February 2012

Taking infield as full-squad workouts begin

Friday, Feb. 24

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Though nothing’s finalized, the lineups of Giants at each infield position during the first full-squad drills of Spring Training were still worth noting.

Aubrey Huff, Brandon Belt and Brett Pill were at first base.  Emmanuel Burriss and Mike Fontenot occupied second base. Brandon Crawford and Ryan Theriot handled shortstop. Pablo Sandoval was the lone third baseman.

Late in batting practice, Fontenot, Theriot and Burriss all took grounders at shortstop.

Crawford remains a superior defender. Late in the fielding drill, when the left-side infielders made throws to first base, each of Crawford’s pegs were flat, hard and accurate. He is truly a pleasure to watch.

Huff provided some hilarity after bobbling a grounder that took a somewhat bad hop. “First error of the year,” he exclaimed.

Bench coach Ron Wotus, who was hitting grounders, responded with friendly (I think) sarcasm. “Twelve minutes in” Wotus said. “That’s a good sign.”

Chris Haft

Pujols like Mays; Wilson simplifies; fly-catchers excel

Monday, Sept. 20

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Some people will do anything to squeeze a workout into their schedule.

Baseball’s best player apparently is one of these healthy fanatics.

Monday night at a local health club, a trainer shifted my focus from the free weights to a weighty presence performing
cardiovascular exercise in the corner of the room. “That’s Albert Pujols,” the trainer said.

Maybe the Angels, who train in neighboring Tempe, don’t have the fitness machines Pujols likes at their facility.  Maybe he simply felt compelled to hit the gym. Regardless, the man obviously is dedicated.

Seeing Pujols work out among common folks reminded me of something I was told by one of his predecessors as baseball’s best.

A few years ago I asked Willie Mays, “How did you stay in such great shape?” Mays straightened up in his chair, puffed
out his chest ever so slightly and proudly replied, “I never got out of shape.” It was a sphinx-like answer. And it made perfect sense.

*****

Brian Wilson was all business as he spoke with reporters. No dry humor. No clever one-liners. Simply straight talk
about his arm, elbow and pitching.

“I’m just going to put the analogies in the back pocket for today,” Wilson said.

*****

The Arizona sky late Monday morning was dotted with clouds and relatively windless — luckily for the Giants catchers.

Bullpen catcher Bill Hayes, who drills the catchers in big league camp on various skills necessary to master their
position, conducted pop-up practice. It’s an ever-entertaining sight. Hayes feeds balls into a pitching machine aimed
skyward; Buster Posey and his counterparts track the towering pop-ups. What’s remarkable is how rarely these guys drop or misjudge a ball.

The task was mildly simplified by the clouds, eliminating the “high sky” that can blind players at any position to
pop-ups; the still air, which straightened each fly’s path; and the decision to stage the drill in the outfield on one
of the auxiliary diamonds, rather than at Scottsdale Stadium. There, Hayes explained, players might risk tripping down
the dugout stairs. Exposing any player to this danger, particularly Posey, would have been unwise.

The best part of this drill is the grand finale, when Hayes produces a second pop-up while a player is in the middle of settling under the first. Again, you’d marvel at how often the catchers make both grabs.

Chris Haft

For whatever reason, Cain’s primed for big year

Saturday,  Feb. 18

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Matt Cain would feel determined to perform well under any circumstances. As we know by now, that’s the type of competitor he is.

Yet Cain dropped hints Saturday, as Giants pitchers and catchers reported to Spring Training, that he’s especially
motivated to excel this year.

Go ahead and say that Cain’s gearing up for free agency. Imagine that Cain is following the example of others who either adjust their training routine or broaden the repertoire of their skills to bring something fresh to the new season. Whether it’s one factor or the other, or both, Cain appears bent on improving upon his 2011 season, which happened to be the finest of his career in many respects.

“Every year, as an athlete or player, I want to find ways to keep getting better,” said Cain, the longest-tenured Giant who’s entering his seventh full season with the club.

Cain, 27, took steps toward accomplishing that by intensifying his physical conditioning — specifically, his weight
training. By November, Cain was hitting the gym hard. And he didn’t let up.

“I definitely tried to get in a better routine earlier and make sure I was taking care of everything I needed to take care of,” said Cain, who finished 12-11 last year with lifetime bests in ERA (2.88), WHIP (1.083) and home runs allowed per nine innings (a microscopic 0.4).  “… In years past I think I might have been a little more relaxed about staying on that schedule.”

Cain, who said that talks are ongoing between his agents and the Giants, sounded a trifle more intent than he did two weeks ago at FanFest about negotiating a contract extension before the April 6 regular-season opener — or, if a deal can’t be made, plunging into free agency. Negotiating during the season didn’t sound too appealing to him.

“I think we’d all like to have something resolved by the end of Spring Training,” Cain said. “I don’t think either side wants that to linger into the season. I think once the season starts, we all want to be worrying about playing well.”

Cain might have subtly learned a thing or two about focus last weekend while golfing in a foursome with 49ers coach
Jim Harbaugh at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.

“I thought I was intense. That guy is intense,” Cain said. “But he’s great. We just talked about little things here and there. We didn’t really go into any of the football stuff. It was fun just being able to walk three rounds with him and talk about whatever. Just to be able to get to know someone in another sport is pretty cool.”

Chris Haft

KNBR catches Posey’s thoughts

Wednesday, Feb. 1

SAN FRANCISCO — Virtually everything Buster Posey does during the next few months will make news. That includes his radio appearance Wednesday on KNBR, the Giants’ flagship station.

Posey said nothing outlandish or overly revealing during his 15-minute question-and-answer session with adept morning hosts Brian Murphy and Paul McCaffrey. But Giants fans are hungry for anything involving Posey, the gifted catcher whose 2011 season ended in a collision resulting from a wayward slide near home plate by Florida’s Scott Cousins. Posey painfully emerged with a fracture and torn ligaments in his left leg.

Posey, the National League Rookie of the Year during the Giants’ charmed 2010 season, is poised to return behind the plate. He and San Francisco’s medical staff aren’t sure how his ankle will handle the rigors of catching, and Giants manager Bruce Bochy has said that Posey might spend ample time at first base to keep his bat in the lineup and avoid the inevitable physical erosion of his primary position.

Here’s what’s certain right now: Posey, who became a father of twins while sidelined, is eager for any and all challenges. That became clear in his chat on the Murph & Mac show. You can hear the interview in its entirety on KNBR’s website, or you can read the following excerpts:

(Posey will encounter plenty of adoration and love at Saturday’s FanFest at AT&T Park. Does he find it overwhelming?) “I don’t know if it’s overwhelming. It’s a blast. I know it’s something we all look forward to. As much as it is to get the fans fired up, it gets us fired up as well. And we enjoy every bit of it.”

(On fatherhood) “It’s great, it really is. I was just telling my wife the other day that it’s going to be quite an adjustment for me once the season gets going and I’m away a lot and traveling because I’ve been with them a lot these first six months. I’ve enjoyed it; I definitely have.”

(Was that the silver lining to your injury?) “Oh, there’s no question. It’s funny how things work out. Obviously, if I could have avoided the injury, there’s no doubt I would have. But the timing of it, for where we were in our life, really worked out well. Because looking back on it, the team was in Miami when my wife gave birth, so there’s a pretty good chance I wouldn’t have been able to make it back in time. So I felt really fortunate to be there and to have as much time (with the children) as I’ve had these first six months.”

(How much recovery time has he spent in a catcher’s crouch) “I’ve done as much as I think I can without getting in there and playing some games. I think that’s the next step, and fortunately that’s not too far away with Spring Training right around the corner. So I’m very, very happy and pleased with where I am. Obviously, the game situation’s going to be a little bit different, but I’m optimistic and positive that it’s going to be great, just like the rest of this recovery process has been.”

(What were the targets head athletic trainer Dave Groeschner and his staff set for you? Are you 100 percent healthy?) “The 100 percent question, it’s tough to say without … To me, you can tell if you’re 100 percent if you can catch 10 games in a row. That’s still to be determined and I’m not sure if that’s realistic or not, but I’m going to do everything I can to be out there as much as I can. But to answer your question about hitting the targets, I think we’ve done that throughout the whole process for the past whatever it’s been — eight months, nine months. Whatever Dave’s laid out there, I feel like we’ve met that and exceeded it at times.”

(Have you been able to block pitches in the dirt?) “Yeah, actually, when I was finishing up my rehab in Arizona in October, I did a little bit of blocking, just straightforward blocking. To be honest with you, I was pleasantly surprised, because I didn’t think I was going to be that far along at that point. I was hoping just to be taking some BP on the field and running. For my ankle to respond that well, at that point I was happy. Again, I’m positive, but at the same time I want to make sure I keep in my mind that there might be some bumps. Once the games start going, there might be some soreness or whatnot. But I just have to keep that positive attitude and continue pushing forward.”

(If you can’t catch 10 games in a row, are you comfortable with playing first base?) “Yeah, definitely. I think that when I got called up in 2010 and played whatever it was, 30 or 40 games over there at first, just having that in my back pocket will be nice for this year, knowing that I do have a little bit of experience over there.”

(Mike Krukow said you take pride in catching the pitching staff. Would it be difficult to give up those reins? Is it a challenge mentally, more than you’d like, to give it up?) “I don’t know if it’ll be a challenge, because I think that I have to do whatever’s going to be best for the team and what’s best for myself in the long haul of the season. We know it’s a long year. But you’re exactly right. That’s the part about catching I enjoy the most — the thinking, working with the staff and how lucky I am to work with these guys, the caliber of arms that we have. I think you could ask any catcher in the league and the part about catching they enjoy is that, kind of being in control and working through tough situations. Nobody really likes taking a foul tip off the shoulder or anything, but that’s part of it sometimes.”

(So the number of times you catch is something you and Bruce Bochy will discuss. Are you going to fight him or try to argue with him about some things, kind of like you did with your mom and dad to stay up late?) “Oh, I never argued with my mom and dad.”

(Or does what the skipper says, goes?) “I really do think it’s hard to answer that question just because so much is still to be determined. It’s just going to be a matter of how my ankle responds. Like I said before, I want to be behind the plate as much as I can. But I have to be smart about it at the same time.”

(How do you anticipate Spring Training will be different for you?) “… I think the biggest difference will be that there is going to be a schedule, I guess, or more so of a game plan of how much I’m going to catch, when I’m going to catch, because ultimately the most important thing is being ready to go on Opening Day in Arizona. Whatever we have to do in Spring Training to get to that point, that’s what we’re going to do.”

(Do you think last year’s team was on its way to the postseason? Was the late-season collapse frustrating to watch? Did you observe something?) “I think sometimes you just can’t explain why things happen. That’s the beauty of this game. It’s a crazy game. It’s hard to explain sometimes. I do know that I was in the clubhouse and I saw how bad the guys wanted it and how hard they were preparing before games and what they were doing after games, watching video and stuff. It was tough. It was tough on everybody. But it’s a new year now and we’re excited to get back to work and hopefully win as many games as we can this season and get back to the playoffs.”

(On the acquisitions of Melky Cabrera and Angel Pagan) “I haven’t had a chance to play against Melky, but playing against Pagan a little bit, he’s a tough out. He’s a guy who’s going to grind out at-bats. He’s not somebody I really enjoyed seeing coming to the plate, because I felt like if you get him down to two strikes, he’s going to chip away, he’s going to slap the ball the other way, he’s going to do what he can to get on base. I’m excited for him to be there. And then if you’re a baseball fan, you saw what kind of year Melky had last year. He had a great year. I think with our ballpark, they’re going to be good fits. At the same time, I know I’m going to miss (Andres) Torres. It’s just part of it, but he was a great guy to have around. Same with Ramon (Ramirez). They’ll be missed. But we’re excited to have Pagan and Cabrera coming to the team.”

(Did you observe anything about Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain from the sidelines that gave you a different perspective on them?) “I don’t know. I’ve always felt like to learn, you have to be in the middle of it. There are certain things you can sit back and watch, I guess, but I don’t think there’s any replacement for getting out there and being in the middle of it. Those two guys, they’re such workhorses. You look at the number of innings they throw every year and you talk about their stats and strikeouts and ERA. But to me the impressive part is they’re out there every fifth day. We’ve got that in Madison Bumgarner, too. We’re pretty fortunate to have guys who are such competitors and want to go out there and win each time.”

(Bumgarner: The sky’s the limit for that kid, right? Didn’t you see him grow last year?) “Yeah … I guess that one rough outing with, was it Minnesota, I think, after that — to me, that was a defining moment because it’d be easy to — I guess he gave up eight runs in one-third of an inning or two-thirds of an inning … and then the next time out came out and just dealt. That just shows you what kind of character this guy has. It’s exciting. It’s fun to work with those type of pitchers.”

(How at peace are you with dealing with that night against Marlins? How have you psychologically dealt with that night against the Marlins and how are you psychologically compartmentalizing it in your career?) “It’s done. It’s over with. I feel fortunate that I feel the way I do today. I’m excited to be able to compete and get out and play again. If anything, I think it’ll make me appreciate the game even more, make me appreciate being healthy and able to play. Fortunately, I hadn’t been hurt before that. Something like that really lets you know how quickly the game can be taken away from you. I’m going to enjoy every bit of it and just go with it.”

Chris Haft

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