Results tagged ‘ Giants ’

Video helps Pence, Belt — can you dig it?

Saturday, Sept. 14, 2013

LOS ANGELES — You can call it creative visualization or positive reinforcement. Hunter Pence called it a “dig-me session.”

Regardless of the term, Pence’s method of studying videos of successful at-bats — particularly those that resulted in home runs — likely helped him and Brandon Belt deliver their titanic performances Saturday in the Giants’ 19-3 rout of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Pence said that he reviewed footage of himself hitting home runs before he crushed his 476-foot drive at Colorado on Aug. 27. Before that date, he had homered exactly once since July 14. Obviously, Pence was unhappy about the drought. So he reminded himself, visually, how he looked as a power hitter. The power of the mind apparently unleashed the power of the body.

Since then, Pence has hit at a torrid pace. His September numbers include a .407 batting average (22-for-54), four doubles, seven homers and 22 RBIs in 14 games. Saturday, he went 3-for-5 with a career-high seven RBIs.

Noticing that Brandon Belt had gone nearly a month without homering (his last one came on Aug. 15 at Washington), Pence urged his teammate to try the treatment that worked for him. Result: Belt collected five hits and six RBIs against the Dodgers on Saturday, both career highs. Among his hits was his 16th homer, aa two-run poke in the seventh inning.

Said Belt, “I think Hunter always likes to challenge people, make sure they have a positive mindset.”

That’s exactly how Pence saw it. “I just challenged him to keep pushing,” said Pence, who recalled telling Belt, “I want you to have a ‘dig-me’ session.”

As Pence explained, “Sometimes it makes you feel good to see what you’ve done and what you’re capable of.”

The greatest Giant of them all would agree.

“I would go home at night and create what I was going to do the next day,” Willie Mays said in an interview with MLB.com several years ago. “It sounds kind of childish. But if I feel that we’re going to have a good crowd or something, and I want to do something the next day to make sure the crowd enjoyed what I did, well, then I’d look at a couple of films by myself and figure out something that I can do to make them holler. And I would do it.”

*****

It’s staggering, really, that these Giants scored the highest number of runs in a single game at Dodger Stadium.

Consider all the impressive ballclubs and lineups that have performed at Chavez Ravine since the ballpark opened in 1962. The Cubs of Ernie Banks-Billy Williams-Ron Santo. The Big Red Machine. The Giants of Mays-Willie McCovey-Orlando Cepeda, or of Will Clark-Kevin Mitchell-Matt Williams. Any Braves lineup with Hank Aaron in it. Heck, even those Davey Lopes-Steve Garvey-Ron-Cey-Dusty Baker Dodgers clubs. And that’s mentioning just a few.

Pence admitted that a little luck was involved. “We hit a lot of bloops, a lot of jam shots that just fell in,” he said.

*****

Some leftover facts and figures from the Giants’ historic night:

– The Giants’ run total was their highest against Los Angeles since a 19-8 win on April 16, 1962 at Candlestick Park.

– The Dodgers hadn’t allowed this many runs since losing to the Cubs, 20-1, on May 5, 2001 at Wrigley Field.

– This was the Dodgers’ worst home loss since falling 19-2 to the Giants on July 3, 1947 at Ebbets Field.

Chris Haft

Kontos is unsung hero; Giants-Reds twinbill memories

SAN FRANCISCO — Somebody had to do it. George Kontos turned out to be the one.

When Tim Lincecum lasted just 3 2/3 innings Monday, the Giants needed a reliever to consume innings and spare the rest of the bullpen from overwork, particularly with Tuesday’s doubleheader looming. In came Kontos to consume 3 1/3 innings while throwing 63 pitches, both career highs.

Tuesday’s starters for the Giants don’t appear destined to last deep into their respective games. Eric Surkamp was challenged to go five innings in Triple-A, and Barry Zito has pitched six innings or fewer in 11 of his last 12 starts. But manager Bruce Bochy can operate his bullpen freely, thanks to Kontos.

Kontos had never thrown more than 40 pitches in a Major League game. But his background as a starter in the Yankees’ Minor League system helped brace him for Monday’s effort. “My body’s used to the workload,” he said.

*****

A large percentage of my misspent youth, more than I care to admit, came and went watching doubleheaders at Candlestick Park. As Tuesday approached, it occurred to me that some of the more memorable twinbills I witnessed involved the Reds, who consistently fielded excellent teams in the 1970s. With assistance from baseball-reference.com, here are highlights I recall from various Giants-Reds doubleheaders, listed in chronological order:

Sept. 19, 1972: The Giants managed to split the doubleheader as Juan Marichal, finishing his worst season, allowed two runs in seven innings in the nightcap. That “improved” his record to 6-15. I have a vague memory of Marichal lowering his signature leg kick for that game. Whether it was to compensate for an injury or to correct a mechanical flaw (or whether it happened at all) would require more extensive research.

April 15, 1973: Cincinnati won both games. Again, Marichal’s pitching left the deepest impression, largely because he was shockingly ineffective — four earned runs allowed and eight hits in 3 2/3 innings in the opener. Meanwhile, Don Gullett pitched a four-hit shutout.

Sept. 14, 1975: The teams split, but that was hardly relevant. In the sixth inning of the first game, the Reds loaded the bases with Joe Morgan on third base. Suddenly, Morgan broke for home and slid in safely. That’s right; it was a triple steal — something I haven’t witnessed since and might never see again.

July 1, 1979: The Giants swept this one as Willie McCovey homered to help win the first game. It was the 518th of his career and, I’m quite sure, the last homer I saw him hit. I was fortunate enough to see him hit several others.

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

Affeldt looks smooth in tuneup outing

Wednesday, May 1

TEMPE, Ariz. — Jeremy Affeldt threw approximately 25 pitches Wednesday morning during what appeared to be a pleasantly uneventful appearance in an extended Spring Training game.

This was expected to be Affeldt’s final step in his recovery from a strained right oblique. Assuming he continues to feel comfortable after this outing — the next day is always a critical period — the left-hander likely will be activated from the disabled list before Friday’s series opener against the Los Angeles Dodgers at AT&T Park.

Assistant athletic trainer Anthony Reyes and strength and conditioning coach Carl Kochan were present to supervise Affeldt. Neither general manager Brian Sabean nor any of his top assistants appeared to be on hand, perhaps reflecting the organization’s confidence in Affeldt’s health.

Facing a squad of Los Angeles Angels farmhands, Affeldt faced seven batters and allowed two singles, neither of which was particularly hard-hit. He coaxed four ground-ball outs and recorded one strikeout.

An amusing moment occurred when Affeldt threw a curveball to the second man he faced. The batter leaned away from the pitch to avoid being hit, but the umpire called it a strike. Staring at the umpire, the hitter exclaimed “Wow” — perhaps in disdain over the ump’s call, or possibly in amazement over the movement of Affeldt’s curve.

Afterward, Affeldt met with Reyes and Kochan for an extended conversation. The topic appeared to be Affeldt’s pitching motion and how it affected his afflicted side, judging from his pantomiming of his delivery.

Chris Haft

Sandoval’s hit echoes postseason feats

Tuesday, April 30

PHOENIX — Though the Giants’ 2-1 victory Tuesday night over the Arizona Diamondbacks was merely regular-season game No. 27, it evoked indelible postseason memories.

The exchange between Pablo Sandoval, who hit the game-winning, two-run homer in the ninth, and Hunter Pence, who offered encouragement to the Kung Fu Panda, has been heard before — not verbatim, but the script sounded similar. And those previous dialogues occurred in two of the Giants’ biggest postseason triumphs.

Flashback No. 1: Game 5, 2010 World Series against the Texas Rangers. Edgar Renteria sensed that he has a big hit left in his 34-year-old body, and whispered to a teammate or two that he would hit a homer in a crucial situation. We all know what happened: Renteria hit the three-run homer that accounted for all of San Francisco’s scoring in the game that clinched the long-awaited World Series title for the Giants. “I told you he would do it!” center fielder Andres Torres shrieked after Renteria connected.

Flashback No. 2: Game 5, 1989 National League Championship Series vs. Chicago: Though the Giants owned a 3-1 Series lead, this one almost had the feeling of a Game 7. The Giants did not want to travel back to Wrigley Field for the series’ final two games. Fortunately for the Giants, they had Will Clark. As Cubs closer Mitch Williams warmed up in the eighth inning before trying to protect Chicago’s one-run lead, Kevin Mitchell said to Clark, “We have to get this done.” Clark’s reply: “It’s done.” His two-run single up the middle came next.

Chris Haft

Scutaro shows he’s a master of the game

Tuesday March 26

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Marco Scutaro again demonstrated Tuesday why he’s a thinking man’s ballplayer.

Whether he’s outsmarting pitchers or anchoring the defense, Scutaro is one of those rare performers who proves that the brain is a player’s sixth tool. He did this again in Tuesday’s third inning against the San Diego Padres, when he drew a walk and, on the same play, suddenly dashed to second base unchallenged.

Scutaro explained simply that he ran a little harder than usual to first base and noticed that San Diego’s middle infielders were paying less than full attention to him. He noted that he successfully executed this maneuver (officially, a walk plus a stolen base) in 2002 and in 2009.

Aware that reporters would eagerly spread word of his daring baserunning, Scutaro said with mock indignation, “I don’t know how many years it’s going to take me now” before he can catch another set of infielders daydreaming.

Damaso Blanco, a former Giants infielder who’s now a Venezuelan-based baseball broadcaster, said that he had seen two other players achieve this baserunning feat: Tomas Perez, a former utility infielder, and Omar Vizquel, who needs no introduction. I always considered Perez to be a handy player, whereas Vizquel’s baseball instincts are virtually unmatched. Though this was just an exhibition game, it was still a suitable venue for greatness to unfold. Because, make no mistake, this was a great play.

Chris Haft

Cavan savors night to remember

Thursday, March 21

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — This was a great day to be Ryan Cavan.

An infielder in the Giants’ Minor League system, Cavan was informed Thursday morning that he would join the group of farmhands reporting to Scottsdale Stadium to serve as potential extra players for that night’s San Francisco-Colorado Cactus League game.

Except Cavan wasn’t an extra.

Marco Scutaro’s back felt stiff, and manager Bruce Bochy urged his second baseman to take it easy. This cleared a path for Cavan to enter the lineup.

Bochy might as well have been a zookeeper letting the caged animals run free.

You see, Cavan isn’t just employed by the Giants. He loves them. Born in San Mateo and residing in Belmont, he frequently took the short ride north to Candlestick Park to watch the Will Clark-era Giants. San Francisco drafted Cavan, a graduate of Menlo School who proceeded to the University of California at Santa Barbara, in the 16th round in 2009.

“It’s been awesome to be a part of the Giants organization,” Cavan said.

Never more so than Thursday.

Told by a Giants beat reporter that he would be starting, Cavan wasted no time trying to make an impression. He singled home Francisco Peguero with the Giants’ first run in the second inning, and he accounted for their final run by launching a majestic eighth-inning homer. Reliever George Kontos alertly obtained the home-run ball for a
grateful Cavan.

It mattered not one bit to Cavan that this was just an exhibition game. As far as he was concerned, he was playing in the big leagues with the Giants. This was a dream fulfilled.

“You definitely want to display your talent, when you get an opportunity, and you want to show that you’re ready,” Cavan said. “I wanted to play as hard as I could tonight and display my ability.”

Chris Haft

Meulens speaks with versatile tongue

Wednesday, March 13

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. Hensley Meulens has used his considerable language capacity to its fullest during the World Baseball Classic.

Meulens speaks five languages fluently — Dutch, English, Japanese, Papiamento and Spanish. The Giants hitting coach has used each to varying degrees in the past few weeks while managing the team representing the Kingdom of the Netherlands to the Classic’s semifinals.

As Meulens explained during his Wednesday visit to Giants camp while his ballclub enjoyed a day off from practicing in the Phoenix area, the team has several players hailing from the island of Curacao, where he was born. Papiamento is the most widely spoken language there.

One of the pitchers performing for Meulens is Orlando Yntema, a native of the Dominican Republic whose father was born in Curacao. Yntema hears from Meulens in Spanish.

When the Netherlands played first-round games in Japan, Meulens felt compelled to speak to people there in their native tongue.

Of course, Meulens converses with the team’s Dutch representatives in the manner to which they’re accustomed.

Finally, English happens to be what Meulens and his squad most commonly speak. This reflects the universality of the language.

“I didn’t want guys to be speaking something they didn’t understand,” Meulens said. “So we try to speak English all the time.”

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

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