February 2011

More Panda power

Well, you can’t win them all. And in the spring, I’m not even sure you want to.

But the Giants were looking like they were headed to a 3-0 spring start when they were leading 3-0 over the Diamondbacks Sunday. But Arizona tallied four runs in the eighth of relievers Jose Casilla and Alex Hinshaw to post a 4-3 lead.

Again, we saw more encouraging signs from the desert:

MORE PANDA POWER: Pablo Sandoval continues his hot start to the spring, belting his second home run in as many days.

Sandoval belted an 0-2 pitch from Daniel Hudson deep over the fence in right in the fourth inning.

Sandoval also struck out twice, each after Pat Burrell walked. But at least he didn’t ground into a double play, right?

The strikeouts will come this spring for the Panda, as he works on getting taking more pitches and working deeper into the count.

That’s a challenge for Sandoval because, in the spring, pitchers focus on throwing strikes. So if Sandoval is taking, he’s falling behind. Even his home run came on an 0-2 pitch.

MORE HITTERS: Buster Posey continued to swing the bat well, hitting a single and double in three at-bats. Outfielder Cody Ross had two doubles in three at-bats.

CAIN BEING CAIN: Matt Cain continues to throw scoreless innings, even in the spring. Cain tossed 21 scoreless innings in the postseason last fall. On Sunday, he threw two more scoreless innings, giving up three hits and striking out one.

Any win over LA is a good win

It may have come on the second game of spring training, but any win over the hated Dodgers (is that redundant) is worth celebrating. The Giants spoiled the spring managerial debut of Don Mattingly with a 8-3 win on Saturday. Let’s see if we can spoil his regular-season debut on March 31.

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Again, it’s early. But Saturday’s win over the Dodgers was filled with some encouraging signs.

PANDA POWER: Pablo Sandoval slammed his first home run of the spring training. Given that one of the biggest pieces of Sandoval’s dissapointing 2010 season was his lack of power, this was an encouraging sign.

“When that happens, you get excited about what you do in the cage and all the work you do in the offseason,” Sandoval told the Associated Press.

Sandoval has been working on getting deeper into counts this spring. Yet his home run Saturday came on the first pitch from Oscar Villarreal in the fourth inning.

“He threw that same little cutter to (Aubrey) Huff and Andres (Torres),” Sandoval told the San Jose Mercury News. “I know sometimes I get in trouble when I swing at the first pitch. But I was looking for that pitch.”

That’s exactly what Sandoval should be doing on the first pitch — treat it like the count is 2-0. He should look for a particular pitch and a particular spot. If he doesn’t get that pitch, take it. If he does, hammer it. That’s what he did Saturday.

DEROSA IS RAKING: Mark DeRosa had three singles in three at-bats on Saturday, looking like the player the Giants hoped for when they signed him prior to the 2010 season. DeRosa missed most of 2010 after wrist surgery.

“(Fans) don’t care if you’re hurt,” DeRosa told the Mercury News. “They look for production and it wasn’t there. … Now I’m feeling good. I really do. I’m not having to cheat on fastballs, to do certain things to relieve the pain, to force-feed every pitch to right field.”

Again, encouraging.

STRIKES FOR SANCHEZ: When we last saw Jonathan Sanchez in the postseason last fall, he was struggling to find the plate on a consistent basis, and therefore struggling to get outs.

Throwing strikes is a focus for Sanchez this spring. And early signs Saturday were good.

Sanchez walked one in 1 2/3 innings of work, giving up no runs on four hits.

Torture is back … and it’s wonderful

The San Francisco Giants began the 2011 Spring Training schedule the way they ended many of their games from the 2010 championship season — with some drama.

The Arizona Diamondbacks scored two runs in the top of the ninth and had the tying run on second base when non-roster invitee Casey Daigle struck out the final batter to preserve a 7-6 win for the Giants in their spring opener Friday.

As the Giants left the field, one fan at Scottsdale Stadium shouted “Awww, the torture’s back already? Couldn’t you break us in?” the San Jose Mercury News reported.

Is torture possible on Feb. 25? Not really.

Tim Lincecum gave up three runs on five hits in his 1 2/3 innings of work. He gave up four consecutive singles to open the game, leading to the three-run first. But the Mercury News reported he was throwing 93 mph while focusing on his fastball and slider. He did not throw his change-up.

Here are some other highlights from Friday’s game.

  • Madison Bumgarner had a solid outing, other than hanging a change-up that Xavier Nady hit out of the park. MadBum was throwing 91-92 mph, which is much better than the upper-80s he had last spring.
  • Leadoff hitter Andres Torres drew two walks in three plate appearances and scored both times.
  • Buster Posey went 2 for 3, including a two-run double.
  • Pablo Sandoval showed some plate discipline, refusing to swing at a pitch in the dirt during an at-bat that ended with a sacrifice fly. He later didn’t offer on a high pitch on a 3-2 count and drew a walk. Encouraging.

Pitching rotation set; no qualms

Manager Bruce Bochy and pitching coach Dave Righetti set the starting rotation for the 2011 Giants. And here it is:

RH Tim Lincecum

LH Jonathan Sanchez

RH Matt Cain

LH Barry Zito

LH Madison Bumgarner

Now there are some who might object to this rotation, saying that Cain has earned the distinction of being No. 2 man, and that Zito is better placed at No. 5.

But there are several reasons this rotation is the best one.

1. The mix of RH-LH-RH-LH-LH offers different looks to opposing lineups. That different look of pitching behind Cain would put Zito in the best position to succeed. And don’t we all want Zito to succeed?

2. Stress on the bullpen. Lincecum and Cain are the two pitchers on the staff best equipped to pitch deep into a game. Putting them back-to-back would leave the bullpen susceptible to a heavy workload in consecutive games. Sanchez has the ability of pitching eight innings of two-hit ball one start and struggling to get out of the fifth inning the next. And, of course, Zito is the poster child for failing to get out of the fifth. Putting a workhorse like Cain in between the two is a good move.

3. Sanchez has earned the chance to supplant Zito in the No. 2 start with a strong finish last season.

4. Keeping Bumgarner at No. 5 lessens the taxing on his arm. Although, the Giants will not skip anyone in the rotation, so the benefit of this is diminished. 

5. Moving Zito down in the rotation gives him a better chance at getting some improved run support because he’s facing the opposition’s No. 4 pitcher. Run support has been a problem for Zito. Now he gets to go against the likes of, for example, the Dodgers’ Jon Garland, instead of Chad Billingsley.

All good reasons. Now, let’s see if it works. And let’s hope (knock on wood) that there’s no reason to change this rotation between now and March 31.

San Francisco Giants: Crime fighters!

For her science fair project, a Bay Area eighth grader linked the successful playoff run of the San Francisco Giants and a dramatic drop in crime in the Bay Area last October.

Ella Chatfield-Stiehler crunched crime numbers, comparing data from October 2009 and October 2010.

She discovered that auto thefts in San Francisco dropped from 320 in October 2009 to 220 in October 2010. Car burglaries dropped from 900 to 600.

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Chatfield-Stiehler credited the drop in crime directly to the success of the Giants and the excitement it created.

“A likely interpretation is that auto theft and auto burglary went down because there were more people on the street walking to and from bars or restaurants, standing outside between innings or celebrating. Because of this presence on the street, people had less opportunity to break into or steal cars.”

It’s a good theory. But perhaps there are others.

Maybe the criminals were just too busy cheering on the Giants to break into cars.

But MoreSplashHits believes the criminals weren’t Giants at all. And because of that, they knew they would be very conspicuous if they broke into a car.

Can you just imagine the ABP?

“All units, be on the lookout for a white male, 5-foot-11, 175 pounds who is NOT wearing a bright orange shirt, false black beard or panda hat.”

Talk about sticking out like a sore thumb.

One last Renteria rant

Andrew Baggarly of the San Jose Mercury News caught up with Edgar Renteria on Sunday, and the World Series MVP soundly as if he’s moved on from the acrimony of offseason contract negotiations with the Giants.

And Giants should as well.

But MoreSplashHits is still stuck on remarks Renteria made during these negotiations — when he called the Giants’ $1 million offer “disrespectful” — and reiterated on Sunday.

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“It’s not about the money, you know?” Renteria said. “For me, it’s about pride.”

Oh, we’ll then that’s OK, right?

And then he later added: “I’m not going to play for anybody for $1 million. I’d rather retire.”

So … then .. it WAS about the money.

This is MoreSplashHits’ biggest pet peeve — athletes who sign free-agent deals and say “It wasn’t about the money.”

It was entirely about the money … unless you sign for less — not more.

Maybe MoreSplashHits has a different perspective about money than Renteria does. But we just have a hard time trying to figure out how a guy who has averaged about $9 million a year over the past seven years can say no to $1 million but yes to $2 million.

That’s like someone who has been making $270,000 a year for seven years losing his job. Then saying “no way” to a $30K-job, but yes to a $60K job.
 
We just don’t get it. But Edgar has his reasons, we’re sure.

And MoreSplashHits is not upset that Renteria is gone. We figured he’d be gone, even after his great postseason. We were frankly surprised that the Giants made that $1 million offer, especially after signing Miguel Tejada and tendering a deal to Mike Fontenot.

We couldn’t figure out how Renteria was going to figure into the mix. As it is, the Giants have 14 players in camp battling for 13 roster spots. How were they going to make room for Renteria?

Renteria says he holds no bad feelings toward the Giants. And Giants fans should hold any ill will against Renteria. Renteria is looking forward to getting his World Series ring when the Reds visit San Francisco on June 8, and we hope he gets a rousing ovation at AT&T Park.

All this hub-bub over the “disrespectful” comment could have easily been avoided if Renteria had said this upon signing with the Reds:

“After last season, I thought about retiring. Then I thought about the minimum requirement in terms of salary and playing opportunities that it would take to get me to return for another season in the majors and away from my family. In the end, the Reds met that requirement, and the Giants did not.”

If Giants fans heard that, they’d be just fine.

So before he opens his mouth again on the topic of the offseason negotiations, Renteria should call MoreSplashHits. We’d offer him with a little public relations help.

And we’d gladly work for anybody for $1 million a year.

Decisions straight out of left field

Giants manager Bruce Bochy discussed the battle for the starting left field job during the team’s first full-team workout on Saturday.

Bochy called left field an open competition. Up to this point, we figured the competitors were Pat Burrell, Mark DeRosa, Nate Schierholtz, Aaron Rowand, and maybe Aubrey Huff if Brandon Belt makes the club.

But here are some details that Bochy revealed:

Mark DeRosa will get most of spring training innings in the infield. This doesn’t take DeRosa out of the mix in left field. But Bochy said previously that DeRosa “would be using all his gloves” this season. Getting ready to play third base or second base takes more preparation than the outfield. And since DeRosa hasn’t played since last May, the Giants want to make sure he’s ready to play the infield.

MoreSplashHits’ take: We see DeRosa as the ultimate utility player – relieving Freddy Sanchez at 2B and Pablo Sandoval at 3B, as well as playing the outfield.

Aaron Rowand will play exclusively in center. Bochy said this is where Rowand prefers to play and where he’s most comfortable. And Rowand hasn’t play LF or RF since 2004. This doesn’t mean he won’t factor in the LF decision. It’s just that if the Giants decide to start Rowand, he’ll be in CF, with Andres Torres sliding over LF.

MoreSplashHits’ take: Rowand is making $12 million, possibly to be a backup outfield. So why is Bochy so concerned with his comfort. We think $12 million should make anyone nice and comfy. And what about Giants fans’ comfort? What about the pitchers’ comfort? Torres is a better fielder. He has more range (6.6 to 1.6 RngR) and his UZR150 (ultimate zone rating for 150 games) is much better than Rowand’s — 12.4 to 3.3. Basically that means that Torres saves about 12 runs a season in CF, while Rowand saves 3.  Boch, stop coddling players and play your best players, i.e. Torres in center.

Nate Schierholtz will play all three OF positions this spring: Schierholtz was locked into RF most of last season, but the Giants say he’ll play all three OF positions to increase his chances of making the team.

MoreSplashHits: Poppycock. The Giants already know Schierholtz can play all three OF positions. But this job won’t be won with the glove. It will be won with the bat. The Giants just want to show other teams that Schierholtz can play all three OF positions.

Bottom line: Like we just said, this job is won with the bat, not the glove. The player who shows he can produce at the plate will win this job. And that includes Brandon Belt, who presumably would take over at 1B with Huff moving to LF.

Numbers are Sandoval: 240 pounds

There was no tale of the tape, at least not from Pablo Sandoval.

After Sandoval promised to report his weight when he reported to camp, the Panda declined to share that info after stepping on the scales on Friday.

Pablo.jpgBut thankfully, the sports training company that oversaw his offseason regimen was willing talk. Go figure.

Trainer Ethan Banning of Triple Threat Performance told the San Jose Mercury News that Sandoval dropped 38 pounds during his offseason training.

So why wouldn’t the Panda want to discuss that? Well, it probably had to do with Sandoval’s listed playing weight last season. The Giants listed Sandoval at 5-11, 245 last season.

Banning reported that Sandoval weighed 278 when he began working with Triple Threat. Sandoval now weighs 240.


Associated Press photo

Teams often fudge on playing weights, which is probably why they instructed Sandoval not to discuss his weight publicly.

But as Bruce Bochy said, Sandoval clearly passed the eye test when he showed up in Scottsdale.

And Sandoval also showed some good decision-making when passed on new teammate Miguel Tejada’s offer to join his workout regimen and trainers. Sandoval said he’ll stick with Triple Threat.

Good call, Panda. And just say no to Miggy’s B12 vitamin injections.

Hammerin’ Hank hits another

MoreSplashHits always did like Hank Aaron.

And what’s not to like?

He’s one of the all-time great, even though he’s often overlooked by those who put together lists or teams of the game’s greats.

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He’s also one of the all-time great classy people in baseball history.

And now we have another reason to like Hammer’ Hank.

Aaron, in an interview with the Associated Press, projected a World Series in 2011 between the Boston Red Sox and the San Francisco Giants.

“I know Philadelphia got Cliff Lee and all those other top pitchers over there,” Aaron said. “But hey, those kids did a heck of a job last year for San Francisco. I think they’re going to have a good account for themselves.”

MoreSplashHits appreciates Aaron for the sentiment, but we suspect he’ll be in the minority when it comes to prognostication in 2011.

Giants manager Bruce Bochy caused a stir when he pronounced the Phillies as the team to beat in the NL. We suspect Bochy was trying to deflect the spotlight from his team. But that really wasn’t necessary.

All Bochy had to do was wait until all the bloggers, reporters, talking heads and other prognosticators start coming out with their predictions for the NL West.

We get the feeling that the Colorado Rockies will be the sexy pick.

Now  the Rockies have a good team with a lot of very good young players and they’ve developed a quality starting rotation. And they had a solid 2010 despite losing Troy Tulowitzki to injury for almost two months. But the Rockies become the favored pick almost by default.

More prognosticators don’t like to pick a team to repeat, because it lacks originality. Also, many just don’t think the stars will align again for the G-men.

The Dodgers have too many questions, ranging from how they respond under first-year manager Don Mattingly to whether players like Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier will develop into team leaders.

The Padres, already lacking some offensive punch, traded away their best offensive player.

And the Diamondbacks just aren’t ready to contend, yet.

So it’s the Rockies. And that’s fine. That’s just the way Giants fans like it.

Mat Latos and his offensive balls

San Diego Padres pitcher Mat Latos is causing problems again with a baseball.

A San Diego-area sports memorabilia store advertised three balls with Latos’ signature and the words “I hate SF” inscribed on them. The balls sold for $1,100 with half going to the MLB Alumni Association, according to the Associated Press.

Latos said it was a playful jab toward the Giants and only intended to raise money for charity.

“I did it all in fun,” he said. “No disrespect to them.”

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You may remember last May, when Latos taunted some fans during batting practice at AT&T Park by throwing a ball over the left-field bleachers and out of the stadium. The ball ended up landing in parking lot behind the stadium and smashing a sun roof on a car owned by Giants announcer Dave Flemming. Latos later apologized and offered to pay the $1,200 damage to Flemming’s car.

And now this.

Well, we all enjoy a little joke. And we can understand Latos’ animosity, feigned or not.

The Giants eliminated the Padres from the postseason on the final day of the season in 2010, and Latos was on the mound that day for San Diego. Latos also set a major-league record last season with 15 consecutive starts in which he threw at least five innings and gave up two earned runs or fewer from June 10 to Sept. 7.

When did that streak end? On Sept. 12, when the Giants tagged Latos for five runs in four innings.

So it makes sense for Latos to write “I hate SF” on those balls.

But if Latos decides to something like that again, we only ask that he do it right, by writing “I hate SF, WSC.”

Don’t know what “WSC” stands for, Mat? Just think back to Nov. 1 of last season and it may come to you.

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