13-9 with a 3.71 ERA in 2008 for St. Louis and not the one who slumped to 7-10, 5.89 last year. He never rested his arm during the 2008-09 offseason, and he notices the difference in his fastball velocity.

“Being able to throw in the mid-90s again is huge,” said Wellemeyer, who has allowed two runs in 10 innings. “Last year it was 90 and I was hoping [the hitters] couldn’t catch up to it. But they did.”

*****

Emmanuel Burriss and the Giants’ medical staff will consider multiple options when they discuss the next move in the infielder’s recovery from a broken bone in his left foot.

Burriss, 25, consulted noted orthopaedic foot and ankle surgeon Dr. Robert Anderson on Tuesday in North Carolina. Dr. Anderson should be a familiar figure to Bay Area sports fans. He performed surgery to fix the stress fracture in the left foot of San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree in March. Crabtree was physically ready to play for the Niners once he ended his holdout in October.

Dr. Anderson didn’t urge any particular course of action, and Burriss isn’t yet certain what he’ll do. He could elect to undergo another operation, which might involve removing the pin that was inserted when he broke his foot last July and replacing it with a larger pin. Or he could skip surgery and allow nature to heal his foot. Burriss also mentioned the possibility that he could forgo surgery and be walking normally in two weeks. That’s obviously far from a guarantee.

*****

The Giants trimmed their spring roster to 46 by optioning third baseman Conor Gillaspie to the Minor Leagues and reassigning the following players to Minor League camp: outfielder Roger Kieschnick, left-handers Craig Clark and Clayton Tanner and right-handers Rafael Cova, Steve Edlefsen, Eric Hacker, Osiris Matos, Dan Turpen and Craig Whitaker.<p/>

– Chris Haft

Willie Mac awards Torres with advice; first cuts made

GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Andres Torres owns a creditable .310 batting average. But as a switch-hitter who’s naturally bats right-handed, he’s susceptible to flaws hitting left-handed.

So Torres listened intently the other day when one of the best left-handed hitters in Giants history — heck, in all of history — summoned him for a chat. Hello, Mr. Willie Lee McCovey.

Sitting in front of the Giants dugout at Scottsdale Stadium, McCovey watched Torres take batting practice and noticed that the outfielder was wagging his bat excessively as he waited for the pitch. That might work for Barry Bonds, but not for Torres, who needs to hit line drives and grounders to capitalize on his speed.

“Wrapping” his bat — angling the barrel toward the pitcher — produced too many harmless fly balls.So McCovey advised Torres on Sunday to hold his bat straighter. “He told me to be more ‘quiet,’ because I was doing too much movement,” Torres said Tuesday.

Torres stuck with his old habits in Monday’s exhibition against Texas, but he tried McCovey’s method on Tuesday in batting practice and in the Giants’ 7-1 loss to the Cleveland Indians. Torres went 1-for-3 in the game and believes that McCovey’s advice will help.

“You have more time to go straight to the ball,” Torres said. “It makes sense.”

*****

Second baseman Freddy Sanchez, who remains limited to hitting balls off a tee, sounded doubtful about appearing in an exhibition to test his recovering left shoulder before the Giants leave Arizona on March 31.

“That hasn’t even been discussed,” Sanchez said.

Sanchez added that he has practiced tee hitting seven times so far. Taking “soft-toss” batting practice — hitting balls flipped underhanded — will be the next step in his progression.

*****

Buster Posey started his first game of the spring at first base and played error-free, though he was challenged occasionally by relatively unfamiliar plays — such as when he had to throw to Tim Lincecum covering first base in the third inning.

“He looks more and more comfortable over there,” manager Bruce Bochy said of Posey, who went 1-for-3 and is batting .429.

It’s fairly obvious, isn’t it? The more the Giants utilize with Posey like this, the more evident it is that they’re intensely curious about finding any way they can to get him on the field (and in the batter’s box) on the Major League level.

*****

The Giants announced their first round of roster cuts after Tuesday’s game. First baseman Brett Pill was optioned out while shortstop Ehire Adrianza, second baseman Nick Noonan, outfielders Wendell Fairley and Thomas Neal and catchers Johnny Monell, Hector Sanchez and Jackson Williams were reassigned to Minor League camp.

Also, right-hander Steve Johnson cleared waivers and was offered back to the Baltimore Orioles, his previous organization.

San Francisco selected Johnson, 22, for $50,000 in last December’s Rule 5 draft. Under terms of the draft, if the Giants determined that Johnson wouldn’t make their Opening Day roster, he had to be offered back to Baltimore for half of the $50,000 purchase price. Johnson recorded a 5.79 ERA in three Cactus League appearances.

The moves left the Giants with 56 players in Major League camp.

– Chris Haft

Lincecum to skip Tucson trip

Tim Lincecum’s appearance Tuesday against the Cleveland Indians will almost surely be his last against Major League competition until next week.

The right-hander’s following turn would come against Arizona on Sunday in Tucson, but the Giants would prefer to spare him the four-hour round trip. So fifth starter candidate Kevin Pucetas will face the Diamondbacks while Lincecum remains in Scottsdale to pitch in a Minor League intrasquad or exhibition game.

Assuming the Giants remain in a five-day pitching rotation, Lincecum’s next outing against big league competition will be Friday, March 26 against the Los Angeles Angels.

*****

Who says Spring Training dates aren’t important? The Giants and Kansas City Royals will make up their March 7 rainout on Wednesday, March 24 in Surprise beginning at 6:05 p.m. That turns the day’s activities for the Giants into a day-night doubleheader, combined with their regularly scheduled game against Cincinnati at 1:05 p.m.

*****

Guillermo Mota looked impressive in the Giants’ split-squad loss to San Diego, working two scoreless innings in a starting role. Manager Bruce Bochy indicated that Mota maintains a strong chance of claiming a spot as a middle reliever on the Opening Day roster.

*****

Sergio Romo finished the Giants’ 8-5 split-squad victory over Texas with a perfect ninth inning. Romo has allowed just two hits in 20 at-bats (.100) and is unscored upon in six appearances.

– Chris Haft

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