March 2010

Posey stays hot; what will Giants do?

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The Giants will face some heavy thinking if Buster Posey sustains his offensive surge.

Posey collected two hits for the second day in a row Saturday in the Giants’ 8-7 split-squad exhibition loss to Oakland. The rookie catcher, renowned as San Francisco’s top position-player prospect, lifted his batting average to .368 and his slugging percentage to .632.

Because Posey has been expected to begin the season with Triple-A Fresno so he could gain experience, manager Bruce Bochy was asked if the 22-year old might be forcing the Giants’ braintrust to reconsider that plan.

“It’s good to see Buster swinging like this,” Bochy said. “It’s really a matter of time. Buster can hit. As we get deeper into spring I can answer those questions a little better. It’s early, but he’s doing what we wanted him to do.”

Bochy plainly stated that he won’t bury Posey on San Francisco’s bench. “We want to continue his development. We don’t want him sitting,” Bochy said. “It’s a matter of if we think he would get enough playing time to warrant being on the club to help us or to continue his progress so we have him ready.”

Bochy added that Posey “possibly” will start a game at first base to help the Giants gauge whether he could play there occasionally. But Bochy also reiterated that he won’t sacrifice Posey’s growth as a catcher to experiment with him at other positions. “I like the way he’s catching. I want to keep him sharp back there,” Bochy said.

*****

In quick succession:

– Tim Lincecum will receive four days’ rest, his full regular-season complement, before making his next start Tuesday against Cleveland. Madison Bumgarner will start Monday night’s split-squad game against Texas while a host of relievers will work the evening’s other split-squad game against San Diego.

– Kevin Pucetas remained in contention for the fifth starter’s spot by throwing three hitless innings in the Giants’ other split-squad contest, an 8-4 victory over Seattle. Pucetas is unscored upon in seven innings spanning three appearances and has allowed three hits. He has walked none and struck out three.

– Right-hander Joe Martinez, the fifth starter candidate who allowed four runs in one inning in his lone spring appearance, believes that the inflammation in his throwing elbow will have subsided enough to allow him to resume throwing in a couple of days.

– This isn’t shocking news, but Bochy made his strongest declaration yet regarding second baseman Freddy Sanchez’s unavailability for the April 5 regular-season opener at Houston. “He’s not going to be ready,” Bochy said of Sanchez, who’s recovering from a left shoulder injury. “He’s come along fine, but there’s not enough time.”

– First baseman Travis Ishikawa (torn ligaments in left foot) might be ready to resume playing in about a week, Bochy said.

– Right-hander Matt Cain admitted that he elevated some breaking pitches while allowing Oakland five runs and eight hits in 2 2/3 innings. However, Cain still hasn’t walked a batter in 8 2/3 innings this spring. “It obviously means you’re around the strike zone,” Cain said, pleased with this development.

– Right-handed reliever Santiago Casilla, stuck in the Dominican Republic with visa problems, finally arrived in camp and struck out the only batter he faced, Ryan Sweeney, to end the fifth inning against Oakland.

– Chris Haft

Posey sparkles again; Torres is torrid

TUCSON, Ariz. — Buster Posey demonstrated Friday why the Giants drafted him fifth overall and handed him a $6.2 million signing bonus two years ago.

Posey opened the scoring in the Giants’ 9-2 exhibition victory over the Colorado Rockies with a two-out, first-inning single off Jorge De La Rosa, last year’s winningest National League left-hander with a 16-9 record. Posey drove in the final run in San Francisco’s four-run fifth inning with a double to left-center, a line drive that touched down in the middle of the outfield but was hit so hard that Rockies center fielder Carlos Gonzalez couldn’t catch up with it.

Posey also unleashed a fourth-inning throw to second base that nullified the decent jump Troy Tulowitzki got on a steal attempt. The throw beat Tulowitzki, but umpire Chris Guccione changed his call from “out” to “safe” when shortstop Kevin Frandsen dropped the ball.

“The more action he has gotten, the more comfortable he is,” Bochy said of Posey, who’s batting .333 (5-for-15) this spring and is competing with Eli Whiteside for the backup catching job.

Bochy was particularly impressed with Posey’s throw on Tulowitzki. “Electric,” said Bochy, adding that the Giants’ staff timed Posey’s release at 1.9 seconds. The Major League average is 2.0.

*****

Andres Torres also turned in a strong all-around performance, doubling twice in three at-bats and ranging far and wide in center field to record four putouts in the first two innings. By that time, Bochy said, “He pretty much locked up the game ball.”

Four of Torres’ five hits this spring have gone for extra bases, explaining why his slugging percentage (.556) doubles his batting average (.278).

*****

In Scottsdale, left-hander Barry Zito remained on his work schedule by throwing 60 pitches in the equivalent of five innings against Minor Leaguers. Zito yielded two hits and no runs while walking none, striking out one and hitting a batter.

*****

This was likely the Giants’ final spring game at Hi Corbett Field, since the Rockies are moving to a Phoenix-area facility next year. The cozy ballpark, which was built in 1937, is so old that Hall of Famer Bob Feller actually pitched in it.

The Giants and Rockies received an unofficial flyover during the National Anthem as a pair of Air Force jets returned to a nearby base. Several other planes flew overhead during the afternoon.

“I did think about it,” Bochy said of the Giants’ finale. “As much as the game, I’m going to miss the planes, the show they put on sometimes.”

– Chris Haft

Sanchez intends to stop thieves

MESA, Ariz. — Jonathan Sanchez distinguished himself last year by pitching a no-hitter and ranking fourth among National League pitchers in strikeouts per nine innings and opponents’ batting average.

But that wasn’t all.

Opponents stole 24 bases while Sanchez was on the mound, the NL’s highest total. Though the responsibility for some those thefts rested with Giants catchers, basestealers undoubtedly capitalized on Sanchez’s leisurely pitching motion.

Toward the end of last season, Sanchez began working more intently with pitching coach Dave Righetti on improving his slide-step to home plate and his pickoff move to first base. Sanchez’s improvement with the latter was evident against the Chicago Cubs in Wednesday’s first inning, when he picked off Ryan Theriot.

“I had too many stolen bases last year,” said Sanchez, who practiced his move in the offseason in front of a mirror.

The successful pickoff contributed to the impression that Sanchez is poised for a breakout season. He blanked Chicago for three innings in the Giants’ 5-1 victory and is unscored upon over five innings in two exhibition appearances.

“My fastball was jumping out of my hand,” said Sanchez, who also expressed satisfaction with his offspeed pitches.

Sanchez, who’s expected to start the Giants’ April 9 home opener against Atlanta, said that he’s not yet ready for the regular season. “But I’m close,” he said. “Almost there.”

*****

The competition for reserve roles on the Opening Day roster is too close to call at this juncture. Most of the contenders are playing well, and the remaining ones have not eliminated themselves.

John Bowker is batting .333 (6-for-18) with a team-high 11 total bases. He also has a .611 slugging percentage and a .429 on-base percentage.

Eugenio Velez and Kevin Frandsen are hitting .385 and .357, respectively.

Fred Lewis is hitting only .214 but has a .571 slugging percentage, thanks to a home run and a triple. Similarly, Andres Torres owns a .250 batting average but a .500 slugging percentage.

*****

Manager Bruce Bochy knows that the Giants’ 7-1 Cactus League record is largely meaningless, though he pointed out that it does carry some significance.

“The one thing it indicates is that the kids are playing well,” he said, referring to San Francisco’s rookie corps. “They’re playing half the game and doing a great job.”

Bochy added that this will end after the weekend. Next week, he said, San Francisco’s regulars will begin playing together more frequently.

*****

Right-hander Joe Martinez is experiencing soreness in his right shoulder and is expected to undergo an MRI to determine the source of his discomfort.

– Chris Haft

Maybe Omar will play forever

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Same time, next year for Omar Vizquel? Perhaps.

The former Giants shortstop returned to Scottsdale Stadium with the Chicago White Sox on Tuesday as he approaches his 22nd Major League season. Vizquel turns 43 in April, but he didn’t rule out continuing to play beyond this year.

“I’m just letting my body tell me when,” Vizquel said as he fixed himself a peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich before the Giants’ 6-2 exhibition victory. “My body’s holding on good, I’m feeling good, I feel I have the passion for it, I consider that I had a good year last year (.266 in 62 games with Texas) and that’s why I’m here, because my body’s telling me that I can still be out there and compete with the other guys.”

Lasting as long as Vizquel isn’t easy, though. He said that practically lived in the gymnasium during the offseason to prepare himself for this spring.

“There is so so much competition,” he said. “If I want to compete, I have to stay strong, flexible quick, agile.”

Also during the offseason, Omar Vizquel nearly joined a school for aspiring bullfighters in his native Venezuela.

By contrast, when it comes to managing a Major League team, which he’d like to do, Vizquel believes he can bypass an extensive apprenticeship. He’s willing to coach on the Major League level for a few years before becoming a big-league skipper. But spending years and years in the Minors before ascending, as some managers do, is not for him, as he has stated previously.

*****

So what if Mark DeRosa began facing “real” pitchers in batting practice only Sunday? He singled on the first pitch he saw in Tuesday’s exhibition.

“Spring Training’s about working on things. I understand you have to take some pitches,” DeRosa said. “But at the same token, this is my first time I’ve seen live action in four or five months. So I at least wanted to pull the trigger on a few things.”

DeRosa left the game after four innings — “I could have played nine,” he insisted — and isn’t expected to play Wednesday against the Chicago Cubs.

*****

First baseman Aubrey Huff rejoined the team after a case of food poisoning sidelined him Monday. Still feeling queasy, Huff didn’t play against the White Sox but likely will make Wednesday’s trip to Mesa for the Cubs game.

*****

Using closer Brian Wilson for two innings against the White Sox wasn’t really unusual. “It gives him a chance to work on his pitches,” Bochy said.

– Chris Haft

Posey plays complete game in more ways than one

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Starting his first Cactus League game of this spring at catcher, Buster Posey demonstrated why he’s the Giants’ top position-player prospect.

Posey excelled defensively, which is always a catcher’s top priority, while playing all nine innings of the Giants’ 6-2 exhibition victory over the Chicago White sox. He threw out a Sox baserunner attempting to steal second, barely missed nabbing another runner and looked nimble overall.

Posey also rapped two hits, including an opposite-field home run to right in the Giants’ five-run eighth inning, though even he admitted that the drive was windblown.

A change at catcher is not imminent. Bengie Molina will remain the primary starter, and, as everybody who has been paying attention knows, Posey might open the season at Triple-A Fresno. Still, this was a step forward for Posey, especially since he shared game experience with five pitchers (Matt Cain, Jeremy Affeldt, Brian Wilson, Dan Runzler and Sergio Romo) who almost certainly will be mainstays for the Giants.

“He’s very observant,” Cain said of Posey. “He tries to see what you want to do. He asks questions. He does a great job on that part. He learns really quickly with catching guys.”

One of Posey’s finer moments was a quintessential not-in-the-boxscore play. In the third inning, speedy Juan Pierre chopped a pitch in front of home plate. Pierre didn’t move, believing the ball was foul. But Posey sprang from his crouch, grabbed the ball and tagged Pierre about as quickly as you can say, “You’re out.”

Posey explained that plays like that are why catchers work so diligently at improving their lower-body “explosion” through weightlifting. The more leg strength a catcher possesses, the quicker he can propel himself.

“That’s the type of stuff you can’t really work on,” Posey said, referring to the Pierre play, “other than in the weight room.”

Posey’s pair of hits lifted his spring average from .143 to .273. “I’ve felt pretty good the whole time,” he said. “My timing’s there, though I’ve clipped the ball a little bit or rolled it over.”

– Chris Haft

Kieschnick excels, execution lags, legends reunite

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — It wasn’t a regular-season Giants-Dodgers game, but rookie right fielder Roger Kieschnick sensed that he probably made a lot of fans happy on Monday.

With the score tied 2-2 in the 10th inning, Kieschnick cleanly fielded Angel Berroa’s single and made a strong, one-hop throw home that retired Ronnie Belliard, who was trying to score from second base. In the bottom of the inning, Kieschnick drilled a leadoff single and was replaced by pinch-runner Francisco Peguero, who scored on Ryan Rohlinger’s long single to right field to give the Giants a 3-2 victory.

Kieschnick, who excelled for San Francisco’s Class A San Jose affiliate last year, caught a whiff of hostility when the younger Giants would confront the Dodgers’ California League representatives, the Inland Empire 66ers. “They hated us just as much as anything,” Kieschnick said. “You definitely got a sense of the rivalry.”

Kieschnick, who’ll probably begin the season at Double-A Richmond, said that he was fully prepared mentally to handle Berroa’s single and Belliard’s fruitless dash home. “That play goes over and over in your mind before it happens,” he said.

*****

The Giants went hitless in their first five at-bats with runners on third base and less than two out, which didn’t please manager Bruce Bochy. “Our execution wasn’t very good today,” he said.

Example: Eugenio Velez grounded out to first base on the first pitch with runners on second and third and one out in the second inning. “He was too aggressive,” Bochy said. Noting that Velez hacked at a breaking ball from Dodgers starter Chad Billingsley, Bochy added, “We have to do a little better job of pitch selection there.”

Velez atoned in the fourth inning by dumping a two-out RBI single to center field following John Bowker’s triple off Clayton Kershaw.

*****

Many “you-had-to-be-there” moments are often not worth retelling. But since this involved two Giants legends, I’ll give it a try.

Willie McCovey, who needs no introduction, arrived on the scene Monday for his annual Spring Training visit. McCovey was beginning to leave the training complex, walking slowly on his crutches. Then he suddenly made a U-turn and headed for the Giants’ clubhouse, where Willie Mays — who also needs no introduction — was seated at his usual perch.

McCovey entered the clubhouse and headed directly for Mays. “Hey, Buck!” McCovey called, addressing Mays by the nickname he went by in his playing days. “Where’s my book?” Mays, whose recently released biography is soaring on the best-seller lists, laughed as 1,181 home runs shook hands.

*****

The Giants’ shortage of first basemen worsened as Aubrey Huff remained home with an illness. Kevin Frandsen, who played 17 games at first base last season for Triple-A Fresno, started and played six innings capably. Buster Posey appeared in his second game in a row at first base, though he later switched to catcher.

Travis Ishikawa, recovering from torn ligaments in his left foot, took batting practice on the field for the first time. But Bochy wasn’t certain when Ishikawa, who had been expected to back up Huff, will be ready to play. Meanwhile, Frandsen, Posey, Matt Downs and Brett Pill will play first whenever Huff rests or is unavailable.

Mark DeRosa, who tested his surgically repaired left wrist by swinging off Minor League pitchers Sunday, felt fine and should play his first exhibition game Tuesday or Wednesday.

– Chris Haft

Sandoval looks slick; Romo feels relieved

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Pablo Sandoval presumably has more work to do before he reaches what the Giants consider an acceptable playing weight, but the third baseman looked nimble enough in their 5-3 exhibition victory Thursday over the Milwaukee Brewers.

Playing his first Cactus League game, Sandoval moved quickly to his left to snare catcher Eli Whiteside’s wide throw as Brewers baserunner Rickie Weeks, who had broken for second base, tried to advance to third once Barry Zito’s first-inning pitch went to the backstop. Sandoval deftly grabbed Whiteside’s one-hop peg and tagged out Weeks.

Sandoval also made a nice play to open the third inning as he charged Corey Hart’s roller and made a strong off-balance throw to first for the out.

*****

Right-hander Sergio Romo observed his 27th birthday Thursday. In his mind, he had more to celebrate than turning one year older.

Romo pointed out that he strained his throwing elbow last year in the second exhibition game and first home date of the Cactus League season, when he yielded six ninth-inning runs to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

So when Romo took the mound in the ninth inning against the Brewers, all he wanted to do was leave the game physically whole.

“I didn’t care what happened today,” Romo said. “They could have lit me up.” That didn’t come close to happening, as Romo struck out two in a perfect inning to record a save.

Romo, who the Giants are counting on to shoulder part of the late-inning setup load, praised the Giants’ athletic training staff for keeping him sound.

“I worked with them all offseason,” he said. “This is probably the most healthy I’ve been.”

*****

Two days, two at-bats and two hits for Jesus Guzman, who commanded attention with his torrid hitting last spring. “He’s starting up again, isn’t he?” manager Bruce Bochy said.

Another fast starter is Kevin Frandsen, who’s 3-for-5 in two games. Frandsen, who’s competing for a reserve middle infield role, could benefit from increased exposure while Emmanuel Burriss (left foot) is sidelined.

– Chris Haft

Burriss hurts foot; Huff starts slugging

PEORIA, Ariz. — Despite their 8-7, 10-inning victory Wednesday over the Seattle Mariners, the Giants endured an ominous beginning to the Cactus League season, as infielder Emmanuel Burriss apparently aggravated his injured left foot.

Burriss, who considered himself fully healed after breaking a bone in his foot last July, hit a two-run double in the fourth inning and stole third base. He left the game after doubling again in the sixth inning.

“He said he felt something in the same foot, same area,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “He looked very dejected and discouraged. It’s been a long road for him.”

With second baseman Freddy Sanchez (left shoulder) likely to begin the season on the disabled list and Juan Uribe expected to replace him in the lineup, Burriss entered Spring Training with a strong chance to make the Opening Day roster as a backup middle infielder.

*****

Cleanup hitter Aubrey Huff immediately asserted himself by belting a two-run homer on the first pitch he saw from Mariners starter Doug Fister with one out in the first inning.

“He wants to make a good first impression,” Bochy said.

Huff downplayed his prowess. “[Fister] happened to throw a fastball right there,” he said.

*****

Huff was more impressed with left-hander Madison Bumgarner, who threw two shutout innings.

“His pickoff move — holy cow! He caught me off guard,” Huff said. “He has one of the best pickoff moves I’ve seen.”

Bumgarner’s fastball was clocked in the 89-90 mph range, a tad slower than his best velocity readings. Then again, pitching coach Dave Righetti advised him not to overthrow. “He said, ‘You’re not going to make the team on the first day,’ and that makes a lot of sense,” said Bumgarner, who’s competing for the fifth starter’s spot.

Bumgarner said that he maintained his concentration despite the recent death of his half-sister, Dena Byrd. “I think it would be hard for me to get distracted,” he said. “It’s a huge loss, but when I get on the mound, everything goes away and it’s just me and the catcher.”

*****

Bengie Molina, for one, doesn’t anticipate any retaliation directed toward Milwaukee’s Prince Fielder on Thursday, when the Giants and Brewers meet in Scottsdale.

“I think we don’t want anybody suspended to start the season,” Molina said.

Fielder angered the Giants last Sept. 6 when he punctuated his game-winning, 12th-inning homer with an obviously choreographed home-plate celebration.

*****

Aaron Rowand more than did his job as San Francisco’s leadoff batter, collecting two hits and a sacrifice fly in five innings.

“It’s always exciting to be the first guy up there, especially in the first game,” said Rowand, who singled to open the game. “But nothing overwhelming.”

Three pitches after his game-opening hit, Rowand was on the move as he scored on Fred Lewis’ triple.

“It was actually kind of neat to get that out of the way right away,” Rowand said. “Hopefully, I’ll have to do that quite a bit this year.”

*****

Referring to the game’s three-hour, 44-minute duration, one Giants coach sarcastically declared before heading for the team bus, “I can’t believe the sun’s still out.”

– Chris Haft

Ford, Bowker highlight intrasquad game

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Center fielder Darren Ford turned the Giants’ intrasquad game Monday into a one-inning personal showcase.

Widely considered the organization’s fastest player, Ford raced into the right-center field gap to catch Francisco Peguero’s line drive for the game’s first out. Ford then led off the inning’s bottom half by tripling to left-center field. He proceeded to score on Kevin Frandsen’s groundout.

Ford slid into third base, but he easily would have been safe had he gone in standing up. Not too many players possess enough speed to hit standup triples to left or left-center. This 24-year-old does.

“It’s always a blessing to go out there,” said Ford, who seems truly humble. “I was given a gift. I’m just using it any way I can, whether it’s offensively or defensively.”

Ford amassed nine triples (while stealing 35 bases) in 380 at-bats while hitting .300 for Class A San Jose. He acknowledged that he was thinking “third base” once he left the batter’s box. It’s a habit for him.

“I try tio go as far as I can until they stop me,” he said.

After Ford scored, John Bowker belted a drive down the right-field line that somehow stayed fair. It was an impressive home run by Bowker, a left-handed hitter who defied the percentages by victimizing left-handed pitcher Clayton Tanner.

That was it for the scoring as Richmond manager Andy Skeels’ “Armed Forces” defeated “Harper’s Heroes,” led by San Jose manager Brian Harper, 2-0 in three innings. Craig Clark, Tony Pena Jr., Dan Turpen, Craig Whitaker and Rafael Cova each pitched a shutout inning.

– Chris Haft

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