Wednesday, May …

Wednesday, May 16

SAN FRANCISCO — Brian Wilson’s elbow needs plenty of healing, but his sense of humor remains extremely healthy.

Wilson packed numerous gags, both obvious and subtle, into his 20-minute chat with reporters Wednesday. The man
should have his own television show. He’d be at home hosting his own HBO special or sitting down for a droll chat
with Leno, Letterman or Conan.

Asked about the garden gnomes bearing his likeness that will be distributed to fans attending Sunday’s game, Wilson turned punster by saying, “I don’t gnome what you’re talking about.” He also mentioned that his gnome figure isn’t “really in shape.”

This won’t be the first Wilson gnome. He said that one was spawned when he was a collegian at Louisiana State
University. Except he didn’t know about it right away.

“My mom bought it,” he said. “I walked into her house, I was like, ‘What is this?’ She says, ‘It’s you.’ “

He bought one on-line. He still has it. “It’s next to The Machine,” Wilson said matter-of-factly, providing a brief,
fond reminder of 2010.

Wilson related that he has occupied himself by doing plenty of puzzles, including one of the jigsaw variety of the
Taj Mahal. It was 2,000 pieces. Wilson probably wasn’t trying to be funny when he described tinkering with the
puzzle. But he sounded amusing anyway.

“That was a long one, because the sky was all blue and you couldn’t tell where the pieces went,” said Wilson, who’s
recovering from Tommy John elbow surgery. “It was trial and error. That took a good day and a half to do the sky.
The actual Taj Mahal took probably a week.”

Wilson also has become a part-time carpenter in his effort to “find some hobbies” due to having “a lot of time on my
hands.” Specifically, he laid down some carpet. But didn’t that bother his arm?

“Not when you do it left-handed,” Wilson said. “It’s a very slow process, but we’re talking about a room that’s 8-
by-8 [feet]. All I did was cut it and put it in the room. Sounds a little cooler than what I just told you.”

Asked if he ever ventures outdoors for a change of pace, Wilson said, “Yeah, I’ve taken a few walks here and there,
but the weather’s kind of got a little bit colder. I did go to Muir Woods. Saw the trees.

“I was asked if I was John Muir. Twice. But that’s about as outdoorsy as I’ve been.”

In baseball matters, Wilson praised Santiago Casilla, his replacement as San Francisco’s closer, who has eight saves in nine opportunities.

“Incredible,” Wilson said. “Like I always say, every guy in the bullpen’s capable of doing it. We all have this work
ethic about us. That’s the great thing about this bullpen, is we feed off each other’s strengths. There’s
camaraderie. We try to pick each other up. I think he’s done a phenomenal job, just like he has since we’ve acquired
him. He doesn’t complain, he works hard, and he’s able to forget the negative things and be able to move on to the
next hitter, move on to the next day, and remembering what he did in the past and how he can better himself. He’s a
great dude.”

Wilson said that he hasn’t needed to counsel Casilla much, “because he’s already a great pitcher.” But, Wilson
added, “There’s certain times where you have to try to give a little bit of advice, when pressure situations come,
like certain pitches you might want to stay away from late in the games. What I’ve had success throwing certain
hitters. And when there’s a guy on second, less than one out, what is your plan? What are you gonna do when the
ball’s hit to you? Just simple things. And I like to tell him he’s awesome. I like to tell him every time he does
well. ‘You’re doing an amazing job, keep it up. The team needs you; the city needs you.’ He’s doing a phenomenal
job, so I just like to tell him that all the time.”

If you want to hear more from Wilson, catch Sunday’s Giants-A’s telecast. He’s supposed to be a guest commentator
with Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow.

Chris Haft

Pagan likely to rest in L.A. finale

Tuesday, May 8

LOS ANGELES — Center fielder Angel Pagan was removed from the Giants’ 2-1 victory Tuesday night after sustaining a cramp in his left hamstring and likely will not start Wednesday’s series finale, manager Bruce Bochy said.

Pagan felt uncomfortable after beating out a slow roller toward third base in the eighth inning. Gregor Blanco immediately replaced him.

Wednesday’s outfield could be composed of Blanco, Melky Cabrera and Nate Schierholtz, who has hit safely in his last three games and is batting .421 (8-for-19) lifetime against right-hander Chad Billingsley, Los Angeles’ starting pitcher for the series finale.

Chris Haft

Settling in at leadoff helps Pagan

Sunday, April 29

SAN FRANCISCO — A little stability can be a wonderful thing. Just as Angel Pagan.

Pagan extended his career-high hitting streak to 14 games in the Giants’ 4-1 victory Sunday over the San Diego Padres. He acknowledged that remaining almost exclusively in one position in the batting order — leadoff, in his case — has helped him focus.

Pagan has started 20 of the Giants’ 22 games, batting leadoff in 19 of them. This contrasts sharply with Pagan’s experience with the New York Mets, his previous employer. He batted .290 in 2010 despite appearing in every position in the batting order and starting at least one game in each except fourth and ninth. Last year was even more unwieldy for Pagan, who started in all spots in the batting order but ninth.

“It’s good to have the opportunity to be in the lineup, but it’s tough because you have to make adjustments from one day to another,” Pagan said, trying to remain diplomatic about his Mets tenure.

Pagan, who’s batting .308 (20-for-65) during his streak — the longest in the Major Leagues, matching Baltimore’s Nolan Reimold — said that life as a Giant is “much better.” He added, “I’ve been fighting very hard to get on base at least one time (each game). I don’t want to say get one hit. I really believe that as I go, we go. If I get on base, Melky (Cabrera, the Giants’ No. 2 hitter) will get his fastballs and drive them to the outfield.”

Chris Haft

How Sandoval, Mays stack up

Tuesday, April 24

Pablo Sandoval tied Willie Mays but didn’t necessarily equal him.

Sandoval matched Mays’ San Francisco-era franchise record by lengthening his season-opening hitting streak to 16 games in Monday’s doubleheader sweep at New York. Given the way Sandoval’s swinging, he could erase Mays’ mark Tuesday night when the Giants open a three-game series against Cincinnati at the hitters’ paradise known as Great American Ball Park.

Yet Mays generated numbers during his streak that Sandoval and every other Major League hitter would envy.

Mays hit a ridiculous .452 (28-for-62) before he went hitless in any 1960 game, compared with Sandoval’s current .333 (22-for-66). During their respective 16-game streaks, Sandoval has Mays beat in home runs (3-1) and RBIs (13-9). But while Sandoval has recorded excellent on-base (.389) and slugging percentages (.545) for an OPS of .934, Mays eclipsed that. His corresponding numbers befit the great player he was (.528, .613 and 1.141).

Sandoval deserves his due, however. He has carried the Giants’ offense at times, assuming a heavier burden than Mays did. The 2012 Giants have scored 71 runs; Mays’ Giants amassed 88 during his streak, including 10 and 18 on back-to-back days at Chicago’s Wrigley Field. Can you imagine these Giants doing that? Moreover, Mays frequently was followed in the batting order by future Hall of Famers Willie McCovey and Orlando Cepeda and often preceded by Jim Davenport, who hit .333 in San Francisco’s first 16 games that year. Sandoval is sandwiched by Melky Cabrera and Buster Posey, who are more than respectable. But it’s fair to say that Mays had a more potent offensive complement.

It’s intriguing to note that Mays homered only once during his streak. He and the Giants played their first seven games of the season at brand-new Candlestick Park, where the initial outfield dimensions frustrated power hitters. The center field fence stood 420 feet from home plate and the power alleys were 397 feet deep. Sensibly, the barriers were soon moved in. Mays somehow finished that year with 29 homers. He also collected 190 hits, the lone year he topped the National League in that category.

The Giants would be ecstatic if Sandoval finishes this season with similar statistics. There’s no reason he can’t.

Chris Haft

SF’s Otero relishes Opening Day experience

April 6

PHOENIX — As you might expect, Friday was a special time for Dan Otero.

This was officially Otero’s first day in the Major Leagues after spending five years in the Giants’ farm system. A 21st-round selection in the 2007 First-Year Player Draft, the right-handed reliever reveled in his surroundings at Chase Field, where the Giants opened their season.

Asked how long he had yearned for this day, Otero replied, “Since I was about three years old and given a baseball glove for Christmas. This is what I dreamed about. This is awesome, just to be a part of this, to be on the Opening Day roster.”

Some players resist the romance of the game. Not Otero, who grasped Opening Day’s significance.

“I’m a huge baseball fan,” said Otero, a Miami-area native. “I love the history of the game. So, growing up, I’d watch as many games as I possibly could. Opening Day was one of my favorite days because I could watch 10 games on different channels, flip back and forth, from one o’clock until 11 o’clock. It was great. So to be a part of it now is almost surreal.”

Wearing jersey No. 87, Otero was the Giants’ last non-starter to be introduced during pregame ceremonies. He looked calm enough as he stood on the first-base line, but before the game he admitted that this would not be an ordinary ceremony.

“I’ll definitely have some goosebumps,” Otero said. “I’ll try to stay in the moment. I just want to remember it and enjoy it.”

Otero, 27, earned his big league chance with an outstanding Spring Training performance. He recorded a 0.82 ERA, surrendering one earned run in 11 innings spanning 10 appearances. Besides garnering his place on the active roster — which could be vulnerable when Ryan Vogelsong is ready to return from the disabled list — Otero won the Harry S. Jordan award, which is given annually to the most dedicated and spirited player attending his first Major League camp.

- Chris Haft

There’s no argument: Sign Cain

Thursday, March 29

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The Giants must lock up Matt Cain contractually. Period. This is beyond argument, like the virtues of dental hygiene, regular auto maintenance and the iPod. No further discussion is necessary.

We’ll discuss the issue anyway, since Giants ownership apparently needs some encouragement to act. The Giants might not realize how much they’ll miss Cain until he’s gone. So don’t let him leave. Give him the “fair value” that he wants to prevent him from becoming a free agent after this season. It’s that simple.

Managers and baseball executives drone endlessly about the value of starting pitchers who give their team a chance to win just by showing up for work on the days they pitch. Cain’s an established member of this select group. So is Tim Lincecum. And Madison Bumgarner appears poised to join the club. But Cain, the longest-tenured player among the current Giants, has maintained his steadiness longer than any San Francisco pitcher in decades. Despite being only 27, he has started 203 games, a figure eclipsed by only six Giants since the franchise moved West in 1958: Hall of Famers Juan Marichal (446 starts) and Gaylord Perry (283), the dependable Kirk Rueter (277), 1967 National League Cy Young Award winner Mike McCormick (245), the underrated Jim Barr (220) and old-school workhorse Jack Sanford (211). With the exception of Rueter, none of these men played for the Giants after 1983. In other words, disregard Cain’s 69-73 record. Pitchers like him don’t come around very often.

One of the best ways to measure Cain’s value is to consider when he didn’t give the Giants a chance to win. Being aberrations, they’re strangely easier to remember than many of Cain’s successes. Let’s see: He began 2006, his first full Major League season, with a 1-5 record and a 7.04 ERA after seven appearances. He convalesced in the bullpen for one game (a perfect two-inning stint at Houston) before one-hitting the A’s. So much for that slump. Then there was the 2008 home opener, which he lost to Greg Maddux and the Padres as he allowed five runs and seven hits and walked five in 4 1/3 innings. Another rare dud occurred on the final Friday of the regular season, when the Giants needed one victory over San Diego to clinch the National League West. Cain was shockingly ineffective against the Padres, allowing all six of their runs and nine hits in four innings. Cain recovered nicely by throwing 21 1/3 innings in the subsequent postseason without yielding an earned run.

Obviously, Cain has endured other subpar starts. But you get the point. They’re difficult to remember, largely because so few exist on his ledger. Typically, he’s a consummate competitor who makes the Giants competitive with him. Cain tends to get overlooked alongside Lincecum’s charismatic brilliance. This does not diminish Cain’s stature in the least. He’s content to be exactly who and what he is. “Here it is — go ahead and try to hit it,” he seems to say with each pitch. It’s a classically aggressive approach that works. Proof: Cain is among seven pitchers who have reached or exceeded 200 innings for five consecutive seasons. Mark Buehrle, Dan Haren, Roy Halladay, CC Sabathia, James Shields and Justin Verlander are the others. Also, according to statistician Bill Chuck, Cain, Halladay, Cliff Lee and Jered Weaver are the only starters to finish
each of the previous two seasons with a WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched) of 1.1 or below.

Fans understand Cain’s significance. That’s why they demanded an accord with Cain during an online chat with Giants president and CEO Larry Baer on Thursday. Some of the fans used coarse language to accentuate their sense of urgency. They see the sellout crowds at AT&T Park and reason that the club can easily afford to extend Cain’s contract, which could cost at least $20 million annually. The franchise’s economics are much more complex than that. Still, if Cain isn’t retained, it’s easy to imagine that those sellouts will occur a little less frequently.

The Giants might not create new batches of fans if they keep Cain. But they could lose an appreciable number of them if he departs. Cain has become an essential component of the Giants’ identity: Pitching excellence. Imagine the void that would be created by the departure of Cain and Lincecum, who’ll be a free agent after his two-year contract expires. Should this be coupled with the failure of the Giants’ position-player prospects to blossom, they’d unravel into a truly sorry franchise. Don’t scoff. It happened before. Observers of a certain age recall the dismal span from Nov. 29, 1971 to Dec. 7, 1973, when the Giants jettisoned (in order) Perry, Willie Mays, Willie McCovey and Marichal. Granted, with the exception of Perry, who won 180 games after leaving San Francisco, these stalwarts were far past their peak effectiveness. But those guys were the Giants. Nearly a half-decade passed before the organization regained a semblance of equilibrium.

Choose your own metaphor or simile to define the importance of Cain and Lincecum to the Giants. You might think they’re like the towers of the Golden Gate Bridge, Lennon and McCartney or Boardwalk and Park Place. Or you can employ plain English: They make San Francisco the envy of almost all of the 29 other Major League clubs. Together, they’re definitely Giant, as the club’s marketing gurus might say. Step One for the club in maintaining its little slice of superiority is handing Cain an oversized but legitimately earned contract. The time is now.

Chris Haft

Cast a careful eye on sensational Blanco

Monday, March 26

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Gregor Blanco deserves to be on the Giants’ Opening Day roster. Heck, he needs to be on the Opening Day roster. He’s a fearless, speedy baserunner (the second trait means nothing without the first) who provides versatility with his aptitude for playing all three outfield positions. Besides, Blanco’s a good guy who would cherish his opportunity. The comparisons between him and Andres Torres, another non-roster outfielder who boosted the Giants in 2009-10, are apt.

So why hasn’t Blanco established himself after 11 professional seasons, which included a year and a half with Kansas City, an organization starving for dynamic offensive talent? I asked this question of a well-respected scout shortly before I went on the disabled list with a frighteningly infected right arm. The scout’s views were unsurprising but instructive.

Mentioning that he frequently saw Blanco play over the years and respected his ability, the scout said, “Some guys get labeled.” So it was with Blanco, 28, who’s widely regarded as too good for the Minors but not quite adept enough for the Majors — a “4-A” player.

Check the numbers. Blanco owns a respectable .367 Minor League on-base percentage (all statistics courtesy of Baseball-reference.com). Though he has trimmed his strikeouts, he still has gone down on strikes 973 times in 4,924 plate appearances in the Majors and Minors — too many for a guy who ideally should be a contact hitter.

Blanco was a pacesetter in Atlanta’s minor league system from 2001-2007, leading his teams in some statistical category or another. He spent the entire 2008 season with Atlanta, started 113 games and compiled a respectable .366 on-base percentage, due largely to 74 walks. But the rest of his statistical line (.251 batting average, 52 runs, 19 extra-base hits, 99 strikeouts, 13 steals in 18 tries and a .309 slugging percentage) was unremarkable. Befitting his 4-A label, Blanco divided the next two seasons between Triple-A and the Majors — until last year, when he languished in Triple-A with the Royals and Nationals organizations.

None of Blanco’s perceived flaws has been evident this spring. That prompted the scout’s second warning: “A lot of guys get exposed.” That is, the more they play, the more their weaknesses show. They’re better off occupying the bench, playing in short bursts until their usefulness wanes. Consider Torres. He finished 2009 with a .876 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) in only 170 plate appearances. Torres followed that with an admirable .823 OPS in 570 plate appearances during the magical 2010 season. But he struggled mightily last year, hitting .221 with a .643 OPS.

Another factor to keep in mind is the level of competition. This is only Spring Training. Blanco’s batting .352 with a .871 OPS; if he makes the team, merely approaching those figures during the regular season will be a monumental challenge.

Blanco won’t have to. He can provide speed, adept defense and energy off the bench late in games when he doesn’t start and flurries of competence when he does. Manager Bruce Bochy, who’s skilled at coaxing maximum production from his personnel, can be counted on to use Blanco wisely.

That’s assuming Blanco makes the 25-man active roster. The scout didn’t offer an opinion on this subject, but he weighed in on the Giants’ top decision-makers who could determine Blanco’s fate.

“Brian Sabean and Dick Tidrow are smart,” the scout said, referring to San Francisco’s general manager and his chief assistant. “They know what they’re doing.”

Chris Haft

Martinez cherishes time with Giants

Sunday, March 4

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Five minutes of waiting in the Arizona Diamondbacks clubhouse stretched to 10, which soon became 20 or 25. “He’s in the weight room,” a D-backs media relations official informed me.

Despite having been unproductive for about a half-hour, I felt strangely pleased. This was the Joe Martinez I knew, always diligent.

If you’re reading this, you probably remember Joe Martinez. At 26, he entered Spring Training 2009 mostly unheralded but pitched his way onto the Giants’ season-opening roster. Not only that, but he also won the opener at AT&T Park with two innings of relief in his big league debut against Milwaukee.

It helped that Martinez was diligent, earnest and seemed like the kind of guy you’d let your daughter date. When he made the team, it brought to mind the saying that good things happen to good people.

Then, in the finale of that Milwaukee series, with the Giants leading 7-1, Mike Cameron hit a line drive that struck the right side of  Martinez’s forehead. Martinez weathered a concussion and three hairline fractures, bringing to mind the saying that bad things occasionally happen to good people. Martinez recovered and rejoined the Giants in August. The following year, he and outfielder John Bowker were traded to Pittsburgh at the Trade Deadline for lefty Javier Lopez.

Martinez, who’s currently competing for a spot on Arizona’s pitching staff, appeared in five games for San Francisco during the hallowed 2010 season. So, yes, he got a World Series ring. He knew it was coming; a Giants official had contacted him to ask him his ring size.

Martinez was busy pitching for Cleveland’s Triple-A Columbus (Ohio) affiliate when The Ring came — and all that it represented along with it. Selected by San Francisco in the 12th round of the 2005 draft, Martinez treasures his five-plus years in the Giants organization.

“I loved it,” he said. “Obviously I look back on a lot of fond memories and good relationships with people there, not just players, but also staff, pitching coaches, even some front-office people.”

Of the 2010 club, Martinez said, “I felt like I was a part of that team, even for the small part that I played. They made me feel like part of the team, even though I wasn’t always in the big leagues with them. I’m happy they won. I wish I could have been there with them.”

Finally, Martinez insisted that he doesn’t dwell on the Cameron incident.

“It really doesn’t bother me when people mention it,” Martinez said. “I’m OK. I don’t have any lasting effects from it, as far as I know. The way it happened kind of sticks in people’s mind because it looked bad. It looked worse, thank God, than it was.”

Chris Haft

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

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