Monday, March 24, 2008

The Giants had plenty of chances to win this game yesterday. 12 hits, plus 5 walks and only 2 runs? That's pretty horrible. And it wasn't just the 11 men LOB that killed them. They pretty much ran themselves out of this game.

A long standing rule in baseball (if not THE cardinal rule on offense) is NEVER make the first out of the inning at home or 3B. Well the Giants did just that twice yesterday. The first was when the human windmill, Tim Flannery, sent Aaron Rowand home with 0 out in the 2nd inning. It appeared to me that Rowand would be out by 20 feet as he rounded 3B. A good slide by Rowand made it a little closer than that....but still first out of the inning at home plate.......rally runs in the 2nd. A little later on, Benjie Molina tried to go from 1st to 3rd on a long single. A mediocre runner could have made it easily, because it was a play that required not 1 but 2 relay throws. Molina was out by plenty. 1st out of the inning at 3B......another rally snuffed. Add that to the fact that the fastest man I have ever seen that just can't steal a bag, Fred Lewis, got caught stealing........again. That makes 4 CS in 6 tries this spring for Fred. How can I guy that fast not be better at base stealing? Add a couple of DPs into the equation, and you can see how every Giants starter could get on base by a walk or a hit..........7 starters reached base at least twice.........and the team still scored only 2 runs. You would think they would have lucked into more than 2 runs with that many players reaching base.

Erick Threets pitched the 7th and gave up 2 runs. Threets threw too many fastballs up in the zone. Brad Hennessey gave up a 2 out, solo HR in the 8th to mar his day. Once again, the Giants pitchers had problems IN the strike zone not by missing the zone. Between the 3 pitchers, they only issued 1 walk. I am not happy with the 5 runs allowed.......but the lack of walks is encouraging to me. Good things come from throwing strikes. The real problem with this game was not pitching, it was the Giants' frustrating ability to get TONS of men on base.......and not score.

As you can probably surmise from this late post.......I am not taking the 4 hour roundtrip ride to Tucson today. Frankly, I am just too damn lazy........especially since learning that Kevin Correia was scratched from the start. More injury the Giants can afford that. Tomorrow will be my last game in Arizona. Wednesday, I fly back to San Francisco and Thursday I will be at the game in ATT Park. With my "busy" schedule..........I think I can afford to miss a game.

Yesterday marked the debut of Jose Castillo, the Giants' latest attempt to bolster an injury depleted infield. First I want to admit that I don't know very much about Castillo. I must say he is a lot heavier than I expected for a middle infielder. Can anyone enlighten me? Was he always this big? Could this be part of the reason that he was released by 2 teams since last season? Like I said.....I just don't know.

In admittedly a very limited sample size, I was not too impressed with Castillo's defense as the starting SS in yesterday's game. There was one groundball to his left that I was pretty sure he should have gotten to and a second one, also to his left, that I thought was a done deal. He missed both. On the harder of the 2 chances, he over-jumped on a dive and the ball went under his glove. On the easy chance, he just didn't reach down far enough and again, the ball went under his glove. Jose's reaction time seems to be a little slow and his movements sluggish, resulting in poor range. He did start a couple of DPs (on balls hit right to him) and seems to have an adequate arm. As I said.......first appearance.........small sample size........but so far I am not impressed with his defense.

At the plate, Jose was 1 for 4 with a double, but he had some really UGLY swings. He doesn't seem to have much plate discipline and swung at some pitches that weren't even close. As a result, he struck out twice. Look at the last photo in this series. Remind you of anyone? I have a bunch of photos of Pedro Feliz in exactly this same position. Brain dead hacker anyone? Again, first time out.........and I will reserve final judgment...........but the initial returns are not promising.

Giants 2, Rangers 5, March 23rd

Lincecum pitched a pretty good game yesterday. One really dumb pitch, resulting in a 2 run HR accounted for the only runs he gave up in 6 full innings of work. Timmy was consistently in the 94-96 range with his fastballs and hit a high of 97 maybe 4 or 5 times. His curveball was working well and he trotted out the new slider a few times. I am not as impressed with the slider as I am with his other off-speed pitches. It seems a little flat and I don't think the difference in speed from the fastball is enough.

Timmy gave up 7 hits (a couple a little tainted - see Castillo photo) and he went deep in the counts to a few too many batters to really call this outing "dominating" as was Cain's effort on Saturday. But the 7 strikeouts as compared to only 1 walk show that he wasn't off by much. I think he (or the catcher) tend to fall in love with his fastball and overuse it. On the HR, Timmy threw a 3-2 fastball, that resulted in a LONG foul ball. On the next pitch, he threw the same pitch, in the same location. The result was that the batter was able to get the timing down and belted a LONG HR over the 400 ft sign in CF (I would estimate about 430 feet). The pitch was one of those 97 MPH jobs, but with as good as his off speed stuff was in the game, it was a huge mistake to give the batter another fastball, when he demolished the same pitch just foul just one pitch earlier. Hopefully, Timmy learns that Major League hitters can hit the 97 MPH fastball, if it isn't located properly or if it is expected. Of course the real problem was the 3 ball count, the batters at this level are so much better when they expect you to throw a "get it in" pitch.

The 4 photos here are a progression of Lincecum's delivery, along with the result.......a 97 MPH reading on the radar. I don't want to seem too negative about Timmy's day......he pitched a VERY good game and for my money is the most exciting Giants' pitcher to watch. My point with the criticism is that as good as he is/has been since he joined the team........he could be even better. I believe his ceiling to be extremely high. I just love this kid.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

From March 22nd

Dave Roberts didn't get any hits in the game, but I like these 2 photos, so I am posting them anyway. Dave went 0 for 2 with a HBP, a walk and a run scored. The first photo was taken in the exact moment when he got hit in the shin in the first inning. In the second photo, Claudio Vargas prepares to glove a ball off the bat of Eugenio Velez to start a 1-6-3 DP. As you can see, Roberts is just breaking towards 2B and didn't have a chance on the play.

Fred Lewis replaced Randy Winn in RF and went 1 for 2 with a 2 out, 2 RBI standup triple. He may not play good defense, and he may not have the intricacies of base stealing down....but it is fun to watch him run the bases.

The only other player with 2 hits on the day was Brian Horwitz, who came over from the Minor League camp for the day. He pinch hit for Matt Cain and stayed in the game to take over for Dave Roberts in LF. Horwitz had 2 singles and scored a run in his 2 plate appearances. I included 2 photos of Brian because we haven't seen him too often.

Benjie Molina had another 2 hit day raising his average to .417. I don't know how long the quadriceps problem is going to last, but Benjie turned another sure double to the RCF gap into a single today. The good news is that he LOVES that gap and has been hitting it with regularity this spring.

Aaron Rowand also had a good day at the plate, reaching base in all 3 plate appearances on a double, a single and a walk. I can't point to a single play, but in watching Rowand play CF this spring, I just don't see Gold Glove caliber defense. 150% hustle all the time yes, but his jumps and routes to the ball are just OK and he has to be the slowest Gold Glove outfielder ever. I know it is a small sample size, but so far, I'm not seeing the defensive prowess.

The offensive star of the game was Eugenio Velez, who started at 2B thanks to yet another last minute scratch of Ray "the Hammy" Durham. Velez was 3 for 5 on the day, including a 2 out bases loaded triple in the 4th and a 2 out RBI ground rule double that I thought for a second was going to be a HR to one of the deepest RCF gaps you will ever see outside of ATT Park (Scottsdale Stadium is 430 feet to dead CF. . His day was slightly marred by a GIDP, but he also stole his 13th base of the spring. When was the last time a Giants' player stole 13 bases in spring training? Heck when was the last time a Giants' player stole 13 bases over ANY one month period?

The three relievers that followed Cain were nearly as good, if not quite as dominating. Steve Kline, Brad Hennessey and Jack Taschner threw 3 innings of 1 hit 1 walk ball and gave up only a single unearned run. Kline threw 3 straight groundball outs. One of them was on a grounder to the hole at SS, where Brian Bocock ranged far out (about 15 feet) onto the outfield grass to backhand the ball. Bocock then showed off his cannon of an arm by throwing a perfect strike to get the runner at 1B. Hennessey gave up a 1 out double, followed by a walk. The unearned run scored when Justin Leone fielded a sure DP ball at 3B and then thew the ball into RF instead of to 2B. Hennessey got out of the inning on a 6-3 DP by the next batter. Taschner had yet another 1-2-3 inning to close out the game. It is interesting to me that Jack has closed the game in his last 2 or 3 appearances. A lefthanded closer being groomed?

Giants 8, Brewers 1, March 22nd

The Giants not only won their second game in a row yesterday, they also received a second straight excellent pitching performance. This time it was from Matt Cain, who threw even better than Barry Zito did the day before. Sure Matt gave up 3 more hits than Zito did, but his 8 strikeouts more than made up for that as he overpowered Brewer batters with his fastball, and froze them with his curveball. The fact that 5 of his strikeouts were of the swinging variety and 3 were where the batters were caught looking illustrates this.

I read where Bruce Bochy had this to say to about Cain's outing. ""He had some long innings," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said of Cain. "I thought he did a good job keeping his concentration."" I don't know what game Bochy was watching, because I thought Cain was about as economical with his pitches as I have ever seen him be. The notoriously slow starter needed only 15 pitches to get out of the first, after allowing a 1 out single, but having the runner gunned down on a caught stealing by a beautiful throw from Benjie Molina. In the 3rd and 4th innings, Cain was even more economical as he took only 9 pitches to complete each inning. The only inning where he had a high pitch count was in his last inning (the 6th) when he threw 25 pitches and had the only inning where he allowed 2 men to reach base (including the only walk he gave up all day). Even with the long 6th inning, Matt threw a total of only 88 pitches (60 for strikes) and finished the inning with back-to-back strikeouts. Those of us who have seen Matt regularly reach the 100 pitch count through 5 innings or so are perfectly happy with Matt throwing this many "long innings" all year long. He also only allowed 2 batters to reach as far as 2B (1 to third) and faced more than 4 batters in an inning only once (the 6th) I am not sure where the test was that required him "keeping his concentration". Sometimes the things the Giants coaching and management staff have to say just leaves me scratching my head and saying "HUH?".

Add all of the above to the fact that Cain gave up ZERO extra base hits on the day. Of the 5 hits he allowed, one was on a bad hop that got by Rich Aurilia at 3B, another was on a ground ball that ticked off the glove of SS Brian Bocock, and a third was on a little flair over the secondbaseman's head. The only criticism I have for Cain's effort was that I think the bad hop in the 5th might have broken his concentration a little. Cain threw back-to-back wild pitches to allow the runner to reach 3B......although Benjie Molina should have been able to stop one of the 2 WPs. I have no problem in saying that Matt Cain clearly dominated the Brewers in the best performance by a Giants' pitcher thus far.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

From March 21st

Eugenio Velez had a good day (offensively anyway), going 1 for 3 with a run scored and an RBI. Here he lays down a sacrifice bunt, that he almost beat out for a basehit. He also stole his 12th base of the spring. The bad news is that defense is still a problem as he committed an error on a popup that prevented Barry Zito from going 6 full innings.

Fred Lewis had the early lead in the Dirty Uniform Competition after a triple to lead off the game.

Manny Burriss was back with the big boys a couple of days after being sent to the Minor League camp. He started and played the entire game at SS. He wasn't much with the bat going 0 for 4, but he fielded 4 or 5 chances cleanly including a backhand stop in the hole with a very strong throw to nip the runner.

Daniel Ortmeier has had 5 hits in the last 3 games, raising his average to .232. There seems to be a team-wide competition to see who can get the dirtiest uniform on any given day. Here Ortmeier takes the lead after stealing his 2nd base in 2 days. If he gets a chance to play........Ortmeier will surprise you with his speed.

Tyler Walker does his impression of the Joker. I wouldn't want to meet that face in a dark alley.

Carlos Sosa came over from the Minor League camp and made an appearance. He was hitless in his only AB. Carlos will be 25 in May and hit .271 while playing in the outfield at AA Connecticut last year.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Giants 4, White Sox 3

Before I get into the game, I want to relate a little story. During my usual interaction with fans at the game I met a man who was a Marine Officer from Camp Pendleton. During the course of our conversation he said that Barry Zito had paid for 28 Marines (most of them recovering from injuries in Iraq) to come out to Arizona for a couple of days. About half of them were seated in the section next to mine and the rest were in the next section over. They went to Don & Charlies for dinner last night, the game today and were going to Frasher's for dinner tonight. Zito paid for the dinners and also paid for their transportation and hotel costs. The dinner tonight was supposed to be attended by Zito and several other baseball players and MLB officials. The young men were all very appreciative of Zito and MLB and cheered Zito enthusiastically for his 5 2/3 innings. Several of them had quite visible scars, but that did not temper their enthusiasm for the game. As it turned out Zito had his best game of the spring (by far). After seeing some of these guys and hearing of their appreciation, I will have a hard time getting on Zito for poor performance in the future. I don't want to get political here, but I couldn't help being choked up by the sacrifices made by these men and being grateful to Barry Zito and MLB for caring.

Now as for the game, Zito was exceptional. His worst inning as far as pitches thrown was the 1st, though it was through no fault of his own. The first batter popped out to Fred Lewis in LF, although it was an adventure, as Fred lost the ball in the sun before recovering and making a last second catch. The second batter got a double on a ball to the wall that Fred should have caught, but again he appeared to lose the ball in the sun and the ball hit about 2 feet up the wall as Fred ducked out of the way to keep the ball from hitting him in the head. Zito got the last 2 batters of the inning on groundballs, after a 21 pitch inning. After the 1st, Zito cut down the pitch count and lasted 5 2/3 innings. I was surprised that the Giants let him throw 92 pitches on the day (52 strikes). I was even more surprised that he tallied 4 K's on the day after having none all spring. He ended up allowing only 2 hits and 3 walks with one of the walks being erased by a 5-4-3 DP. The key today was that Zito's curveball was really on. He had that good 12 to 6 job and he was throwing it for strikes as 2 of his strikeouts were swinging and 2 of them on called strike 3. Although he had a very good day, Zito had 8 batters take him to 3 ball counts. He really does not have much margin for error. A couple of strike calls one way or the other has a big effect on his game.

Keiichi Yabu replaced Zito with 2 out in the 6th and got out of the inning rather quickly. In fact, Yabu pitched the 7th inning and had another extremely fast inning. It took him all of 9 pitches (7 strikes) to dispatch all 4 batters he faced. I really don't want a 39 year old reliever on the team........but Yabu is pitching really well. Tyler Walker pitched the 8th and after 2 quick outs gave up a single and a wild pitch, which allowed the runner to advance to 2B. Tyler ended the inning with a 7 pitch strikeout.

Brian Wilson had a disappointing inning in the 9th as he started the inning with a single, triple and double allowing the White Sox to tie the game. Wilson then got the next 3 batters in a row but allowed a SAC fly to one of them to allow the Sox to take the lead 3-2. Once again Wilson showed that it is possible to be wild WITHIN the strike zone as he threw 18 pitches with all but 4 of them being strikes. You get the ball up in the get hit. I was a little surprised both Walker and Wilson were used in back-to-back games the last 2 days.......but it appears the Giants are working their pitchers a little harder in the spring than we are used to seeing.

As far as offense goes, the Giants had a bunch of hits (10 to be exact), but were only able to score 2 runs in the 1st inning and 2 runs in the last inning. Dan Ortmeier and Fred Lewis were the only Giants to have 2 hits. Lewis and Stephen Holm had the only extra base hits (a triple and a double). Ortmeier stole another base and Eugenio Velez stole his 12th of the spring. Velez also committed another error when he appeared to call Aaron Rowand off and then dropped a popup on the last batter that Zito faced. The winning run of the game was knocked in on a two out pinch hit single by Eliezer Alfonzo, of all people. Alfonzo got his 4th hit of the spring and raised his average to .098.

I was disappointed in Wilson's performance, but it was a very good performance by Zito and a nice comeback in the bottom of the 9th when honestly, I thought the game was over. I don't expect the Giants to have a good season, but if by some stretch of luck they do decently, it will be because they have a bunch of games like this. Good starting pitching and timely hitting does a lot to help win games........not to mention to improve the fans' attitude (at least THIS fan's attitude).