March 2011

Fan reaction excites Giants

SAN FRANCISCO — The biggest story to emerge from Monday’s Giants-A’s exhibition game was you, the fan.

Enthusiasm for the Giants should have been predictable as they made their first AT&T Park appearance since winning the World Series. Still, the prolonged applause and/or louder-than-expected ovations for virtually every Giant who appeared in the game was definitely noticeable and bordered on unbelievable.

Even the normally stoic Matt Cain tipped his cap to the crowd upon leaving the game in the sixth inning. Cain indicated that he had flashbacks to Game 2 of the World Series, the Giants’ previous game at AT&T, when he left the mound to a thunderous roar after blanking Texas for 7 2/3 innings.

“That felt good to be able to get that big ovation,” Cain said. He added that the fans seemed “ready for the season to start again.”

Everybody was struck by the crowd’s size. The paid attendance was announced as 38,320. Most of the patrons actually showed up. “For an exhibition game, it was pretty impressive,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said.”We certainly appreciate how the fans have been treating us.”

Said Cain, “That shows how excited they are about us being back in town.”

Even A’s starter Brett Anderson appreciated what he saw. “It was a little bit more of an adrenaline rush” than the usual exhibition game, Anderson said.

*****

Cain’s endurance was a good sign for the Giants. His 5 1/3-inning, 88-pitch outing suggested that he’ll be ready to throw the six or seven innings that’s typically expected of him when the regular season arrives, which of course is soon. Cain said that when he reached the 80-pitch mark, “I still felt like I had good stuff. Mentally, I was where I wanted to be, thinking about what I needed to get done. That’s what you want to do when you’re deep in the game.”

*****

Bochy is still considering his personnel options. He said that Tuesday night’s lineup at Oakland likely will include Mark DeRosa at first base, with Brandon Belt getting some at-bats as the designated hitter.

– Chris Haft

Kroon looks like a contender

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Just as Spring Training ends for the Giants, fresh intrigue begins.

Right-hander Marc Kroon, a non-roster invitee, may have pitched himself into serious consideration for a bullpen role. He sustained his momentum Friday by striking out the side in a perfect seventh inning against Kansas City. Since allowing two runs in his Cactus League debut, Kroon has made eight consecutive one-inning scoreless appearances, allowing three hits and striking out nine in that span.

Kroon would slide easily onto the roster if Brian Wilson begins the season on the disabled list with his strained left oblique muscle. Kroon wouldn’t necessarily assume the closer’s duties in Wilson’s absence, though he excelled in that role in Japan. Manager Bruce Bochy probably would rely on a closer-by-committee arrangement. But Kroon could be part of that contingent.

It’s also easy to envision Kroon as part of the competition for the pitching staff’s 12th and final spot, which has been viewed as a berth for a long reliever. Kroon hasn’t been “stretched out” to pitch multiple innings, but he has performed so effectively that the Giants might simply decide he deserves a job.

Kroon has indicated that he will not accept a Triple-A assignment. He might not have to. If the Giants decide they have no room for him and are forced to let him go, he has pitched well enough to secure a job with another big league club.

*****

Take a good look at Saturday’s lineup for the exhibition game against the Cincinnati Reds. It could be the Opening Day lineup. Which is different from saying that it’s the regular lineup:

Andres Torres CF
Freddy Sanchez 2B
Aubrey Huff RF
Buster Posey C
Pat Burrell LF
Pablo Sandoval 3B
Miguel Tejada SS
Mark DeRosa 1B
Tim Lincecum P

With left-hander Clayton Kershaw due to start for the Dodgers in Thursday’s regular-season opener at Los Angeles, this right-handed-heavy lineup could be the one Bochy uses that evening. Against right-handers, Travis Ishikawa and Nate Schierholtz might be more likely to play first base and right field, respectively, with Huff moving to left field.

Chris Haft

Hey, TBS, who won the World Series last year?

Wednesday, March 9

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The San Francisco Giants are the defending World Series champions.

That undeniable fact begs repeating upon examining the first two months of the “Sunday MLB on TBS” schedule.

TBS opted to televise the Giants — whose roster includes telegenic performers such as Tim Lincecum, Brian Wilson, Buster Posey, Andres Torres, Cody Ross and Aubrey Huff — exactly zero times through May 29.

We’ll give TBS a little bit of a break. ESPN grabbed the Giants for the regular season’s first Sunday, when they visit the Dodgers. Yours truly neglected to check with TBS’ media relations representatives to determine whether there’s a good reason for the Giants to be overlooked.

But at first glance, this looks like a classic case of East Coast bias.

TBS will show the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees three times apiece, the Atlanta Braves, Philadelphia Phillies, Texas Rangers and Toronto Blue Jays twice each, and the Dodgers, Cubs, Mets and Tigers once.

Didn’t the Giants defeat the Braves, Phillies and Rangers in last year’s postseason? Just checking.

*****

The Giants played some excellent defense in Wednesday’s 4-2 victory over the Chicago White Sox.

Barry Zito and Freddy Sanchez collaborated on the game’s first out. Zito pounced on Juan Pierre’s bunt and made a quick, risky yet accurate throw to Sanchez, who was covering first.

Third baseman Pablo Sandoval demonstrated the benefits of his weight loss by pouncing on Alexei Ramirez’s fifth-inning bunt and whipping an off-balance throw to first for the out.

Buster Posey threw out Lastings Milledge, who tried to steal third base in the sixth inning.

*****

The Giants are 10-4 in Cactus League play, largely due to their pitching. Kind of like the regular season.

They trimmed their ERA to an even 3.00 on Wednesday. The starters’ ERA in the last  eight games is 1.27.

– Chris Haft

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