May 2010

Tidbits from Tuesday

Tuesday, May 25

SAN FRANCISCO — Shortstop Edgar Renteria’s right hamstring injury is extremely ominous.

Renteria’s 34. He struggled through elbow and shoulder ailments last year. He worked hard to return healthy this season, and his .326 batting average reflects the fruits of his labor.

But he missed two games in late April with discomfort in his left shoulder. Then he went on the 15-day disabled list with a strained right groin. Renteria rejoined the lineup last Saturday in Oakland, and now comes his hamstring injury.

It’s fair to wonder whether Renteria’s body is breaking down. This is not at all a criticism of Renteria. It’s just a question that inevitably arises when an athlete his age, who has played as extensively and diligently as he has, encounters an alarming sequence of injuries.

So much for the retooled lineup manager Bruce Bochy used in the series-opening 4-2 victory over the Washington Nationals. Juan Uribe likely will return to shortstop, with Pablo Sandoval going back to third base and Aubrey Huff resuming his tenure at first base after his Tuesday stint in left field. John Bowker probably will play left, unless Nate Schierholtz’s bruised right shoulder has healed enough to enable him to start in right field. If that’s the case, Andres Torres, who appears destined to stay in the lineup for a while, will occupy left.

*****

After striking out the side in Tuesday’s ninth inning for his 11th save, Giants closer Brian Wilson has 27 strikeouts in 17 1/3 innings. That’s a rate of 14.02 whiffs per nine innings. Remarkable.

*****

You may have read this elsewhere, but right-hander Zack Wheeler, the Giants’ first-round selection (sixth overall) in the First-Year Player Draft who’s pitching for low-Class A Augusta, went on the disabled list with what manager Dave Machemer called “a problem with a fingernail” on his throwing hand, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

In the Minors, a visit to the DL requires a minimum seven-day stay instead of the 15-day base in the Majors.

Wheeler, who turns 20 on Sunday, is 1-3 with a 5.03 ERA in seven starts, though he has improved somewhat in his last four outings (1-1, 3.95).

*****

Don’t mean to scare you, but had the Giants lost Tuesday, they would have dropped into fourth place in the National League West. Then again, with 118 games remaining, there’s no need to dwell on the standings. 

– Chris Haft

Sandoval almost salvages day

Saturday, May 22

OAKLAND — The Giants’ best offensive moment occurred toward the end of their 1-0 loss Saturday.

Facing A’s closer Andrew Bailey with two outs in the ninth inning and Edgar Renteria on first base, Pablo Sandoval battled the right-hander through a 10-pitch plate appearance to draw a walk.

Sandoval did so despite falling behind on the count 0-2. He worked the count admirably, fouling off four two-strike pitches before Bailey threw ball four.

Bailey had thrown some wicked curveballs earlier in the inning, but threw exclusively hard stuff to Sandoval. Had Bailey tried an offspeed pitch to Sandoval, the Kung Fu Panda might have screwed himself into the dirt with the force of his swing.

But that borders on downright unfair. Credit Sandoval for a restrained, patient, effective at-bat that briefly prolonged the Giants’ hopes.

*****

Manager Bruce Bochy’s potential changes in the batting order could include the return of Juan Uribe, possibly as a designated hitter. Slowed by a tight left hamstring, Uribe pinch-hit Saturday and said after the game that he might be available to play more fully on Sunday.

– Chris Haft

Uribe update: Day-to-day

Friday, May 21

OAKLAND — As expected, the tightness in Juan Uribe’s left hamstring is nothing serious. The infielder’s playing status is day-to-day, so he could be ready to resume activity at any time.

“It’s not too bad,” Uribe said.

Uribe said that he began sensing discomfort in his hamstring on Thursday. He felt it again on Friday, when he moved to his left to corral Ryan Sweeney’s first-inning grounder. Some observers also noticed that Uribe didn’t look right even when he merely stood in the batter’s box to draw his second-inning walk. By the third inning he was out of the game.

While Uribe sits for a day or two, as is likely, Giants manager Bruce Bochy will be spared some difficult decisions. Saturday, shortstop Edgar Renteria will leave the disabled list and will reclaim his starting role. That will force Bochy to bench either second baseman Freddy Sanchez or Uribe, who’s being unseated from shortstop and can also play second base.

Had Uribe remained healthy, this might not have been a problem on Saturday for Bochy, who indicated that Sanchez could receive a rest after playing three consecutive games. Bochy also could have used either Sanchez or Uribe as a designated hitter, since Bengie Molina, Friday’s DH, is likely to catch Saturday.

*****

Though 15 of the Giants’ last 18 games have been decided by three runs or fewer, two of the last three have been lopsided — Friday’s 6-1 loss to the A’s and Wednesday’s 13-1 shellacking at Arizona. The Giants have lost three games in a row and four of their last five.

*****

Need to derive something positive from the Giants’ performance Friday? Besides Barry Zito’s respectable effort, which bore little resemblance to his statistical line, Pablo Sandoval looked like himself as he rapped two sharp singles. He’s hitting .357 (10-for-28) during a modest seven-game hitting streak.

– Chris Haft

 

Blast from the past: Defending Ken Henderson

Monday, May 17

SAN DIEGO — By and large, Giants fans are a good bunch. But a nameless, faceless segment of them have tremendously disappointed me.

Sunday, the San Francisco Chronicle ranked the top 50 “busts” of all time in professional sports, based on more than 600 responses to an original list of 10. As a locally produced endeavor, the newspaper’s roster has a distinct Bay Area flavor.

Stuff like this is supposed to be lighthearted fun, but I was dismayed to see former Giants outfielder Ken Henderson listed as Bust No. 46. This is absolutely unjust, unconscionable, un-fricking-everything.

Before I bluster further, in no way am I criticizing Vittorio Tafur, the writer of this piece. All Mr. Tafur did was compile the readers’ comments. But those who called Henderson a bust possess either a lousy memory, lousy judgment or both.

Henderson was listed because he was expected to “fill Willie Mays’ shoes,” as Tafur wrote. A .257 lifetime hitter with 122 home runs and 576 RBIs spanning all or part of 16 seasons, Henderson certainly fell short of the standards set by the great Mays.

But by the time I began following the Giants in 1969 (fine, I’m revealing my age), it was generally accepted that Henderson would not be the next Mays — and, to the best of my recollection, this prompted no undue scorn from fans or the media. Heck, as good as Bobby Bonds was, he didn’t turn out to be the next Mays either, though he, too, was mentioned as a successor. Never mind that billing anybody as the “next” (fill in superstar’s name here) is patently ridiculous, regardless of the sport.

Henderson was not a remarkable player, but he was competent. Stationed mostly in left field, he had a nice season in 1970, when he became a regular (.294, 17 homers, 88 RBIs, .394 on-base percentage), and a fair one in 1971 (.264, 15 homers, 65 RBIs, .370 on-base percentage), when the Giants won the National League West title.

The switch-hitting Henderson batted only .257 in 1972. But he made his final season with the Giants memorable by sustaining one of the most torrid monthlong performances in franchise history. That August he hit .409 (45-for-110) with 11 homers, 28 RBIs, 28 runs, a .445 on-base percentage and an .800 slugging percentage.

That helped him get traded to the Chicago White Sox in November, 1972 with right-hander Steve Stone for Tom Bradley, who was a disappointment as a Giant (23-26, 4.56 from 1973-75). That deal never gets considered among the Giants’ worst in their San Francisco history. But it didn’t help them much. Trading Henderson created room for Gary Matthews, who won the NL’s Rookie of the Year Award in 1973. But Stone proceeded to win a Cy Young Award with Baltimore in 1980, while Bradley never pitched in the Majors after his Giants tenure ended.

The bottom line is, if you’re going to select a Giants “bust,” far more extreme examples than Henderson exist. One of them appeared on the list — the Orlando Cepeda-for-Ray Sadecki trade at No. 30. The Gaylord Perry-for-Sam McDowell and George Foster-for-Frank Duffy-and-Vern Geishert deals were equally dreadful. Or you can rummage through the grab bag of failed prospects (Andre Rodgers, Rich Murray, J.R. Phillips, Lance Niekro, Todd Linden, etc.). At least Henderson had a few solid seasons with the Giants and a long big-league career.

If it sounds like I’m biased, I’ll admit that I most definitely am. Ken Henderson was one of the nicest guys ever to wear a San Francisco Giants uniform. He signed autographs before virtually every game I attended at Candlestick Park before he was traded, and it seemed like the smile never left his face as he scribbled away. I had the privilege of meeting Henderson at one of the Giants’ 50th Anniversary functions in 2008, and after interviewing him briefly for a project of mine, I asked him about his tireless autograph-signing. “My dad,” he explained, “told me to make sure I gave something back to the game.”

I understand that on-field performance was all that mattered in the Chronicle survey. But a person like Ken Henderson, whose diligence on the field was matched or exceeded by his earnestness off it, doesn’t deserve to be cited as a “bust.”

– Chris Haft

One way to get Posey up here

Friday, May 14

SAN FRANCISCO — This is not a recommendation; I don’t know if it’s even a suggestion. It’s just a thought.

If the Giants believe that promoting Buster Posey from Triple-A Fresno and installing him in the lineup would help their offense, here’s an option:

Put Posey at first base and move Aubrey Huff to left field. I’m sure several bloggers and maybe one of my counterparts/competitors already has raised this subject. If so, I apologize for sounding like I’m plagiarizing. But I’m not, since it doesn’t seem to have been widely circulated.

I think manager Bruce Bochy was dropping a hint recently when he praised Huff’s athleticism and said that he believed that, with a little training, Huff could play the outfield respectably. I’m not sure whether this would complicate matters, but most of Huff’s outfield experience actually is in right field — 237 games out of 245, according to baseball-reference.com. Still, Huff probably would adjust better to left field at AT&T Park, since he wouldn’t have to deal with the tricky archways and the wall in right field at home.

The Giants wouldn’t necessarily be giving up on Posey as a catcher. There’s always next year, assuming Bengie Molina doesn’t return (and given Molina’s re-signing this past offseason, I won’t assume anything). Again, this is just a possible way to get Posey’s bat in the lineup.

Your move, Giants.

– Chris Haft

In praise of Tim Lincecum

Monday, May 10

NEW YORK — Don’t forget: Tim Lincecum very well could be 7-0.

Lincecum has endured three consecutive no-decisions, including the Giants’ 6-5 victory Sunday at New York. In each game, Lincecum sustained stretches of shutout ball, was charged with no more than three runs and left the game with leads that the bullpen proceeded to squander.

The point here is not to rip the relief staff, which in the long run should preserve more of Lincecum’s victories than it spoils. This is just a reminder that Your Favorite Miniature Right-hander is pitching much better than his 4-0 record indicates.

Something that got overlooked in Sunday’s game coverage: Lincecum has become a much more complete pitcher. He has developed into such an effective bunter that it was a surprise to see him fail to sacrifice Ryan Rohlinger into scoring position in the fourth inning. Two innings later, Lincecum made a fabulous defensive play when he made an artful over-the-shoulder grab of Alex Cora’s impossibly high chopper and threw to first base for the out.

Lincecum has developed into a decent enough hitter to improve his .188 average and he’s obviously a deft fielder. If he can’t win a third Cy Young Award, how about a Silver Slugger or a Gold Glove?

– Chris Haft  

Plenty to salvage for Giants in defeat

Saturday, May 8

NEW YORK — The Giants actually did a lot more right than they did wrong on Saturday. But their 5-4 loss to the New York Mets obscured that.

Many of their 44 plate appearances resulted in quality at-bats. Aubrey Huff made solid contact each time up. Aaron Rowand, after going 0-for-3, came through with a key single in the Giants’ two-run eighth inning that tied the score. Juan Uribe had a big two-out RBI single in the fourth. Eli Whiteside reached base safely in three of his four plate appearances, singling solidly twice.

Nate Schierholtz lined a pinch-hit single to lead off the eighth against Johan Santana and is now batting .471 (8-for-17) against left-handers. Facing Mets closer Francisco Rodriguez for the second game in a row, pinch-hitter John Bowker didn’t hit another home run, but managed to coax a 10th-inning walk.

As for struggling Pablo Sandoval, the Kung Fu Panda still looked like he was fighting himself. But he wasn’t helpless, either. He blooped a fourth-inning single to right-center field and launched an eighth-inning sacrifice fly off Santana on a two-strike count. “That was a little relief for him,” manager Bruce Bochy said, summarizing Sandoval’s day. “I thought he took some better swings.”

Bochy will take all of this into account as he assembles Sunday’s lineup. He didn’t rule out resting Sandoval, who has started all 29 games at third base. Schierholtz likely will return to right field; his prowess against lefties — the Giants face Mets southpaw Oliver Perez — doesn’t hurt.

On to the pitching. Brandon Medders recorded what might have been his best outing of the season, working 2 2/3 scoreless innings to trim his ERA from 6.23 to 4.76. Jeremy Affeldt blew away the Mets for two innings, striking out two. The pair of eighth-inning hits he allowed were bloops that no fielder could reach. “That was the best I’ve felt all year,” Affeldt said. This is particularly encouraging for the Giants, who are relying on Affeldt to be a shutdown setup man.

“I was aggressive early [in the count],” he said. “I was getting strike one instead of falling behind early. I threw curveballs for strikes when I needed to and for balls when I needed to.”

About the only thing the Giants neglected to do was win.

– Chris Haft

Best wishes for Dave Roberts

Monday, May 3

This will be one of the briefest blog entries ever entered in this space. It’s also the most fervent.

At the risk of sounding melodramatic, please pray for Dave Roberts. who is being treated for Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He says his prognosis is good, but we all know how insidious these diseases are. You can’t wish anybody stricken in this way enough good luck.

Anybody who has had the privilege of meeting Dave knows what a prince of a man he is. I won’t belabor the point. If anybody’s interested, here’s the link to a blog I wrote in 2009 about him.

All the best, Dave! God bless you and get well!

– Chris Haft

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