If you want to be in first place; Hector’s hustle

Wednesday, June 27

SAN FRANCISCO — A month ago to this day, May 27, the Giants trailed the first-place Los Angeles Dodgers by 7 1/2 games in the National League West. The Giants defeated Miami that day, and that victory launched a 19-10 binge that has tied them with Los Angeles atop the division standings.

The Giants downplayed their ascent. Constant success since 2009, including the surge to the World Series in 2010, has taught them all about season’s challenges and pitfalls. Wednesday was not a time to celebrate, despite the 3-0 victory over the Dodgers that completed a three-game sweep and rewrote, revived or revisited all kinds of shutout-related records.

Until Matt Kemp and others were sidelined with injuries, the Dodgers appeared poised to run away with the West title. Now, Giants manager Bruce Bochy expects the standings to remain bunched through the rest of the regular season.

“I’ll tell you what I expect: This is going to be a tight race,” Bochy said after Wednesday’s 3-0 victory over Los Angeles. The Dodgers, Bochy said are “a good ballclub. Arizona, you see how they’re playing now. This is going to be a tight race in September with these three teams. Not that I’m forgetting the other teams. It’s going to be this way the whole way. We’re all going to have our ups and downs, including us. Hopefully [the “downs” are] short ones.”

Catcher Buster Posey repeated the “There’s a lot of baseball left” bromide. Right-hander Sergio Romo used different words to say essentially the same thing.

“Standings are standings. We’re just focused on one game at a time,” Romo said. “We’re a good team. We know we’ll be in contention at the end of September.”

Dates to circle on the calendar: The Giants and Dodgers next meet July 27-29 at AT&T Park. They’ll play at Dodger Stadium Aug. 20-22. San Francisco doesn’t confront Arizona until September. At that point, the Giants will face the Diamondbacks for three series in a seven-series stretch.

*****

Hector Sanchez looked at the bruised, scraped area near his left elbow as if it were a whisker. “That’s [what happens] when you play hard,” he said.

Sanchez indeed delivered a sincere effort on Wednesday, particularly when he raced toward the backstop and dove to snare Elian Herrera’s fourth-inning popup on a bunt attempt. Sanchez was knocked dizzy as he fell to earth, but he remained in the game.

Whether Sanchez is earning more playing time remains to be seen. Obviously, he isn’t hurting his cause. Asked if he’d have trouble separating Sanchez from Tim Lincecum, who have collaborated smoothly in the right-hander’s last two starts, Bochy said, “Could be.” Bochy repeated that Posey will continue to handle most of the catching. But Sanchez has continued to remind the Giants that there’s not much of a dropoff, if any, when he’s behind the plate.

Chris Haft

Resting Posey pays dividends now, later

Monday, April 25

SAN FRANCISCO — Buster Posey’s value to the Giants is obvious. He’s the team leader in home runs and RBIs. They ultimately sagged last year after the starting catcher sustained his season-ending left leg injuries.

Yet they’re 7-2 this year when Posey doesn’t appear in a game, including Monday’s 8-0 triumph over the Dodgers. Fans howled online via Twitter, and many others likely cursed manager Bruce Bochy offline, when Posey didn’t start San Francisco’s series opener against its archrival. Especially since Posey homered in each of the Giants’ previous two games.

But Bochy stuck to his convictions, including his belief in the Barry Zito-Hector Sanchez battery and the need to rest Posey occasionally, particularly after Saturday’s four-hour, 15-minute marathon at Oakland.

As important as Monday’s game might have seemed, it was only one of 162. Though it was the Giants’ first of nine consecutive games against division-leading teams, it wasn’t worth squeezing Posey’s energy dry.

The Giants rewarded Bochy by rapping 13 hits in defeating Los Angeles. Sanchez rapped a pair of run-scoring hits and ushered Zito through seven shutout innings. A performance like that, Bochy said, “makes it a little easier to give (Posey) a break, which he needs.”

Tuesday, a rejuvenated Posey will return to the lineup. The Giants stand two games behind the Dodgers in the National League West standings, but they’re one step ahead for keeping Posey fresh.

Chris Haft

Mea culpa in memory of ‘The Mule’

Friday, June 22

OAKLAND — Having crossed the baseball gods, I must seek forgiveness. Or, at the very least, I must acknowledge my error before moving on, hoping never to commit the same mistake again.

My All-Star voting update on Tuesday included the following paragraph:

Buster Posey continued to lead the balloting among catchers with 2,445,005 votes, staying ahead of St. Louis’ Yadier Molina (2,291,567). If Posey goes to Kansas City, he would become only the sixth All-Star catcher the Giants have had since the franchise moved to San Francisco in 1958. He would join Bob Schmidt (1958), Ed Bailey (1961, 63), Tom Haller (1966-67), Bob Brenly (1984) and Benito Santiago (2002).

The omission is a shameful one.

I failed to include Dick Dietz (1970), affectionately nicknamed “The Mule.”

Given my background — Dietz was San Francisco’s catcher as I began to worship at the temple of Mays, McCovey and Marichal — this was akin to forgetting an immediate family member’s birthday. Heck, Dietz homered off Catfish Hunter in the ninth inning of that All-Star Game to launch the National League’s three-run rally that tied the score, forced extra innings and set up Pete Rose’s fateful home-plate collision with Ray Fosse in the 12th.

This is the same Dietz who lodged himself in my memory by blurting during a radio interview after the Giants clinched the 1971 NL West, “Dodgers can go to hell!”

Even if Dietz, who passed away in 2005, hadn’t immortalized himself in my little baseball universe, all I had to do was carefully read Page 394 of the Giants’ Media Guide, which lists the franchise’s annual All-Star selections.

This mea culpa isn’t unusual. Most of the newspapers that employed me ordered reporters to write their own correction when one was necessary. So this represents an attempt to compensate for a goof.

And appease the baseball gods.

Chris Haft

Numbers favor Lincecum; in praise of Schierholtz

Saturday, June 9

SAN FRANCISCO — If you believe in statistics, then you’ll believe that Tim Lincecum holds a decided edge as he approaches Sunday’s start against the Texas Rangers.

Manolo Hernandez Douen, the fine baseball writer whose blog, Beisbol Por Gotas, is must reading, pointed out some intriguing facts to me after the Giants’ 5-2 victory over Texas on Saturday. During the Rangers’ weeklong Bay Area visit during which they’ve played the A’s and Giants, they’ve scored two earned runs in 30 2/3 innings against four right-handed starters: Oakland’s Jarrod Parker, Bartolo Colon and Brandon McCarthy and San Francisco’s Ryan Vogelsong. Contrast that with the nine runs in 10 2/3 innings that the Rangers amassed off left-handed starters Travis Blackley of the A’s and Barry Zito of the Giants.

The implication is that the right-handed Lincecum should thrive against the Rangers, whom he defeated twice in the 2010 World Series. Of course, nothing is a given with Lincecum this year. But Giants manager Bruce Bochy continues to believe that Lincecum will regain his two-time Cy Young Award form sooner than later.

“We have all the confidence in the world” in Lincecum, Bochy said. “This guy’s a special talent. It’s going to be a tough game. We know it.”

Presented with the righty-lefty statistical breakdown, Bochy downplayed it. More importantly, he maintains faith in Lincecum.

“Hopefully Timmy’s on top of his game and gives us a chance,” Bochy said. “That’s all we ask.”

*****

I wish I opened my mouth earlier. Now I’ll just sound like another front-runner.

The solidifying of the Melky Cabrera-Angel Pagan-Gregor Blanco outfield threatened to make Nate Schierholtz a virtual nonentity. Entering Friday’s series opener against Texas, Schierholtz had started five of the Giants’ previous 35 games. In his previous 29 games — essentially, most of the season — Schierholtz was 8-for-56 (.143) with no extra base hits and one RBI.

Yet I continued to believe that the Giants would need an effective Schierholtz at some point. Maybe only for a few days, maybe for a week, maybe longer. But they would need him.

So when he lashed a run-scoring triple and a double Saturday, I felt smart. But not that smart, because all I seem like is a big phony.

Cabrera probably will recover from his ailing right hamstring by Tuesday, which means Schierholtz will return to the bench. But it’s good to know that Schierholtz remains capable of helping the team.

Chris Haft

Giants’ First-Year Player Draft: Rounds 2-15

SAN FRANCISCO — The Giants added another arm to their farm system when they drafted Martin Agosta from St. Mary’s College with the 24th pick in the second round, 84th overall.

The junior righthander went 9-2 with a 2.18 ERA for St. Mary’s, and has a fast ball that can reach the mid-90’s, as well as a working change up and curveball. Despite having a smaller frame for a pitcher, scouts have been impressed with Agosta’s movement on his fastball and his command of his breaking ball.

The Northern California native played at Jesuit High School in Carmichael, Calif., and is originally from Sacramento.

The Giants also picked up another junior righthander on Monday when they selected Mississippi State’s Chris Stratton with the 20th overall pick in the first round of the MLB Draft.

In the next round, San Francisco selected Johnathon “Mac” Williamson with the 20th pick in the third round and 115th overall.

A redshirt junior from Wake Forest, Williamson batted .287 with 17 home runs and 52 RBI this past season, as well as a .596 slugging percentage and a .398 on-base percentage.

Williamson was drafted by the Boston Red Sox last year in the 46th round, but returned for another season at Wake Forest.

The Giants continued the college trend in the later rounds, drafting Steven Okert from Oklahoma in the fourth. The lefthander, most likely projected as a future reliever, throws a mid-to-high 90’s fastball.  In his 2012 season with the Sooners, Okert went 6-6 with a 3.26 ERA. Before that, he played at and attended Grayson County College.

In the fifth round, the Giants selected Ty Blach from Creighton, a three-year starter for the Blue Jays. The outgoing junior lefthander projects as a back-end rotation starter at the next level.

 

AT&T’s dimensions stifle Posey’s power

Thursday, May 17

SAN FRANCISCO — Buster Posey took his best shot at trying to deliver the power the Giants sorely lack. And it still wasn’t enough.

In Thursday’s fifth inning, Posey connected solidly with an Adam Wainwright pitch. As Duane Kuiper might have said (and probably did), Posey hit it high and hit it deep. It looked for all the world like a home run, until one noticed St. Louis center fielder Shane Robinson settling under the ball just in front of the left-center field wall to make the catch. Just another out.

Asked if he thought he was destined to savor a home run, Posey didn’t hesitate to answer. “I did,” he said. “Yeah. I sure did. It wasn’t really even close. Kind of depressing.”

Kind of depressing. I sincerely doubt that Posey ever will launch a sustained tirade against AT&T Park’s hitter-unfriendly dimensions. Yet his candor was exceedingly refreshing.

Manager Bruce Bochy knows that expecting the long ball, at least from his Giants, is a futile exercise. They’ve homered just six times at AT&T, the lowest total among all Major League clubs at home. “Home runs right now are a luxury,” Bochy said after the Giants’ 7-5 victory.

Fortunately for Posey, he’s continuing his development into a solid all-around hitter, as his 5-for-8 effort against the Cardinals reflected. Posey credited an adjustment, which he made with hitting instructor Hensley Meulens’ assistance, for his latest surge.

“Basically it’s just trying to keep my front side down,” Posey said. “I give ‘Bam Bam’ a lot of credit for recognizing the problem. We went down just a couple of days ago and hit some off the tee. It’s just a matter of keeping that front side closed and he has a couple of drills to help that.”

Chris Haft

Fear the Beard — and laugh with him, too

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

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

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