August 2012

Hamstrings bother Posey & Pablo, but not much

Wednesday, Aug. 22

LOS ANGELES — On the 47th anniversary of the Marichal-Roseboro incident, no fights erupted between the Giants and Dodgers. Just some injuries which, fortunately for the Giants, appeared mild.

Manager Bruce Bochy said after San Francisco’s 8-4 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers that catcher Buster Posey, who missed the game with a tight right hamstring, could return to the lineup as soon as Thursday, when the Giants open a four-game home series against Atlanta.

“We feel pretty good that he’s going to be OK to (play) tomorrow,” Bochy said. “If he needs another day (off), he’s going to take it.”

Bochy removed Pablo Sandoval in the middle of the sixth inning when the third baseman’s left hamstring tightened as he ran the bases. But Sandoval insisted that he’ll be fit to play Thursday, a sentiment that Bochy echoed.

Chris Haft

Mijares making contributions

Wednesday, Aug. 22

LOS ANGELES — Jose Mijares could be this year’s Javier Lopez.

Just ask the real Javier Lopez.

The Giants acquired Lopez on Trade Deadline day two years ago. He recorded a 1.42 ERA in 27 appearances for the Giants through the rest of the season to help them win the National League West. In the postseason, he allowed just one earned run in 5 2/3 innings spanning nine appearances as the Giants won the World Series.

Mijares’ statistics (1-0, 4.26 ERA) aren’t as dazzling as Lopez’s were. But that’s deceiving, because Mijares coughed up all three runs and four of the six hits he has allowed as a Giant last Sunday at San Diego. Usually, he has been as effective as he was Tuesday night, when he relieved Tim Lincecum and stranded runners on the corners by striking out Andre Ethier with a 93-mph fastball.

Welcome to the Giants-Dodgers rivalry, Jose.

“We don’t have time to ease him into these situations,” Lopez said. “From here on out, these are all must-win games, especially when you’re playing divisional rivals.”

Among the Giants’ left-handed relief contingent, Mijares complements Lopez, who relies more on sinkers, and Jeremy Affeldt, who throws just as hard yet mixes in curveballs to upset hitters’ timing.

“He has a little more under the hood than I do. That’s why he was able to run that fastball up there,” Lopez said. “He’s got a pretty good arm.”

Chris Haft

An unusually peaceful plunking

Sunday, Aug. 19

SAN DIEGO — A somewhat rare event occurred Sunday: Padres left-hander Clayton Richard plunked Brandon Belt of the Giants with a fourth-inning pitch Sunday; everybody knew the act was intentional; and yet tempers didn’t fly out of control.

Richard was getting even for Ryan Vogelsong hitting Carlos Quentin with a pitch in the second inning.

“It’s part of baseball sometimes, so I wasn’t too upset about it,” said Belt, who was struck above his right hip.

Manager Bruce Bochy felt certain that Richard consciously threw at Belt. “There was no question,” Bochy said. “Obviously they thought we hit [Quentin] on purpose. But Vogelsong was laboring out there. No big deal.”

Vogelsong was the only Giant who sounded annoyed. But not because he had to settle a score with Quentin, who should be accustomed to getting hit. He has 14 HBPs this year, led the American League with 23 last year for Chicago and totaled 20 in two other seasons.

Quentin apparently glared briefly at Vogelsong after being hit. That didn’t sit well with the right-hander.

“The guy hammers balls out over the plate and then he gets [angry] when I throw him inside. It doesn’t make sense,” Vogelsong said. “I’m a sinkerball pitcher. Every once in a while the ball runs on you more than you think it’s going to. I wasn’t trying to hit him at all there. Every time you hit a guy in this game now, everybody thinks you did it on purpose. I’m frickin’ tired [of it].”

Chris Haft

Echoes of last year are faintly, ominously audible

Friday, Aug. 3

SAN FRANCISCO — Hints of 2011 have crept into this season for the Giants.

That’s not a good thing.

Consider these parallels:

Euphoria swept the visitor’s clubhouse at Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park on July 28 of last year, when the Giants recorded a stirring 4-1 victory over the Phillies. Tim Lincecum looked great during six shutout innings. The acquisition of slugging outfielder Carlos Beltran from the New York Mets before the Trade Deadline fortified the Giants, psychologically and on paper. They owned a four-game lead in the National League West as they continued their trip with three games against the Reds, who had just been swept in four games by the Mets.

The Giants proceeded to lose their next five games and tumble into a first-place tie in the division race with Arizona. They clung to first place for another week, when the Diamondbacks pulled in front for good.

Fast-forward to this year. Optimism filled the Giants’ clubhouse this past Tuesday, after Lincecum worked seven strong innings in a 4-1 triumph over the Mets. That victory broke a virtual tie with Los Angeles atop the West standings and gave the Giants a one-game lead. Moreover, the Giants knew the cavalry was coming in the form of multitalented outfielder Hunter Pence, who arrived from Philadelphia in a trade that was officially announced about two hours before the Trade Deadline struck. Pence would make his Giants debut behind Matt Cain, he of the perfect
game and the All-Star Game triumph, against the disappointing Mets, who arrived in San Francisco having lost 14 of their previous 17 games.

The Giants proceeded to lose the series’ final pair of games to New York, collecting seven hits in the process. They still lead the West, with Los Angeles trailing by a half-game and the D-backs two games behind. Nevertheless, the Giants clearly are in a precarious situation. They’ve lost seven of their last eight games and must play 19 of their next 29 games on the road.

The Giants’ performance during that stretch could determine whether they’re pursuing postseason glory in September or staring enviously at the Dodgers and D-backs as they pull away from them in the standings.

It’s easy to suggest that the Giants are bound for another agonizing August and a desperate September. But perspective must be maintained. It’s entirely possible — the coming weeks will tell the story — that this is their nadir, that their offense will thrive once Pablo Sandoval returns from the disabled list (perhaps in a week) to complement Buster Posey, Melky Cabrera and a motivated Pence, and that the starting pitching, which remains the division’s best, will help San Francisco outclass their rivals.

Finally, don’t forget about that second Wild Card spot. Sure, it’s a cheap way to reach the postseason, but it opens the window of opportunity longer for legitimate contenders. Thus the intensity of this stretch drive could generate more excitement than most.

As a result, the time has arrived for teams such as the Giants to strive to summon their best each and every day. It’ll be a pleasure to watch.

— Chris Haft
Twitter: @sfgiantsbeat