June 2010

Giants might have a winner with Bumgarner

Saturday, June 26

SAN FRANCISCO — What’s most impressive about Madison Bumgarner isn’t his fastball or his offspeed pitches or even his polished swing (that’s right, you should see him hit). It’s his poise.

Let it sink in: Bumgarner’s 20. He won’t turn 21 until Aug. 1. Yet he handled his 2010 Giants debut like a complete professional after those two rough early innings against the Boston Red Sox. He could have imploded after surrendering two quick homers and four instant runs, but instead he shut out the Major Leagues’ highest-scoring team for his final five innings.

Throw Bumgarner into the same category as Buster Posey. They’re not returning to Triple-A this year. Well, it’s possible, but it’s highly doubtful.

*****

Tim Lincecum remains extremely intriguing to watch. His outing Sunday against Boston will be no exception.

By winning his last three starts, Lincecum has indeed rebounded from his May slump (1-2, 4.95 in three appearances).

There’s just one mild sign of concern: Lincecum has allowed 28 hits in 29 innings spanning four outings in June. Allow me to emphasize the word “mild.” The bottom line is, Lincecum’s winning, and he looks much better than he did in May. But even he expressed some dissatisfaction over his yield of hits: “I kind of want it to be a little more simple and give up less hits,” he said last Tuesday after surrendering seven hits and an unearned run in eight innings at Houston.

Most pitchers probably would love to have this kind of worry. But Lincecum will be facing the Majors’ most potent offense — albeit without injured Dustin Pedroia and benched DH David Ortiz — so this will be a good test.

*****

Any of us lucky enough to live to age 91 should wish to be half as sharp as Monte Irvin is at that age. The former New York Giants outfielder, whose jersey number 20 was officially retired Saturday, remains witty and articulate, as the stories on the website demonstrate.

Saturday’s AT&T Park crowd was appreciative of all the Hall of Famers present, but the applause for Willie Mays seemed especially loud and long. I wouldn’t be surprised if James Hirsch’s remarkable biography, “Willie Mays: The Life, The Legend,” has led readers/fans to rediscover the greatest Giant of them all.

– Chris Haft

Leftovers from Thursday

Thursday, June 10
CINCINNATI — Pablo Sandoval seemed pretty gloomy over missing a sign for a squeeze bunt in the seventh inning of the Giants’ 7-6 loss to the Cincinnati Reds.

Sandoval’s inaction caused Eli Whiteside, who had begun to charge home, to get trapped off third base for the inning’s second out.

“You learn,” Sandoval said. “That’s my first time to miss a sign.”

This spoiled a mostly good day for Sandoval, who went 2-for-5 and hit a third-inning drive that was caught at the right-field wall.

*****

Overlooked in the Giants’ defeat was their rough treatment of Reds starter Mike Leake, who entered the game 5-0 with a 2.22 ERA and left it with his worst all-around statistical line of the season.

The rookie right-hander allowed a career-high 11 hits in 4 1/3 innings, the shortest outing of his career. The five runs he surrendered tied a career high.

“I think what was different about this game is their coaching staff had a pretty good plan for me,” Leake said, crediting the Giants. “They punched me right off the bat and I couldn’t react fast enough.”

*****

The brief flareup between Giants right-hander Guillermo Mota and Cincinnati’s Joey Votto proved to be just a misunderstanding.

After Votto hit what proved to be the game-winning RBI single in Thursday’s eighth inning, he and Mota began yelling at each other. Cooler heads quickly prevailed.

Mota delivered a calm explanation. Votto believed that Mota was jawing at him. In reality, Mota was trying to communicate with Buster Posey. “I’m not looking at you, I’m looking at my first baseman,” Mota said.

*****

The Pacific Coast League suspended Giants pitching prospect Madison Bumgarner for three games and fined him an undisclosed amount for his Monday night meltdown in which he argued with an umpire and hurled a ball into the outfield.

This probably wouldn’t affect whether the Giants would call up Bumgarner from Triple-A Fresno to replace disabled list-bound Todd Wellemeyer. Nevertheless, it looks like Joe Martinez, who was scratched from his start for Fresno on Thursday, is headed for San Francisco.

– Chris Haft

Bumgarner apologizes for outburst

Tuesday, June 8

CINCINNATI — Madison Bumgarner apologized, through a statement issued Tuesday by the Giants, for his outburst in Triple-A Fresno’s 6-5 victory over Sacramento on Monday.

A sequence of events upset Bumgarner, who was ejected in the seventh inning. Teammates had to restrain him from charging the second-base umpire, who in Bumgarner’s opinion blew a call. Bumgarner then hurled a ball into the outfield.

Bumgarner was fined and received a talking-to from Giants officials. He also issued the following statement:

“I regret my actions during last night’s game in Fresno. I am a highly competitive person, but I let my emotions get the better of me. I want to apologize to the Giants organization and to the fans of Fresno and throughout baseball.”

Giants manager Bruce Bochy seemed barely concerned by the incident. “He’s competitive. We know that,” Bochy said.

More importantly, Bochy said that Bumgarner is “real close” to earning a Major League promotion.

“We’re excited about his progress,” Bochy said. “We feel like he’s a guy who’s really close. If there’s any move made, we’re going to do it when we feel like it’s the right time.”

– Chris Haft

Lincecum still must heat up

Sunday, June 6

PITTSBURGH — Any further improvement Tim Lincecum experiences will revolve around his fastball.

Don’t take my word for it. Ask catcher Bengie Molina, who has been behind the plate for almost every inning of Lincecum’s Major League career.

“The only thing we have to work on right now is the fastball location,” Molina said after the Giants’ 6-5, 10-inning victory Sunday at Pittsburgh. “Today was way better than before. It was a big step. That kid is going to be fine. He’s something else. He’ll find it again.”

Pirates right fielder Garrett Jones said that Lincecum’s fastball “just missed a few spots here and there.” Jones, who hit a two-run homer off Lincecum in the fourth inning, also said of Lincecum’s fastball, “I felt like it was straight today.” Now THAT’s not good for Lincecum. But the hitters always tell a pitcher how he’s doing, and in Lincecum’s case, he was good enough to win. “I stayed consistent throughout the game,” said Lincecum, who allowed three runs and six hits in seven innings while walking two and striking out six.

Next up for Lincecum: Friday night’s series opener against the Oakland A’s at AT&T Park. Think the crowd will be stoked?

*****

The baseball gods must have felt like they owed the Giants one. Juan Uribe’s ninth-inning RBI double, which broke a 3-3 tie, was a line drive to left field that Lastings Milledge dove for and nearly caught. But the ball grazed his glove and trickled away.

One night earlier, Milledge made a running, diving catch on the warning track of Freddy Sanchez’s bases-loaded thunderbolt to left field that probably would have tied the score 6-6. Instead, it was the final out in the Giants’ 6-3 loss.

*****

Giants vs. Reds: Division Series preview?

– Chris Haft

 

Food for thought: Cain or Lincecum?

Thursday, June 3

Matt Cain’s surge and Tim Lincecum’s slump might lead some to ponder a question that’s familiar to some Giants fans: Which right-hander will have a more productive career?

While the season is raging, the proper answer is, “Does it matter?” The Giants need both Cain and Lincecum to thrive to have any hope of reaching the postseason.

Still, this is a question many fans will continue to raise, and it is somewhat intriguing. Obviously, Lincecum has had much more early success with his two National League Cy Young Awards. But will Cain, with his classic pitcher’s build, outlast the undersized Lincecum?

At some point, the answer may become obvious. For now, the politically correct view is: Enjoy them both.

*****

Judging from the players’ visceral reaction, the Giants felt sick for Detroit’s Armando Galarraga, who lost a perfect game Wednesday due to umpire Jim Joyce’s blown call.

Yet a handful of veteran Giants also felt badly for Joyce, who they described as a decent man.

Joyce proved that by admirably owning up to his mistake. His error was profoundly egregious, but perhaps his accountability will endure as long as his goof.

The upshot of all this will be an increased presence of instant replay in baseball, if not all sports. Bank on it.

*****

Galarraga’s imperfect game overshadowed what normally would have been the day’s biggest story: Ken Griffey Jr.’s retirement. Here’s what Lincecum, a Seattle-area native who grew up watching Griffey, had to say about the slugger:

“He was the epitome of Seattle baseball, pretty much, him and Randy [Johnson]. He was that new face, they called him ‘The Kid,’ he was making those spectacular catches and always seemed like he was having fun. Almost like watching a different Pablo [Sandoval] … He had one of the prettiest swings I’ve ever seen.”
 
One enduring memory Lincecum doubtlessly shares with many Mariners fans is the sight of Griffey scoring the winning run in the 1995 Division Series against the Yankees and quickly being engulfed by overjoyed teammates. “I think that’s what a lot of us remember,” Lincecum said.
 
Lincecum also will treasure the memory of meeting Griffey for the first time in Spring Training this year. As Lincecum was interviewed after a Cactus League game at the Mariners’ training complex, Griffey parted a group of reporters to shake hands with the pitcher. “I went ‘uh’ — it kind of caught me off-guard,” Lincecum said. “Obviously it was a pleasant surprise for me.”
 
Lincecum recalled the little-boy feeling that stars like Griffey and Johnson gave him and his peers: “Those guys were gods of our worlds.”
 
 Chris Haft

Lincecum focuses on holding runners

Monday, May 31

SAN FRANCISCO — On the bright side, Tim Lincecum didn’t allow the Colorado Rockies to run wild on him Monday.

Lincecum paid much more attention to runners than he did last Wednesday against the Washington Nationals, who stole four bases off him. Against Colorado, Lincecum tried at least one pickoff throw for each runner reaching first base. A handful of times he looked the runner back by stepping off the mound. This sounds extremely simple, but it’s the kind of stuff Lincecum neglected earlier.

The Rockies still victimized Lincecum on the basepaths to some degree. Ian Stewart stole two bases, extending the success of larcenous opponents against Lincecum to 17-for-17 since last year and 14-for-14 in 2010 only.

As Lincecum said, he has plenty to work on.

*****

What are the Giants going to do with Aaron Rowand? Will they allow him to play his way out of his slump? Or will he soon get crowded out of his regular’s role in center field once Mark DeRosa (left wrist) returns from his injury rehabilitation assignment and Pat Burrell is summoned from Triple-A Fresno? Neither would directly replace Rowand, but Andres Torres conceivably could occupy center if manager Bruce Bochy wanted to keep him in the lineup and filled both outfield corners with other personnel.

Rowand spent much of the season at or near .300 until his last eight games. He’s hitting .091 (3-for-33) in that span, dropping his average to .227. He’s in a 1-for-18 skid (.056) with runners in scoring position. Oddly, the right-handed-batting Rowand is hitless in his last 19 at-bats against left-handers.

As much as Rowand has struggled, it’s difficult to envision his being banished to the bench. But the Giants are firmly entrenched in win-now mode, indicating that Bochy wouldn’t hesitate to sit Rowand if he wanted to try a different outfield contingent.

– Chris Haft 

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