August 2011

Devil is clearly cashing in markers placed by Giants fans in 2010

Pablo Sandoval was sidelined Monday with a bruised foot after fouling a pitch off it. Now the Panda has a sore shoulder and will sit Friday in Houston.(AP Photo/John Bazemore)

It’s hard not to think someone out there doesn’t want the Giants to repeat as NL West champions, let alone NL or World Series champs.

Just when you think the Giants can’t run out a worse lineup than the one they’ve been rolling out the past couple of days, they do.

First, let’s recap the occupants in the Giants’ triage tent:

Carlos Beltan: The player who was supposed to be the offensive spark the Giants’ offense had been lacking has fizzled out. He’s currently on the 15-day disabled list with a sore hand. Beltran said his right-handed swing is close to game ready, but his left-hand side is not. He won’t consider batting right against right-handers. So it sounds as if the best hope for Giants fans is that Beltran is activated Tuesday when eligible, but only bats from the right side.

Sergio Romo: Romo went on the DL for elbow inflammation on Aug. 17. He won’t be eligible to return until Aug. 31.

Andres Torres: Torres went on the DL on Aug. 13. He won’t be eligible to return until late next week.

Brian Wilson: Wilson went to see Dr. James Andrews earlier this week to examine his sore elbow. Wilson just has elbow inflammation and likley won’t be available this weekend in Houston.

Jeff Keppinger: Keppinger hasn’t played since running into the Braves’ Freddie Freeman on Monday. His sore wrist is improving, but again he’s out of the lineup Friday vs. Houston.

Jonathan Sanchez: Sanchez left his start early on Tuesday with a sprained ankle. Sanchez is still expected to make his start Sunday in Houston. But Dan Runzler remains as a possible fill-in.

And now we can add Pablo Sandoval, Orlando Cabrera and Eli Whiteside to the list.

Whiteside likely will go on the 7-day concussion DL after still feeling effects after whacking his jaw into the ground on a headfirst slide in Atlanta. Rookie Hector Sanchez will get called up. Not a huge loss.

Sandoval was originally in the lineup Friday, but pulled with a shoulder injury. The injury affects his RH swing. He wanted to hit LH against the LHP Wandy Rodriguez on Friday, but Bruce Bochy said no. Should be back hitting LH on Saturday.

Orlando Cabrera has a strained groin and needed a day to rest. Miguel Tejada starts in his place.

So here’s Friday’s lineup. If you having a mid-afternoon snack, you best set it aside.

CF Aaron Rowand
3B Mark DeRosa
LF Cody Ross
RF Nate Schierholtz
1B Aubrey Huff
SS Miguel Tejada
C Chris Stewart
2B Mike Fontenot
P Ryan Vogelsong.

And the bench will consist of Sandoval (hurt), Cabrera (hurt), Keppinger (hurt), Brandon Belt and Hector Santos.

The absence of Belt from the lineup caused a stir on Twitter. But Belt generally sits against LH starters. He’s hitting .209 on the season, but is hitting .200 (4 for 20 with 0 HR and 0 RBI) against LH starters.

Rowand starting and batting leadoff with his .239/.281 average/OBP also doesn’t get folks fired up. But he is hitting .297 against LH pitching this season.

And in a statistical oddity, Huff is actually hitting left-handed pitching better than right-handers: .281 vs. .232.

But there’s not much positive to say about Mark DeRosa. This is his first start since May 18, when he started at 3B. But since he’s come off the DL early this month, DeRosa is 1 for 5, with the lone hit being a 27-bounce, seeing-eye single to center against the Braves on Tuesday. In fact, dating back to before DeRosa went on the DL in May, he is 1 for his last 28, with 1 walk.

In fact, prior today’s injury news, my blog post was going to be all about how the Giants need to release DeRosa. Guess we’ll have to wait until tomorrow to do that one.

Trepidation for Giants, followed by relief (with a little trepidation)

San Francisco Giants' Cody Ross is greet in the dugout after scoring against the Atlanta Braves in the ninth inning of a baseball game on Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2011, at Turner Field in Atlanta. Ross scored on a sacrifice fly by Pablo Sandoval. The Giants defeated the Braves 7-5. (AP Photo/Erik S. Lesser)

It seems this year that nothing comes easily for the San Francisco Giants.

The day started Wednesday with more concerning injury news. Already having to put Carlos Beltran (hand) and Sergio Romo (elbow) on the disabled list and unsure of P Jonathan Sanchez will be able to make his next start, the Giants sent reliever Brian Wilson to see Dr. James Andrews to have his sore elbow examined.

As it turned out, Wilson is only being troubled by elbow inflammation and will be sidelined a couple of days to allow his elbow to cool off. We’d be surprised if Wilson pitches at all the rest of the road trip.

And then the Giants went out and got a key win over the Braves — gaining a game in the standings on the Diamondbacks in the process — even though that win didn’t come with out drama.

The Giants were sailing heading into the bottom of the ninth with a 7-1 lead. Even though their streak of seven consecutive games with a home run was snapped, they did tie a franchise record with four sacrifice flies (one each from Cody Ross, Matt Cain, Pablo Sandoval and Aubrey Huff). That gave the Giants six sac flies in the series against the Braves, moving them from 23rd in the majors in that category to a tie for 10th.

But the Braves rallied for four runs in the ninth to make things interesting. But the rally was really fueled by shaky defense than bad pitching.

Dan Runzler entered in the top of the ninth. Runzler wasn’t especially sharp, but he didn’t get pounded either. He gave up a leadoff single to Freddie Freeman, got Chipper Jones to fly out, walked Brooks Conrad before getting Julio Lugo to ground into a force out. Then Jason Heyward singled to score the first run.

Jeremy Affeldt relieved Runzler and got Michael Bourn to fist a low pop behind the mound. A charging Orlando Cabrera got to the ball, but had it clank off the heel of his glove for a run-scoring error. Then Martin Prado then hit the ball well into center, but it really should have been caught. Cody Ross took a bad line to the ball, which allowed it to fall for a two-run double. Affeldt ended the game by striking out Brian McCann, who represented the tying run.

So, as it turned out, the two add-on runs in the ninth by the Giants on sac flies from Sandoval and Huff proved to be huge.

The win was key because it meant the Giants will leave Atlanta, at the very worst, 3.5 games out of first in the NL West.

Staying close is important, because after the Giants leave Atlanta, the only team left on their schedule with a winning record is the Diamondbacks, who the Giants face six more times this season.

The winning percentage of the teams left on the Giants’ schedule after Thursday is .422. The winning percentage of the teams left on Arizona’s schedule is .470.

Brian Wilson gets the loss, but maybe it should go to Bochy

San Francisco Giants relief pitcher Brian Wilson works in the ninth inning of a baseball game against the Atlanta Braves Monday, Aug. 15, 2011 in Atlanta. Wilson blew a two-run lead and was charged with the loss as Atlanta won 5-4. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Come October, the Giants may be in a position where they look back at several key moments that proved to be the difference between making the postseason and not.

Monday’s 5-4 loss in Atlanta, when the Braves scored three times in the ninth to win, may be one of those moments. And it’s hard to shake the feeling that it could have — even should have — been avoided, if not for Bruce Bochy’s decision to stand by his closer, Brian Wilson.

Now, we’re not suggesting Wilson be replaced as the Giants’ closer. Far from it. But with the depth and talent the Giants have in their bullpen, there really is no need to ALWAYS go to Wilson in save opportunities, especially if Wilson is not 100 percent.

Bothered by a stiff back — an issue that has lingered with Wilson all the way back into spring training — Wilson was unavailable to close Sunday’s 5-2 win over the Marlins. Prior to Monday’s game in Atlanta, Bochy was taking a wait-and-see approach on whether Wilson. But in the ninth, there was Wilson on the mound.

Now anyone who has ever been bothered with a sore back — particularly a recurring one — knows that you don’t go from “not being able to perform” to “100 percent” in 24 hours. So why even risk sending Wilson out in the ninth.

It wasn’t as if the bullpen has been taxed over the past few days. Matt Cain threw six innings on Friday, leaving an inning each for Ramon Ramirez and Javier Lopez. Tim Lincecum threw seven innings on Saturday, leaving an inning each for Affeldt and Wilson. And Ryan Vogelsong threw 7.2 innings on Sunday, leaving an inning for Santiago Casilla, Affledt and Ramirez to face one hitter each on Sunday.

Bochy passed on hitting for Madison Bumgarner in the seventh when the lefty had already thrown over a 100 pitches and the Giants holding a 3-2 lead. The move worked when Bumgarner set the side down in order in the seventh, then Mike Fontenot added a run with home run to left-center in the eighth.

But then Bochy went to Wilson to close out a 4-2 lead in the ninth. But wouldn’t have it been better to send Affeldt out to open the inning against the left-handed hitting Jose Constanza? With the lefty Affeldt on the mound, the Braves likely don’t send the left-handed hitting Eric Hinske to pinch hit, instead turning to righties like Julio Lugo, Brooks Conrad or David Ross, as Chipper Jones was clearly not an option with a sore knee. Wouldn’t those matchups have been more favorable, even if it meant going to the pen to get Casilla or Ramirez? Note: Sergio Romo was not an option, as it appears he’s headed for the DL with a tender elbow.

We’ve seen guys like Affeldt, Casilla and Ramirez get big outs in the 6th, 7th or 8th inning. What makes Bochy think they can’t get outs in the 9th, particularly with a two-run lead and a less-than-perfect Wilson? I’d much rather see Casilla, Affeldt or Ramirez at 100 percent, than Wilson at 80 or 90 percent.

Wilson said afterwards that his back was not an issue. But early in the inning, his pitches were topping out at 93 mph. It wasn’t until he faced Dan Uggla and Freddie Freeman later in the inning that his pitches started to hit 96 and 97 mph. But by that time he was in a heap a trouble.

Wilson also said that none of the hits the Braves got were hammered. They just found holes. And that is true. Constanza opened the inning with a grounder to short that Orlando Cabrera mishandled into an infield single. But then Wilson failed to challenge Hinske, nibbling around the edges and eventually losing him to a walk that put the tying run on with no outs. A sacrifice put runners on second and third before a single by Martin Prado past the diving Mike Fontenot at third scored one run.

Wilson then walked Brian McCann on four pitches. Some may say Wilson was not giving in to the dangerous McCann, but the walk moved the winning run into scoring position with one out. Wilson struck out Dan Uggla with some 97 mph gas and was one pitch from getting Freeman when he got ahead of him 1-2. But Freeman worked the count to 3-2 before slapping a Wilson fastball up the middle for the winning hit.

Now the Giants find themselves 2.5 games behind Arizona in the West and 5 games behind the Braves in the wild-card. The Giants really needed to earn at least a split in Atlanta with the Diamondbacks headed to Philadelphia for three. Tuesday, the Giants send Jonathan Sanchez to the mound, and that hardly fills any die-hard Giants fan with confidence, even with the Braves countering with a rookie pitcher just called up from Triple-A.

The season isn’t over by a long shot, and there’s plenty of baseball to be played. But it will be hard to look back on the night on Aug. 15 in Atlanta if the Giants fall one game short of the postseason.

San Francisco Giants hitters are simply ‘Clan Solo’

San Francisco Giants' Chris Stewart (37) is greeted in the dugout by relief pitcher Guillermo Mota, hands raised, and manager Bruce Bochy, at right, after Stewart's solo home run against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the fifth inning of a baseball game in San Francisco, Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2011. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

A long, long time ago in a game seemingly far, far away … the Giants hit a two-run home run.

Actually, it was just July 6, and in San Francisco. But it seems like another galaxy.

It came off the bat of Nate Schierholtz, a two-run shot in the fourth inning of the Giants’ 6-5 win over the San Diego Padres. Schierholtz would hit another home run that day, a solo shot in the bottom of the 14th that gave the Giants.

Little did he know he would be starting a trend. With two more home runs in the Giants’ 6-0 win against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Tuesday, San Francisco has hit 18 consecutive solo home runs.

One more and they tie the major-league record of 19 consecutive solo home runs sets by the 1914 Philadelphia Phillies.

Now the Giants are celebrating Star Wars Day at AT&T Park on Sept. 4 (in which fans will receive a collectible Brian Wilson Frozen in Carbonite statue), but More Splash Hits thinks we should get in the Star Wars mood now by giving the Giants hitters a new nickname “Clan Solo.”

After Schierholtz’s 14th inning solo home, he was followed by solo shots by Eli Whiteside (on July 7 vs. Padres), Schierholtz (July 8 vs. Mets), Aubrey Huff (July 14 at Padres), Cody Ross (July 15 at Padres), Miguel Tejada (July 16 at Padres), Pablo Sandoval (July 18 vs. Dodgers), Brandon Belt (July 19 vs. Dodgers), Aaron Rowand (July 22 vs. Brewers), Rowand (July 26 at Phillies), Sandoval (July 28 at Phillies), Sandoval (July 30 at Reds), Ross (Aug. 1 vs. Diamondbacks), Huff (Aug. 1 vs. Diamondbacks), Whiteside (Aug. 5 vs. Phillies), Sandoval (Aug. 6 vs. Phillies), Chris Stewart (Aug. 9 vs. Pirates), and Huff (Aug. 9 vs. Pirates).

Stewart’s home run was pretty cool. It was the first of his major league career. Stewart was greeted in the dugout by enthusiastic teammates, including reliever Guillermo Mota, who had to ask manager Bruce Bochy if that was Stewart’s first career home run.

And if you like solo numbers, Tuesday’s game was only the second game since July 28 that the Giants managed to put up a crooked number in an inning.

The Giants posted a pair of four-run innings in an 8-1 win over the Diamondbacks on Aug. 3. But other than that, the Giants had 17 one-run innings before plating three runs in the eighth inning Tuesday.

So with one-more solo home run, the Giants will share the record. Maybe they could commemorate the moment by having a special guest throw out the first pitch?

Might we suggest the goalkeeper of the U.S. women’s soccer team … Hope Solo?

Return of Dirty Sanchez — A closer look

San Francisco Giants

Jonathan Sanchez did not have the kind of outing he and the Giants hoped in his return from the disabled list on Friday.

Sanchez gave up five runs on seven hits and two walks in 4 2/3 innings in a 9-2 loss Friday to the Phillies.

Dating back to his previous two starts before going on the DL on June 25, it was the third consecutive start that Sanchez failed to pitch through the fifth inning. But in some ways, there were signs of encouragement.

For one, it was the first time six starts that he didn’t walk at least three batters. However, being in the strike zone was not all good, as the seven hits he gave up tied a season-high — as did the five earned runs.

Sanchez sailed through the first three innings, giving up just one hit and one walk and facing just 10 batters.

The Phillies went 1 for 8 with a walk and GIDP the first time against Sanchez. The second time through they were 4 for 9 with two singles and two home runs.

But even that is a little bit deceiving. Shane Victorino hit a one-out home run on an 0-1 pitch in the fourth. The pitch wasn’t a terrible one, but Victorino saw it and hit it hard.

Then Chase Utley and Hunter Pence followed with singles, but Sanchez almost got out of the inning with just the one run. Raul Ibanez grounded to second, but he didn’t hit it hard enough for the Giants to turn an inning-ending double play. A run scored, the John Mayberry hit a 3-2 fastball that was below the strikeout for a two-run home run. Just like that, a one-run inning became a four-run inning.

In the fifth, the Phillies added a more Sanchez-like run. It started with a four-pitch leadoff walk to Jimmy Rollins, which turned into a stolen base, which turned into a run on a single by Placido Polanco.

So a bad outing that came very close to being a not-so-bad outing. We can hope, if not expect, better results next time against the lighter-hitting Pirates.

Giants mix it up with Phillies

Giants catcher Eli Whiteside demonstrates his perfect tackling form on the Phillies' Placido Polanco during Friday's confrontation between the two teams.. (AP Photo/Jose Carlos Fajardo - Bay Area News Group)

Well, we can at least say this about the 2011 Giants: They know how to make a 9-2 thumping exciting.

The Giants dropped a second straight game to the Phillies on Friday in San Francisco, but the real story was the dust-up in the sixth inning after Giants reliever Ramon Ramirez hit Shane Victorino with a pitch.

With the Phillies leading 8-2 with two on and two out in the sixth, Ramirez hit Victorino square in the back with his first pitch.

Victorino took a couple of steps toward the mound, but stopped. Giants catcher Eli Whiteside popped up to put himself between Victorino and Ramirez, who was walking toward Victorino after tossing aside his glove.

The situation seemed about ready to cool down, but after Whiteside put himself between Victorino and Ramirez, he was hopping around like Cassius Clay vs. Sonny Liston, his head on a swivel, looking for any Phillie who might come at Ramirez. When Placido Polanco, who was on first base, got within a 10-foot radius of Ramirez, Whiteside tackled him, and the scrum was on.

There was some pushing and shoving, but nothing too serious, until Victorino, who was being held away from the scrum, got away and dove back into the pile.

Ramirez, Whiteside and Victorino were all ejected.

But the big question is: Why was Ramirez throwing at Victorino?

Whiteside said he wasn’t.

“I called for a fast ball inside, and it was a little too far inside,” Whiteside said.

Well, actually, it got a lot inside.

“I have no comment on the fight. … I played a little quarterback in high school,” Whiteside added.

Apparently, he wasn’t a very good quarterback, because his tackling form was textbook perfect.

Victorino thought he was being thrown at. That’s why he stepped toward Ramirez, to get an answer as to why.

Well, here are some possible explanations.

THE STOLEN BASE: Ah, yes, those unspoken rules. After Jimmy Rollins scored two with a two-out single, making it 8-2, the Phillies shortstop stolen second on Ramirez’s first pitch to Polanco. If Ramirez was upset about this, he didn’t show it. He paid no attention to Rollins at first (maybe because it was 8-2), and Rollins stole second without a throw. And if the Giants were upset, at what point did they get upset? Ramirez threw five more pitches to Polanco before he reached on a swinging bunt. Then came the pitch to Victorino. Carlos Beltran insinuated that Rollins’ breach of etiquette could have been a contributing factor. “I would not have done it,” Beltran said of the stolen base with a six-run lead. Of course, who was the last Giant to join the scrum? Carlos Beltran.

FRUSTRATION: Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said frustration by Ramirez led to the confrontation. “I think he was getting hit and he got mad and he was going to plunk somebody,” Manuel said. Maybe a better explanation. It was a frustrating inning for Ramirez. After getting the first out, he walked Raul Ibanez and gave up a single to John Mayberry. That was followed by an RBI single by catcher Brian Schneider, who was hitting .170. Pitcher Vance Worley was out on a nice catch by Whiteside on a bunt attempt. But then Ramirez helped the Phillies by throwing a wild pitch. Then came Rollins’ single and it was suddenly a three-run inning.

UTLEY FACTOR: It also could be the Ramirez wanted to throw at Chase Utley, who was a central figure in the scrum at last season’s NLCS. Utley normally bats third in the lineup. But Friday, with Ryan Howard sitting out, Utley was batting cleanup and Victorino was batting third. So maybe Ramirez just got confused. It’s as good a reason as any.

Regardless of the reason, it provided a little drama to a blowout at AT&T Park.

Regular-season Lee too good for Giants

After the Giants score eight runs in a game at home for the first time all season on Wednesday, Orlando Cabrera expressed a sentiment that Giants fans have experienced all season long.

“Man, finally. I was starting to worry,”  Cabrera said after the Giants’ 8-1 win over Arizona on Wednesday. “I’d like to believe if you win the World Series you have to hit at some point. It’s basically the same team.”

Don’t tell that to Cliff Lee.

The left-handed pitcher the Giants handled so well in the World Series shut out the Giants Thursday night as the Phillies won the opener of a four-game series 3-0.

For Lee vs. the Giants, maybe it’s a regular season/postseason thing. Lee entered Thursday’s game 3-0 with a 1.31 ERA in three regular-season starts with the Indians and Phillies against the Giants.

In the postseason, he’s 0-2 with 6.94 ERA vs. San Francisco.

  • If you wanted to take some good news from Thursday, it’s that Madison Bumgarner worked his way out a recent funk. After another one of “those” first innings in his last start in Cincinnati, Bumgarner got off to a rough start Thursday against the Phillies. He escaped the first thanks to a couple of breaks — a caught stealing of Jimmy Rollins at third (those replays showed him safe) and a line drive double play off the bat of Ryan Howard. MadBum led off the second by allowing back-to-back homers to Hunter Pence and John Mayberry. With the way Lee was pitching that was plenty for the Phillies. Even so, Bumgarner regrouped and finished with six scoreless innings and a quality start.
  • Carlos Beltran went 1 for 4 Thursday with his 31st double of the year and first with the Giants. After beginning his Giants tenure 1 for 14 with six strikeouts, Beltran has hit in his last five games with San Francisco, going 8 for 20 with a double, two triples and no strikeouts in that stretch.
  • For what it’s worth, Zach Wheeler, the pitching prospect dealt in the Beltran deal, made his debut for Class A St. Lucie Mets on Monday. He pitched four innings, giving up four earned runs on seven hits. He had four strikeouts and no walks.
  • Cody Ross went 0 for 4 with four strikeouts against Lee.
  • Pitcher Alex Hinshaw was designated for assignment to make room for Mark DeRosa on the 40-man roster. DeRosa was activated from the 60-day DL, but did not appear in Thursday’s game.
  • Vance Worley, who through a complete game in a 7-2 win over the Giants on July 26, gets the start Friday against Jonathan Sanchez. Sanchez is making his first start since coming off the DL with biceps tendinitis. Sanchez was 1-0 with a 3.27 ERA (4 ER in 11 IP), 13 strikeouts and five walks in two rehab starts for Triple-A Fresno.

DeRosa up, Belt down … again

Mark DeRosa

Normally, getting a player off the disabled list is a happy occasion.

But when the Giants activated IF-OF Mark DeRosa from the 60-disabled list Thursday, it was sure to send the Twitter kingdom of Giants Nation into a frenzy.

The Giants activated DeRosa, who had been out since May 18 with a reoccurring wrist injury — the same wrist injury DeRosa suffered BEFORE he signed with the Giants in 2010. But the part of the deal that was sure to send Giants faithful into a frenzy was the demotion to Fresno of Brandon Belt.

It’s the third time Belt has been sent to Fresno this season. After making the opening day roster, Belt struggled hitting .192 and was sent down to Triple-A on April 20.

He was recalled in late May, but only appeared in two games before going on the DL with a hairline fracture in his wrist. After mending, he went back to Fresno before getting recalled in mid-July.

Since then, Belt hit .238 (5 for 21) with two walks and five strikeouts. He started five games. His season now stands with 2 HR, 7 RBI and .218.

Meanwhile, DeRosa hit .162 (6 for 37) this season after aggravating his wrist injury starting his swing at a game at Dodger Stadium.

DeRosa hit .294 with 0 HR and 3 RBI and five runs scored in a 10-game rehab stint at Fresno before getting recalled.

So as much as we’d like to believe Belt is this year’s version of Buster Posey, his numbers do not support that. We’ve seen glimpses with Belt, but not consistency.

And we know Bruce Bochy likes veterans, and will likely use DeRosa as a pinch-hitter with an occasional start at first base.

Now we just have to wait to see what 40-man move they’ll make to clear room for DeRosa, who was on the 60-day DL. Early guesses have included Alex Hinshaw, a 28-year-old left-handed pitcher who has pitched in the bigs in two years.

We can only hope he can contribute. But if he’s done, let him (or the Giants) discover it soon. Then add at Brett Pill to the 25- and 40-man rosters. Pill’s hitting line in Fresno is 22 HR, 93 RBI and .320 AVG. The only reason why we haven’t seen him in San Francisco is that he’s not on the 40-man roster.

Mark DeRosa