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
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
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
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
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:
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
Tuesday, May 25
SAN FRANCISCO — Shortstop Edgar Renteria’s right hamstring injury is extremely ominous.
Renteria’s 34. He struggled through elbow and shoulder ailments last year. He worked hard to return healthy this season, and his .326 batting average reflects the fruits of his labor.
But he missed two games in late April with discomfort in his left shoulder. Then he went on the 15-day disabled list with a strained right groin. Renteria rejoined the lineup last Saturday in Oakland, and now comes his hamstring injury.
It’s fair to wonder whether Renteria’s body is breaking down. This is not at all a criticism of Renteria. It’s just a question that inevitably arises when an athlete his age, who has played as extensively and diligently as he has, encounters an alarming sequence of injuries.
So much for the retooled lineup manager Bruce Bochy used in the series-opening 4-2 victory over the Washington Nationals. Juan Uribe likely will return to shortstop, with Pablo Sandoval going back to third base and Aubrey Huff resuming his tenure at first base after his Tuesday stint in left field. John Bowker probably will play left, unless Nate Schierholtz’s bruised right shoulder has healed enough to enable him to start in right field. If that’s the case, Andres Torres, who appears destined to stay in the lineup for a while, will occupy left.
After striking out the side in Tuesday’s ninth inning for his 11th save, Giants closer Brian Wilson has 27 strikeouts in 17 1/3 innings. That’s a rate of 14.02 whiffs per nine innings. Remarkable.
You may have read this elsewhere, but right-hander Zack Wheeler, the Giants’ first-round selection (sixth overall) in the First-Year Player Draft who’s pitching for low-Class A Augusta, went on the disabled list with what manager Dave Machemer called “a problem with a fingernail” on his throwing hand, according to the Augusta Chronicle.
In the Minors, a visit to the DL requires a minimum seven-day stay instead of the 15-day base in the Majors.
Wheeler, who turns 20 on Sunday, is 1-3 with a 5.03 ERA in seven starts, though he has improved somewhat in his last four outings (1-1, 3.95).
Don’t mean to scare you, but had the Giants lost Tuesday, they would have dropped into fourth place in the National League West. Then again, with 118 games remaining, there’s no need to dwell on the standings.
— Chris Haft
Saturday, May 22
OAKLAND — The Giants’ best offensive moment occurred toward the end of their 1-0 loss Saturday.
Facing A’s closer Andrew Bailey with two outs in the ninth inning and Edgar Renteria on first base, Pablo Sandoval battled the right-hander through a 10-pitch plate appearance to draw a walk.
Sandoval did so despite falling behind on the count 0-2. He worked the count admirably, fouling off four two-strike pitches before Bailey threw ball four.
Bailey had thrown some wicked curveballs earlier in the inning, but threw exclusively hard stuff to Sandoval. Had Bailey tried an offspeed pitch to Sandoval, the Kung Fu Panda might have screwed himself into the dirt with the force of his swing.
But that borders on downright unfair. Credit Sandoval for a restrained, patient, effective at-bat that briefly prolonged the Giants’ hopes.
Manager Bruce Bochy’s potential changes in the batting order could include the return of Juan Uribe, possibly as a designated hitter. Slowed by a tight left hamstring, Uribe pinch-hit Saturday and said after the game that he might be available to play more fully on Sunday.
— Chris Haft
Friday, May 21
OAKLAND — As expected, the tightness in Juan Uribe’s left hamstring is nothing serious. The infielder’s playing status is day-to-day, so he could be ready to resume activity at any time.
“It’s not too bad,” Uribe said.
Uribe said that he began sensing discomfort in his hamstring on Thursday. He felt it again on Friday, when he moved to his left to corral Ryan Sweeney’s first-inning grounder. Some observers also noticed that Uribe didn’t look right even when he merely stood in the batter’s box to draw his second-inning walk. By the third inning he was out of the game.
While Uribe sits for a day or two, as is likely, Giants manager Bruce Bochy will be spared some difficult decisions. Saturday, shortstop Edgar Renteria will leave the disabled list and will reclaim his starting role. That will force Bochy to bench either second baseman Freddy Sanchez or Uribe, who’s being unseated from shortstop and can also play second base.
Had Uribe remained healthy, this might not have been a problem on Saturday for Bochy, who indicated that Sanchez could receive a rest after playing three consecutive games. Bochy also could have used either Sanchez or Uribe as a designated hitter, since Bengie Molina, Friday’s DH, is likely to catch Saturday.
Though 15 of the Giants’ last 18 games have been decided by three runs or fewer, two of the last three have been lopsided — Friday’s 6-1 loss to the A’s and Wednesday’s 13-1 shellacking at Arizona. The Giants have lost three games in a row and four of their last five.
Need to derive something positive from the Giants’ performance Friday? Besides Barry Zito’s respectable effort, which bore little resemblance to his statistical line, Pablo Sandoval looked like himself as he rapped two sharp singles. He’s hitting .357 (10-for-28) during a modest seven-game hitting streak.
— Chris Haft
Monday, May 17
SAN DIEGO — By and large, Giants fans are a good bunch. But a nameless, faceless segment of them have tremendously disappointed me.
Sunday, the San Francisco Chronicle ranked the top 50 “busts” of all time in professional sports, based on more than 600 responses to an original list of 10. As a locally produced endeavor, the newspaper’s roster has a distinct Bay Area flavor.
Stuff like this is supposed to be lighthearted fun, but I was dismayed to see former Giants outfielder Ken Henderson listed as Bust No. 46. This is absolutely unjust, unconscionable, un-fricking-everything.
Before I bluster further, in no way am I criticizing Vittorio Tafur, the writer of this piece. All Mr. Tafur did was compile the readers’ comments. But those who called Henderson a bust possess either a lousy memory, lousy judgment or both.
Henderson was listed because he was expected to “fill Willie Mays’ shoes,” as Tafur wrote. A .257 lifetime hitter with 122 home runs and 576 RBIs spanning all or part of 16 seasons, Henderson certainly fell short of the standards set by the great Mays.
But by the time I began following the Giants in 1969 (fine, I’m revealing my age), it was generally accepted that Henderson would not be the next Mays — and, to the best of my recollection, this prompted no undue scorn from fans or the media. Heck, as good as Bobby Bonds was, he didn’t turn out to be the next Mays either, though he, too, was mentioned as a successor. Never mind that billing anybody as the “next” (fill in superstar’s name here) is patently ridiculous, regardless of the sport.
Henderson was not a remarkable player, but he was competent. Stationed mostly in left field, he had a nice season in 1970, when he became a regular (.294, 17 homers, 88 RBIs, .394 on-base percentage), and a fair one in 1971 (.264, 15 homers, 65 RBIs, .370 on-base percentage), when the Giants won the National League West title.
The switch-hitting Henderson batted only .257 in 1972. But he made his final season with the Giants memorable by sustaining one of the most torrid monthlong performances in franchise history. That August he hit .409 (45-for-110) with 11 homers, 28 RBIs, 28 runs, a .445 on-base percentage and an .800 slugging percentage.
That helped him get traded to the Chicago White Sox in November, 1972 with right-hander Steve Stone for Tom Bradley, who was a disappointment as a Giant (23-26, 4.56 from 1973-75). That deal never gets considered among the Giants’ worst in their San Francisco history. But it didn’t help them much. Trading Henderson created room for Gary Matthews, who won the NL’s Rookie of the Year Award in 1973. But Stone proceeded to win a Cy Young Award with Baltimore in 1980, while Bradley never pitched in the Majors after his Giants tenure ended.
The bottom line is, if you’re going to select a Giants “bust,” far more extreme examples than Henderson exist. One of them appeared on the list — the Orlando Cepeda-for-Ray Sadecki trade at No. 30. The Gaylord Perry-for-Sam McDowell and George Foster-for-Frank Duffy-and-Vern Geishert deals were equally dreadful. Or you can rummage through the grab bag of failed prospects (Andre Rodgers, Rich Murray, J.R. Phillips, Lance Niekro, Todd Linden, etc.). At least Henderson had a few solid seasons with the Giants and a long big-league career.
If it sounds like I’m biased, I’ll admit that I most definitely am. Ken Henderson was one of the nicest guys ever to wear a San Francisco Giants uniform. He signed autographs before virtually every game I attended at Candlestick Park before he was traded, and it seemed like the smile never left his face as he scribbled away. I had the privilege of meeting Henderson at one of the Giants’ 50th Anniversary functions in 2008, and after interviewing him briefly for a project of mine, I asked him about his tireless autograph-signing. “My dad,” he explained, “told me to make sure I gave something back to the game.”
I understand that on-field performance was all that mattered in the Chronicle survey. But a person like Ken Henderson, whose diligence on the field was matched or exceeded by his earnestness off it, doesn’t deserve to be cited as a “bust.”
— Chris Haft