September 2012

Pagan perpetuates Mays legend; Zito throws heat

Saturday, Sept. 15

PHOENIX — Willie Mays remains an enduring natural resource for the Giants. Just ask Angel Pagan.

Pagan made a running catch of Justin Upton’s second-inning fly to center field Saturday that recalled some of the great grabs Mays made during his singular career. As Pagan revealed, this wasn’t a coincidence. He has seized upon the presence of the legendary Mays, who annually visits Spring Training and attends many Giants home games, to learn more about outfield play.

“His advice has been very encouraging,” Pagan said after the Giants’ 3-2 victory over Arizona.

Pagan began sponging up Mays’ knowledge early during the Cactus League season. As he related, he misplayed a ball in deep center. “The next morning,” Pagan said, “the first person I saw was Willie Mays. ‘Hey, I want to talk to you.’ “

Mays, who won 12 consecutive Gold Gloves (1957-68) for fielding excellence, advised Pagan to begin his pursuit of such fly balls at full speed, then decelerate. He reminded Pagan that the less his head moves while he runs, the easier it is to focus on the ball and make the catch.

As the season has unfolded, Pagan relishes being told, “Willie wants to see you,” then going to clubhouse manager Mike Murphy’s office to receive more tutelage from the master.

“I like it,” Pagan said with a gleaming, grateful smile. “I don’t consider myself a genius in baseball, so I have to learn as much as I can.”

He didn’t need to add the obvious — that Willie Mays is a baseball genius.

*****

Whether manager Bruce Bochy includes Barry Zito in the postseason starting rotation probably will depend on which team the Giants face.

If San Francisco confronts the Braves, against whom Zito excels, he’ll likely be included. Should the Giants oppose the Reds, his chances are slimmer, particularly if the vacancy for which he’s considered is a game at Cincinnati’s
Great American Ball Park. He has compiled a 6.10 ERA in six starts there.

Though Bochy refuses to discuss any postseason-related issues at this time, he did indicate that he holds Zito in higher esteem than he ever has. “He’s throwing the ball as well as anybody right now,” Bochy said after the Giants’ 3-2 victory.

Zito amplified that statement by firing an 86-mph fastball past Upton for a strikeout that ended the sixth inning. Everybody knows that Zito’s fastball travels at below-average velocity. Though 86 is still on the slower end of the fastball spectrum, that’s searing speed by Zito’s standards.

“Sometimes the adrenalin can give you an extra mile an hour or two,” he said.

Chris Haft

Crawford merits Gold Glove consideration

Wednesday, Sept. 5

SAN FRANCISCO — It’s difficult to imagine a better defensive shortstop in the National League than Brandon Crawford.

Crawford probably won’t win the Gold Glove Award, because the coaches and managers who cast ballots for the honor are likely to vote for somebody with more experience or a greater reputation.

However, Crawford might emerge as a viable candidate. Giants manager Bruce Bochy said Wednesday that coaches and managers from other teams have approached him to discuss Crawford’s defense. It can be safely assumed that Bochy has good things to say.

“This kid, the last two or three months, I don’t know who’s played better at short,” Bochy said. “That is how good he’s been defensively.”

Simply put, Crawford has every attribute an elite shortstop should possess. Sure hands. Vast range to either side. A throwing arm that would make many pitchers envious. Last year’s Gold Glove winner, Colorado’s Troy Tulowitzki, has been sidelined for most of the year, which potentially clears a path for Crawford.

Crawford compares favorably with his counterparts statistically, by traditional or modern measures. Entering Wednesday, he ranked third among NL shortstops with a .974 fielding percentage, behind Philadelphia’s Jimmy Rollins (.979) and Cincinnati’s Zack Cozart (.975). But his 4.70 range factor (putouts and assists divided by number of innings or games played) was superior to Rollins’ 3.93 and Cozart’s 4.30.

Curiously, Pittsburgh’s Clint Barmes, who’s generally considered solid but not stellar, was the runaway leader in  Fangraph.com’s Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), which measures a fielder’s success at reaching balls determined to be in his zone of the field. Barmes had a 13.1 UZR, followed by Cozart at 6.3 and Crawford at 5.8.

Anybody seeing the double play Crawford generated in Tuesday night’s seventh inning would have handed him the Gold Glove right then and there. Crawford had to handle Ryan Wheeler’s slow bouncer, tag Miguel Montero before he could slip past and flip a quick throw to first. Displaying his wealth of skills, Crawford accomplished all that.

I’m obviously biased, since I watch Crawford virtually every day. But that’s just it: The more I see of him, the more I’m convinced that he’s a Gold Glove shortstop.

Chris Haft

Sunday’s leftovers (Giants 7, Cubs 5)

Sunday, Sept. 2

CHICAGO — Several developments in Sunday’s 7-5 Giants victory over the Chicago Cubs deserve extra attention:

Matt Cain pitched better than his line indicated (five innings, six hits, five earned runs, two walks, six strikeouts). He threw a perfect first inning that included a strikeout and two comebackers. He struck out two more batters in a scoreless second inning. Cain yielded a run in the third, but that inning might have progressed much differently had he been able to field Darwin Barney’s leadoff dribbler. Cain couldn’t make the play, which was scored a hit.

Yes, Alfonso Soriano pounded a three-run homer off Cain in the fifth inning. But Soriano does that to a lot of pitchers. He became only the 10th player to hit 25 or more homers in four or more seasons as a Cub.

“You turn around and hope the wind catches it,” Cain said. “But when he gets a hold of the ball, I don’t think it matters if the wind’s blowing. He put a good swing on that ball and got all of it.”

That put Chicago ahead, 5-3, until the Giants scored twice in the sixth after two were out with nobody on base. To prolong the inning, the Giants received a double from Xavier Nady, who broke in as a Giant with a nice pair of games (3-for-5, two doubles, two walks, two runs scored and three RBIs). Brandon Belt’s pinch-hit triple scored Nady. Nice work from a guy who was 2-for-10 as a pinch-hitter.

Belt then scored the tying run on a wild pitch that pinch-hitter Aubrey Huff, making his first plate appearance as a Giant since July 30, made possible with his tenacity. Facing reliever Manuel Corpas, Huff worked the count to 2-2 and fouled off a pair of pitches before Corpas threw one in the dirt.

Tying the score so quickly after the Cubs forged ahead gave the Giants a definite lift. “That kept the momentum back on our side, in a way,” Cain said.

Chris Haft

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