Results tagged ‘ Marco Scutaro ’

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

Notion of Sandoval trade not far-fetched

Monday, Oct. 21

SAN FRANCISCO — Speculation regarding a possible trade involving Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval completely makes sense.

It’s logical to anticipate that Sandoval will thrive in 2014, the final year of his three-year, $17.15 million contract, to propel himself boldly into free agency. Such a projection also would be flimsy given Sandoval’s performance, which has fluctuated along with his weight. Anyone expecting the switch-hitter to use last October’s World Series Most Valuable Player distinction to launch him closer to stardom must be disappointed. Sandoval, 27, hit .278 this year, sixth among Giants with at least 300 plate appearances. He accumulated 14 home runs, fourth on the team, and 79 RBIs, his third-best career total.

This was Sandoval’s fifth full Major League season. He has gone on the disabled list in each of the last three years without establishing consistency at the plate, though he has become a competent defender. If one is to assume anything about Sandoval’s upcoming season, it’s that he’ll somehow disappoint more than deliver. Hence the buzz, started recently by the Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo, that the Giants might consider proposals featuring Sandoval. Club management is gradually losing patience with him, as general manager Brian Sabean indicated in his season-ending summary (“The sky’s still the limit. We’re still waiting for that”).

At the same time, Sandoval retains enough cachet to attract multiple suitors. The Giants might be able to include him in a package that would fetch them a serviceable starting pitcher. Any club hoping to bolster its offense would be intrigued by Sandoval, who retains 30-homer, 100-RBI talent. So why don’t the Giants keep him? Again, his production has teased the Giants more than it has satisfied them. Even if he puts together a solid season next year, whoever’s employing him must deal with his impending free agency. If the Giants were to swap Sandoval, they could lean safely on the “better to trade a player a year too early” maxim.

Without Sandoval, the Giants could move Marco Scutaro from second base to third. Scutaro’s unremarkable range wouldn’t be as much of a liability at third, where he’d be asked to cover less ground due to the nature of the position and shortstop Brandon Crawford’s excellence. Filling the vacancy at either second or third could be a challenge, however. The free-agent market at those positions basically consists of Robinson Cano (who probably would ask for the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges, with Alcatraz thrown in) and a bunch of one-year stopgaps in their mid-30s. Perhaps the Giants could ask for a second baseman in any trade involving Sandoval.

Or perhaps the Giants won’t trade Sandoval at all, which many Giants fans likely would prefer. He’ll forever remain popular at AT&T Park, despite — or even because of — his foibles. He’s the Kung Fu Panda; so what if he struggles with his weight? Who doesn’t? Moreover, the promise he flashes when his line drives find gaps or fly over the fence and frustrate Justin Verlander remains tantalizing. So does the potential of an effective Sandoval forming a solid middle of the order with Hunter Pence, Buster Posey and Brandon Belt.

Sandoval will give the Giants much to ponder when they confront the decision to trade or re-sign him. Whether they endure that headache sooner or later remains to be seen.

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

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