Results tagged ‘ Bruce Bochy ’

Bochy’s hands-off approach conveys trust

Wednesday, June 25

SAN FRANCISCO — Giants manager Bruce Bochy’s intent on helping Tim Lincecum secure his second no-hitter was clear. After Michael Morse doubled in the sixth inning, the Giants manager replaced his left fielder with pinch-runner Juan Perez, a superior defender.

Bochy later was asked about two moves he didn’t make. He stuck with third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who frequently has been removed for Joaquin Arias in the late innings with the Giants leading. Bochy also kept Joe Panik, starting his fourth Major League game, at second base. Panik assisted on the final out after gobbling up Will Venable’s grounder.

Bochy cited Sandoval’s considerable defensive improvement as the primary reason for leaving him in the game. “If you look at his third-base play, it’s been really impressive — the jumps he’s getting on the ball, his range, how he’s throwing,” Bochy said. “He’s a different third baseman now than when I was taking him out and putting Arias in. I definitely wanted him [Sandoval] out there.”

By contrast, Bochy replaced Sandoval with Arias during Matt Cain’s perfect game, each game of the 2012 World Series and in every victory except one in the National League Championship Series. Oh, and in numerous regular-season games, too.

Leaving Panik in the game should bolster the 23-year-old’s confidence. Bochy acknowledged that he could have installed Brandon Hicks, who possesses more experience than Panik. But Hicks’ edge in savvy wasn’t enough to prompt Bochy to disrupt the continuity of the contingent on the field. Not to mention Panik’s concentration.

“It’s not like both [Hicks and Panik] have a ton of experience at second base in the Major Leagues,” Bochy said. “Joe was out there the whole game. Let me tell you — when you’re in a no-hitter, those guys on defense, they know pressure. They feel it. They don’t want to be the one to make a mistake.”

Neither did Bochy.

Chris Haft

Giants’ No. 2 hitters once gave opponents the Willies

Friday, March 14

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The presence of a No. 2 hitter who doesn’t fit that profile tends to generate concern among Giants fans. If you’re among these folks, I’m not here to belittle you; I’ll try to convince you not to worry when somebody like Brandon Belt or Michael Morse occupies the second position in the batting order.

Granted, the Giants hitter who best suits that role, Marco Scutaro, could be sidelined with back pain when the regular season begins. But manager Bruce Bochy most likely would fill the second spot with Brandon Crawford or whoever replaces Scutaro at second base.

And what if Bochy decides to hit Belt second? It’s not such an awful choice, due to Belt’s ability to make contact and spray hits to all fields. But conventional wisdom dictates that Belt probably will settle somewhere in the middle of the order.

Whatever happens, don’t feel as if the world has spun off its axis. Back, back, back when ballplayers wore flannel uniforms and road trips routinely lasted two weeks or more, two of history’s most formidable hitters occasionally batted second for the Giants.

That’s right. Willie Mays and Willie McCovey.

Mays hit second in the lineup 120 times in his career, including 102 games as a San Francisco Giant. McCovey occupied the No. 2 spot in 74 starts.

But what relevance do the batting orders of (for example) the 1964 Giants, who used Mays and McCovey in the second spot 14 and nine times, respectively, have for the 2014 Giants? Well, consider this: If this year’s lineup proves to be as deep as the Giants hope, elevating a big bat into the second slot might make sense if Belt, Morse, Buster Posey, Hunter Pence and Pablo Sandoval are all hitting proficiently (Bochy pointedly said the other day that Morse will NOT bat second).

That’s apparently why Mays and McCovey hit second as often as they did. The managers of the Giants in that era, Bill Rigney and Alvin Dark, faced the enviable task of trying to figure out daily how best to deploy Mays, McCovey and Orlando Cepeda — who, by the way, never hit second in any of the 2,028 games he started.

Rigney liked hitting Mays second so much that he dropped The Peerless One into that spot 45 times in 1959. Dark saw fit to write Mays’ name second in the lineup on quite a few occasions during the Hall of Famer’s third- and fourth-most-prolific home run seasons: 17 times in 1962 (49 homers) and 14 times in the aforementioned ’64 campaign (47 homers). McCovey hit second 15 times in 1963, when he and Hank Aaron shared the National League lead in homers with 44 apiece. In 1966, his second of six consecutive seasons with more than 30 homers, McCovey started in the No. 2 spot 16 times.

Productivity wasn’t an issue for either man. In 559 career plate appearances as the second hitter, Mays batted .300 with 34 homers and 85 RBIs. Kind of like an average season for him during his Say Hey-day. McCovey batted just .259 in 343 plate appearances in the second slot but mashed 23 homers.<p/>

Certainly it’s essential for Bochy to arrange his hitters in a sequence that enables them to complement each other best. But history suggests that if Willie Mays or Willie McCovey proved suitable here and there for the second spot, Bochy has room for creativity.

Chris Haft

Time for Giants to lower expectations

SAN FRANCISCO — After four consecutive winning seasons and two World Series titles in the last three years, the Giants have fallen from their perch alongside the Major Leagues’ elite ballclubs.

Only a dramatic reversal will enable them to finish .500 this year. As for returning to the postseason, that’s pure fantasy.

The Giants are playing without any apparent sense of urgency, perhaps because they have virtually no hope of contending in the National League West. New additions Jeff Francoeur, who reported to Triple-A Fresno, and Kensuke Tanaka might marginally improve the club’s depth. But they probably won’t accomplish more than that. Giants general manager Brian Sabean indicated to San Jose Mercury News columnist Tim Kawakami that trying to upgrade the roster with major trades is pointless, since the organization lacks the surplus of prospects necessary to engineer deals. Moreover, the team’s performance doesn’t warrant acquiring a couple of handy veterans to accelerate a push for the division title.

Nor should the Giants adopt a scorched-earth policy and gut the roster. There’s always next year, and with it a fresh opportunity to compete in the always-balanced NL West. But implementing the quick fix of free-agent signings might be complicated, because the Giants’ payroll flexibility is limited. The likely departures of impending free agent Tim Lincecum (2013 salary: $22 million) and Barry Zito ($11 million net savings, if the club declines its $18 million option on his 2014 contract and pays him a $7 million buyout) will have limited economic impact, given the raises that Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner, Pablo Sandoval and Sergio Romo will receive.

Moreover, the potential free-agent class isn’t oozing with talent. There probably will be few helpful performers available besides Robinson Cano, Jacoby Ellsbury, Shin-Soo Choo, Brian McCann and the Giants’ own Hunter Pence. The Giants might be wise to forge a deal with Pence, the intense right fielder who seems sincere about wanting to stay here.

Or they can trade him in the next few weeks, which would mark the third year in a row for Pence to switch teams before the July 31 Trade Deadline. A critical factor here, obviously, is determining Pence’s signability.

That leads to the biggest name the Giants could jettison: Lincecum. The notion of trading the charismatic right-hander sounds almost blasphemous, given his popularity and everything he has done for the franchise. But this is a business. The Giants might be able to receive a useful prospect or two in exchange for Lincecum, who has value despite his 4.61 ERA and 1.407 WHIP. At least one American League contender has expressed interest in Lincecum as a reliever, the role he filled spectacularly in last year’s postseason. It’s not known whether that team has proposed a trade to the Giants involving Lincecum. But if one club has hatched this idea, it’s likely that at least a couple of others share that thought.

The schedule offers a shred of hope. The Giants play their first nine games at AT&T Park after the All-Star break. A strong homestand could advance San Francisco to the fringes of the division race.

But the mathematics of returning to respectability — widely defined as a .500 record — are daunting. To climb to .500 by the end of the season, the Giants must finish 41-31. That’s a winning percentage of .569, a pace the Giants haven’t come close to approaching recently. Remember, San Francisco owns the Major Leagues’ worst record (17-35) since May 14.

Reaching .500 sooner would require vast improvement. The Giants would have to win 13 of their next 16 games to climb to .500 by the end of the month. Push back the deadline to Sept. 1, Game No. 136. The Giants must go 28-18 from Thursday until then to hit the .500 level.

Next, forget the arithmetic and employ common sense. The Giants have done nothing — nothing — to indicate that they’re capable of executing such a turnaround.

Their pitching staff is no longer elite. The starting rotation has become unreliable. Matt Cain, once indomitable, is decidedly vulnerable. Nobody wants to admit that Cain is injured to some degree. If he isn’t hurt, he has forgotten how to pitch. Anybody who have followed his career know that’s not the case.

Lincecum and Zito can’t win on the road. Rookie left-hander Mike Kickham has good-looking stuff but an incomplete understanding of how to use it. Only Madison Bumgarner has maintained his excellence, and he can’t do more than pitch every fifth day.

Injuries and ineffectiveness have dulled the bullpen. The Giants miss Santiago Casilla, who hasn’t quite recovered from knee surgery. Ryan Vogelsong’s fractured right hand robbed the relief corps of Chad Gaudin, who’s in the rotation. Manager Bruce Bochy thus must rely on a group that includes rookies Jake Dunning and Sandy Rosario. Both have shown flashes of competence and could turn out to be keepers. But such inexperience does nothing for a World Series title defense.

On to the offense, or lack of it. Collectively, the Giants have misplaced the situational-hitting skills that sustained them in last year’s second half. They went 3-for-11 with runners in scoring position Tuesday, ending a 16-game stretch in which they hadn’t collected more than two hits in those instances. Overall, their .250 batting average with runners in scoring position actually places them in the top half of the NL team rankings. But it’s a sharp decrease from the .296 RISP average they compiled after last year’s All-Star break.

Individually, numerous players are is struggling to some degree. Sandoval is batting .140 (8-for-57) since returning from the disabled list. Pence is in an .098 skid (5-for-51) over his last 13 games. Gregor Blanco is in a .136 tailspin (6-for-44) spanning 12 games. Fellow outfielder Andres Torres’ past nine appearances have yielded a .154 average (4-for-26).

Monday, the Giants’ pitching excelled but the offense floundered. Tuesday, the offense improved while the pitching regressed. Wednesday, nothing went right. The Giants insist that they get along great, and that’s the way it seems when reporters are allowed in the clubhouse. But they can’t coordinate their efforts on the field.

That’s a glaring sign of a poor team. At the current rate, we’ll see more in the next couple of months.

Chris Haft

Wilson a ‘Giant for life'; Pagan’s effect on Brown

Monday, Dec. 3

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Bobby Evans, the Giants’ vice president of baseball operations, used some powerful language Monday to suggest that Brian Wilson ideally will always wear a San Francisco uniform.

Of course, whether Wilson views matters the same way remains to be seen.

The Giants declined to tender Wilson a 2013 contract last Friday. They didn’t want to pay him a minimum of $6.8 million, the minimum they could have offered him under terms of the Basic Agreement. Players’ salaries cannot be cut by more than 20 percent; the $6.8 million figure represented a 20 percent reduction from the $8.5 million Wilson earned in 2012.

To listen to Evans, Wilson’s value to the Giants is priceless.

“I think Brian’s a Giant for life, and he’ll hopefully be a guy who’ll consider coming back here as he evaluates his options,” Evans said, adding that the organization respected Wilson’s right to look elsewhere.

Added Evans, “He’s a commodity that’s hard to find. It’s hard to find guys built like him that have the mentality that he has that led to a lot of his success. So that’s going to be very interesting on the open market, injury aside. His makeup is part of what makes him successful.”

Manager Bruce Bochy, who personally contacted Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro to help the Giants’ efforts to keep both players, said that he would call Wilson soon in an attempt to convince him to stay.

Whatever happens with Wilson, Bochy declared that Sergio Romo would open next season as the Giants’ closer, barring drastic roster moves. “I’ll tell you (that) right now,” Bochy said, though he indicated that he might continue the closer-by-committee strategy he employed in Wilson’s absence. Santiago Casilla saved a team-high 25 games, and Bochy mentioned Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez as others who could lend support — as they did in 2012.

*****

So if Angel Pagan remains productive for the duration of his four-year contract, what happens to Gary Brown, the 2010 first-round draft choice who was billed as the Giants’ center fielder of the future?

Evans said that Brown, 24, remains highly regarded within the organization. “I don’t doubt Gary at all,” Evans said. “The timing for him will be dictated more by him than it will be us.”

In other words, if Brown excels, the Giants will find a place for him somewhere in the outfield. He hit .279 with 33 stolen bases at Double-A Richmond this year and followed that by hitting .313 in 17 games for Scottsdale in the Arizona Fall League.

“I think Gary will put himself in the big leagues at the right time,” Evans said.

Chris Haft

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

KNBR catches Posey’s thoughts

Wednesday, Feb. 1

SAN FRANCISCO — Virtually everything Buster Posey does during the next few months will make news. That includes his radio appearance Wednesday on KNBR, the Giants’ flagship station.

Posey said nothing outlandish or overly revealing during his 15-minute question-and-answer session with adept morning hosts Brian Murphy and Paul McCaffrey. But Giants fans are hungry for anything involving Posey, the gifted catcher whose 2011 season ended in a collision resulting from a wayward slide near home plate by Florida’s Scott Cousins. Posey painfully emerged with a fracture and torn ligaments in his left leg.

Posey, the National League Rookie of the Year during the Giants’ charmed 2010 season, is poised to return behind the plate. He and San Francisco’s medical staff aren’t sure how his ankle will handle the rigors of catching, and Giants manager Bruce Bochy has said that Posey might spend ample time at first base to keep his bat in the lineup and avoid the inevitable physical erosion of his primary position.

Here’s what’s certain right now: Posey, who became a father of twins while sidelined, is eager for any and all challenges. That became clear in his chat on the Murph & Mac show. You can hear the interview in its entirety on KNBR’s website, or you can read the following excerpts:

(Posey will encounter plenty of adoration and love at Saturday’s FanFest at AT&T Park. Does he find it overwhelming?) “I don’t know if it’s overwhelming. It’s a blast. I know it’s something we all look forward to. As much as it is to get the fans fired up, it gets us fired up as well. And we enjoy every bit of it.”

(On fatherhood) “It’s great, it really is. I was just telling my wife the other day that it’s going to be quite an adjustment for me once the season gets going and I’m away a lot and traveling because I’ve been with them a lot these first six months. I’ve enjoyed it; I definitely have.”

(Was that the silver lining to your injury?) “Oh, there’s no question. It’s funny how things work out. Obviously, if I could have avoided the injury, there’s no doubt I would have. But the timing of it, for where we were in our life, really worked out well. Because looking back on it, the team was in Miami when my wife gave birth, so there’s a pretty good chance I wouldn’t have been able to make it back in time. So I felt really fortunate to be there and to have as much time (with the children) as I’ve had these first six months.”

(How much recovery time has he spent in a catcher’s crouch) “I’ve done as much as I think I can without getting in there and playing some games. I think that’s the next step, and fortunately that’s not too far away with Spring Training right around the corner. So I’m very, very happy and pleased with where I am. Obviously, the game situation’s going to be a little bit different, but I’m optimistic and positive that it’s going to be great, just like the rest of this recovery process has been.”

(What were the targets head athletic trainer Dave Groeschner and his staff set for you? Are you 100 percent healthy?) “The 100 percent question, it’s tough to say without … To me, you can tell if you’re 100 percent if you can catch 10 games in a row. That’s still to be determined and I’m not sure if that’s realistic or not, but I’m going to do everything I can to be out there as much as I can. But to answer your question about hitting the targets, I think we’ve done that throughout the whole process for the past whatever it’s been — eight months, nine months. Whatever Dave’s laid out there, I feel like we’ve met that and exceeded it at times.”

(Have you been able to block pitches in the dirt?) “Yeah, actually, when I was finishing up my rehab in Arizona in October, I did a little bit of blocking, just straightforward blocking. To be honest with you, I was pleasantly surprised, because I didn’t think I was going to be that far along at that point. I was hoping just to be taking some BP on the field and running. For my ankle to respond that well, at that point I was happy. Again, I’m positive, but at the same time I want to make sure I keep in my mind that there might be some bumps. Once the games start going, there might be some soreness or whatnot. But I just have to keep that positive attitude and continue pushing forward.”

(If you can’t catch 10 games in a row, are you comfortable with playing first base?) “Yeah, definitely. I think that when I got called up in 2010 and played whatever it was, 30 or 40 games over there at first, just having that in my back pocket will be nice for this year, knowing that I do have a little bit of experience over there.”

(Mike Krukow said you take pride in catching the pitching staff. Would it be difficult to give up those reins? Is it a challenge mentally, more than you’d like, to give it up?) “I don’t know if it’ll be a challenge, because I think that I have to do whatever’s going to be best for the team and what’s best for myself in the long haul of the season. We know it’s a long year. But you’re exactly right. That’s the part about catching I enjoy the most — the thinking, working with the staff and how lucky I am to work with these guys, the caliber of arms that we have. I think you could ask any catcher in the league and the part about catching they enjoy is that, kind of being in control and working through tough situations. Nobody really likes taking a foul tip off the shoulder or anything, but that’s part of it sometimes.”

(So the number of times you catch is something you and Bruce Bochy will discuss. Are you going to fight him or try to argue with him about some things, kind of like you did with your mom and dad to stay up late?) “Oh, I never argued with my mom and dad.”

(Or does what the skipper says, goes?) “I really do think it’s hard to answer that question just because so much is still to be determined. It’s just going to be a matter of how my ankle responds. Like I said before, I want to be behind the plate as much as I can. But I have to be smart about it at the same time.”

(How do you anticipate Spring Training will be different for you?) “… I think the biggest difference will be that there is going to be a schedule, I guess, or more so of a game plan of how much I’m going to catch, when I’m going to catch, because ultimately the most important thing is being ready to go on Opening Day in Arizona. Whatever we have to do in Spring Training to get to that point, that’s what we’re going to do.”

(Do you think last year’s team was on its way to the postseason? Was the late-season collapse frustrating to watch? Did you observe something?) “I think sometimes you just can’t explain why things happen. That’s the beauty of this game. It’s a crazy game. It’s hard to explain sometimes. I do know that I was in the clubhouse and I saw how bad the guys wanted it and how hard they were preparing before games and what they were doing after games, watching video and stuff. It was tough. It was tough on everybody. But it’s a new year now and we’re excited to get back to work and hopefully win as many games as we can this season and get back to the playoffs.”

(On the acquisitions of Melky Cabrera and Angel Pagan) “I haven’t had a chance to play against Melky, but playing against Pagan a little bit, he’s a tough out. He’s a guy who’s going to grind out at-bats. He’s not somebody I really enjoyed seeing coming to the plate, because I felt like if you get him down to two strikes, he’s going to chip away, he’s going to slap the ball the other way, he’s going to do what he can to get on base. I’m excited for him to be there. And then if you’re a baseball fan, you saw what kind of year Melky had last year. He had a great year. I think with our ballpark, they’re going to be good fits. At the same time, I know I’m going to miss (Andres) Torres. It’s just part of it, but he was a great guy to have around. Same with Ramon (Ramirez). They’ll be missed. But we’re excited to have Pagan and Cabrera coming to the team.”

(Did you observe anything about Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain from the sidelines that gave you a different perspective on them?) “I don’t know. I’ve always felt like to learn, you have to be in the middle of it. There are certain things you can sit back and watch, I guess, but I don’t think there’s any replacement for getting out there and being in the middle of it. Those two guys, they’re such workhorses. You look at the number of innings they throw every year and you talk about their stats and strikeouts and ERA. But to me the impressive part is they’re out there every fifth day. We’ve got that in Madison Bumgarner, too. We’re pretty fortunate to have guys who are such competitors and want to go out there and win each time.”

(Bumgarner: The sky’s the limit for that kid, right? Didn’t you see him grow last year?) “Yeah … I guess that one rough outing with, was it Minnesota, I think, after that — to me, that was a defining moment because it’d be easy to — I guess he gave up eight runs in one-third of an inning or two-thirds of an inning … and then the next time out came out and just dealt. That just shows you what kind of character this guy has. It’s exciting. It’s fun to work with those type of pitchers.”

(How at peace are you with dealing with that night against Marlins? How have you psychologically dealt with that night against the Marlins and how are you psychologically compartmentalizing it in your career?) “It’s done. It’s over with. I feel fortunate that I feel the way I do today. I’m excited to be able to compete and get out and play again. If anything, I think it’ll make me appreciate the game even more, make me appreciate being healthy and able to play. Fortunately, I hadn’t been hurt before that. Something like that really lets you know how quickly the game can be taken away from you. I’m going to enjoy every bit of it and just go with it.”

Chris Haft

Belt, Crawford get attention

Tuesday, Nov. 29

SAN FRANCISCO — Contradicting their reputation for favoring veteran players, general manager Brian Sabean and manager Bruce Bochy sounded upbeat about first baseman-outfielder Brandon Belt and shortstop Brandon Crawford, who will enter Spring Training as candidates for the Opening Day lineup if they’re not shoved aside by free-agent or trade acquisitions.

Belt hit .300 in 28 games for Escogido in the Dominican Winter League. The Giants wanted the 23-year-old to accumulate more at-bats after an injury-marred season in which he hit .225 in 63 games for the Giants when he wasn’t making one of his three round-trips back to the Minors.

Sabean was impressed with what he saw of Belt on telecasts and videos.<p/>

“I think he made a concerted effort to make some adjustments,” Sabean said during Tuesday’s conference call. “It’s not Major League pitching, but you still have to have an approach. All the reports that we got from Moises Alou, who’s the general manager there, were favorable. He was playable in the outfield. We know his best position is probably first base, but this was a nice step for him. I’m really happy and pleased that he accepted this challenge.”

Crawford, 24, hit .276 in 21 games for Scottsdale in the Arizona Fall League. His stint included a 16-game hitting streak during which he hit .338 (24-for-71). That helped Crawford make the AFL’s Top Prospects squad.

“We know what his glove brings, and he tried like hell to make [hitting] adjustments,” Sabean said. “He put the ball in play extremely well. He tried his damndest to stay off the high fastball, which was kind of his Kryptonite.”

Said Bochy of Crawford, “I think he’s a guy who can do some things to make a difference.”

*****

Bochy also praised catcher Hector Sanchez, who owned a .393 batting average in 32 games with La Guaira of the Venezuelan Winter League. All year, Bochy has monitored Sanchez’s improvement, which could result in a long look for the switch-hitting 22-year-old in Spring Training. Sanchez won’t unseat a healthy Buster Posey, but he could compete for a backup spot unless the Giants want him to gain more seasoning at Triple-A Fresno.

“I’m not going to be surprised to see him make a lot of noise this spring,” Bochy said.

*****

The hunch here is that the Giants will re-sign either Cody Ross or Andres Torres, but not both. Ross is a free agent; Torres is eligible for salary arbitration but probably will not be tendered a contract. That would save the Giants a million bucks or so if Torres, who would become a free agent after being non-tendered, opts to stay with the Giants.

Sabean lumped Torres along with other arbitration-eligibles, such as Jeff Keppinger and Mike Fontenot. “He’s certainly part of our discussions about what we’re going to try to do internally to go forward,” Sabean said. “He’s in a group of players who we still have time to make decisions on.”

Asked whether he thought Ross might return, Sabean said only, “Not sure.”

*****

Bobby Evans, the Giants’ vice president of baseball operations, said that third baseman Pablo Sandoval hasn’t decided whether to alter his plans for returning to Venezuela, where he had originally intended to participate in the winter league’s home run derby and play for a week to 10 days with Magallanes. Evans indicated that the kidnapping incident involving Washington catcher Wilson Ramos in Venezuela apparently isn’t a deterrent for Sandoval. But being in shape could be. He underwent laser eye surgery on Nov. 18, interrupting his training in Arizona.

Chris Haft

Bochy salutes all-time saves leader Hoffman

Tuesday, Jan. 11

SAN FRANCISCO — Trevor Hoffman accumulated 457 of his record 601 career saves with Bruce Bochy managing him in San Diego from 1995-2006. Thus, it’s fair to suggest that nobody appreciates Hoffman’s handiwork more than Bochy, who’s entering his fifth season as the Giants’ manager.

Typically, closers are viewed as individuals who live for the ninth inning and don’t influence the success of their fellow relievers. But after Hoffman announced his retirement Tuesday, Bochy spoke of Hoffman like basketball coaches used to speak of Magic Johnson or Larry Bird.

“He made those guys better,” Bochy said, citing Padres setup relievers such as Doug Bochtler, Tim Worrell, Dario Veras, Scott Linebrink and Akinori Otsuka. “That’s what great players do. If you look at the bullpens he’s pitched in, it’s not by coincidence that the rest of the guys had great years, too.”

Hoffman accomplished this, Bochy said, by inspiring others to join him in his daily workouts and counseling unlucky teammates who absorbed a tough defeat.

“He was really a great pleasure for me to manage,” Bochy said. “He was so respectful to the game and his teammates and did whatever I asked. I consider myself fortunate to have had Trevor Hoffman all those years.”

Bochy began regarding Hoffman as a Hall of Famer after the right-hander reached the 400-save plateau in 2005. Apparently, Hoffman didn’t share those thoughts. He continued to punish himself in conditioning exercises, which, Bochy said, is part of “the beauty of great players.”

Added Bochy, “He never felt like he arrived as a player. He was religious with his workout.”

*****

The Giants will officially announce their Minor League managing and coaching assignments later this week, but most of them are known already, since the respective teams released their staff lists Tuesday or earlier.

As expected, Steve Decker will return as Triple-A Fresno’s manager.

The Giants switched personnel at Double-A Richmond, where Dave Machemer, most recently low-Class A Augusta’s manager, has replaced Andy Skeels. Machemer managed at Double-A from 2005-07.

Brian Harper left the organization and created the San Jose managerial vacancy for Skeels, who piloted that team to the high-Class A California League title in 2009.

Chris Haft

Shortstop search and more from Sabean, Bochy

Monday, Dec. 6

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — General manager Brian Sabean reiterated that “mutual interest” exists regarding Edgar Renteria’s possible return to the Giants.

“But I would say where we’re going to get bogged down is the [Pat] Burrell precedent,” Sabean said.

In short, Renteria probably would have to accept $1 million or thereabouts, as Burrell did last week, to return to the Giants as a backup shortstop and utility infielder.

Sabean tried to sound encouraging about retaining the 35-year-old World Series Most Valuable Player. “Neither side has ruled anything out,” Sabean said.

But Sabean warned that Renteria will be out of luck if the Giants sign another potential backup shortstop before him.

On another subject, Sabean wasn’t surprised by Boston’s acquisition of San Diego first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, who was either the best or second-best player in the National League West — depending on your opinion of Colorado’s Troy Tulowitzki.

But Sabean indicated that San Diego could remain a threat in the division. “It’s a pitching-centric division,” Sabean said. “… Like us, they didn’t have a prototypical set lineup and had to make some changes at the deadline. They were unfortunate to have their [10-game] losing streak when they did.”

*****

Manager Bruce Bochy addressed numerous topics during his half-hour session with the media, including:

– Pablo Sandoval’s physical conditioning. Bochy noted that Sandoval already has lost more than 10 pounds. “He seems determined to get back to where he was [in 2009],” Bochy said. But, Bochy added, “He’s got a little ways to go. I don’t want to put a number [on it], but he’s still got probably 15 or so.”

– The care and feeding of the club’s valuable pitchers. Keeping the staff injury-free will loom as a chief concern given the shortened offseason and the starters’ workload. Including the postseason, each starter exceeded 200 innings — except for Barry Zito, who finished with 199 1/3.

Bochy also will watch closer Brian Wilson carefully. “Whether I bring him in as much in the eighth inning this coming year, I don’t know,” Bochy said of Wilson, who led the Major Leagues with 10 saves of 1 1/3 innings or longer this year.

Nevertheless, Bochy said that he’s saddled with fewer roster issues than he ever has faced in his 17-year managerial career, largely due to the pitching staff’s stabiity.

– The wish for a left-handed batter to balance the lineup. Bochy said that this yet-to-be-obtained individual doesn’t necessarily have to be a power hitter. This prompted speculation that the Giants could again be eyeing Scott Podsednik, who they pursued previously. At 34, Podsednik might not be an ideal acquisition. But he has accented his .279 career batting average with 301 stolen bases in 10 seasons, which would meet the Giants’ goal of becoming more “athletic.”

– Existing outfield personnel. Bochy said that he might inform Aaron Rowand, who has spent most of his career in center field, that he’ll might have to fill in at the outfield corners occasionally. Bochy added that speedster Darren Ford, who needs to gain more consistency at the plate, almost surely will open the season at Triple-A Fresno.

– A friendly parting with shortstop Juan Uribe, who signed a three-year, $21 million contract with the Dodgers last week. Bochy said that Uribe called to thank him. “And I said the same to him,” Bochy said. “You understand. It’s part of the business. He was a free agent, and you’re not going to sign them all. … We’re champions partly because of what he did for us.”

– His contract status. Bochy is signed for 2011 with a club option for 2012. Asked whether he’d prefer to have a contract extension before next season opens, Bochy replied, “Not to skirt it, but it’s not even on my mind right now.”

Chris Haft

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