April 2013

San Francisco Giants player of the week: Marco Scutaro

Chicago Cubs' Nate Schierholtz, right, is out as San Francisco Giants second baseman Marco Scutaro throws to first during the eighth inning of a baseball game in Chicago, Saturday, April 13, 2013. Welington Castillo was out at first. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Chicago Cubs’ Nate Schierholtz, right, is out as San Francisco Giants second baseman Marco Scutaro throws to first during the eighth inning of a baseball game in Chicago, Saturday, April 13, 2013. Welington Castillo was out at first. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Remember when Marco Scutaro got off to a 2-for-23 start and we were wondering what was wrong with the Giants second baseman?

Was it his sore back? Was it bad habits when he battled a sore back in spring training?

Well, whatever it was, it’s gone.

Scutaro got well against Rockies and Cubs pitching, hitting .444 (11 for 25), with four runs, three doubles, 4 RBI and just one strikeout. Now, that’s more Scutaro-like.

For that, Scutaro was MoreSplashHits’ pick as the Giants player of the week for Week 2, over the likes of Brandon Crawford and Santiago Casilla.

Crawford hit .364 (8 for 22) with five runs, one double, one home run, 5 RBI and 5 walks last week. Casilla pitched six scoreless innings, allowing just one hit, no runs, on walks, while striking out six. He picked up a six-out save.

Giants 10, Cubs 7 (10 inn.): Captain Underpants (aka Hunter Pence) to the rescue

On Sunday in Chicago, the Giants needed a hero. They found one in Hunter Pence.

In doing some research on nicknames for Giants players, I discovered that Hunter Pence’s nickname is Captain Underpants. Well, at least according to Baseball Reference.

upantsThe only nickname I was aware for Pence was “The Reverend” for his inspirational pre-game pep talks during last season’s postseason run. Apparently, that nickname hasn’t reached Baseball Reference.

I searched for an explanation on the Underpants moniker and all I could find was a story when Pence played in the minors, a heckler mistakenly thought the stadium P.A. guy said “Underpants” when introducing “Hunter Pence.” The heckler then called Pence “Underpants” the rest of the game.

From Underpants, the title “Captain” was added, a reference to the children’s novel series in which two 4th graders hypnotize their mean principal to become the pseduo-superhero Captain Underpants.

Well, whatever you want to call him, he’s been a hero for the Giants in 2013.

Pence belted his fourth home run this season for the Giants. In 59 games after being acquired in a trade with the Phillies last season, Pence hit seven home runs for the Giants.

He came through in the clutch Sunday when with two outs and on a 2-2 pitch from Shawn Camp, Pence launched a homer to left-center to tie the game at 7-7.

The Giants added three runs in the 10th for a 10-7 and take the series from the Cubs, 3-1.

Amazingly, the Giants won for the third consecutive time that Tim Lincecum has started. In all three games, the Giants have had to come from behind.

After rallying from a modest 1-0 deficit to beat the Dodgers on April 3, the Giants had to erase a 6-2 deficit against the Rockies to win 9-6 on Tuesday.

On Sunday, after surrendering two-run homers to Starlin Castro and Nate Schierholtz in the first inning to give the Cubs a 4-1 lead, Lincecum settled down to four scoreless innings to keep the Giants in the game. He was actually in line to get the win after the Giants scored four runs in the sixth.

The Giants got creative with their runs scored, or should we say the Cubs did. The Giants scored runs on a passed ball, a wild pitch and a balk.

The Giants’ sixth alone consisted of four walks, five wild pitches, a run-scoring double by Gregor Blanco and a two-run, pinch-hit single by Nick Noonan.

But the Cubs rallied to take the lead themselves by scoring two runs in the bottom of the eighth off just one hit. Jeremy Affeldt issued three walks, including one with the bases loaded, and Alberto Gonzalez added a sacrifice fly.

After Pence tied it in the ninth, the Giants tallied three runs in the 10th on singles by Hector Sanchez, Brandon Crawford, Buster Posey and a double by Marco Scutaro — as well as the aforementioned balk from Camp.

Sergio Romo came in to save it in the bottom of the 10th. Although we’ve stated we don’t like using Romo to save three-run leads, with the day off Monday, we had no problem with going to Romo in this situation.

The win gave the Giants a 3-1 series win. The series opened and closed with Giant comebacks. The Giants rallied from 5-0 down to beat the Cubs 7-6 in the series opener. They even erased a 2-0 deficit in the top of the ninth Friday, before giving the lead back in the bottom of the ninth for their lone loss in the series.

Giants 3, Cubs 2: Apparently every 2012 Giant loses on the day when he gets his World Series ring

Nate Schierholtz receives his World Series ring from Bruce Bochy on Saturday.

Nate Schierholtz receives his World Series ring from Bruce Bochy on Saturday.

Saturday started with smiles for Nate Schierholtz. It ended with a loss.

Now you know how the rest of your ex-teammates on the Giants feel.

During batting practice Saturday, Giants manager Bruce Bochy presented Schierholtz with his World Series ring.

When presenting the ring, Bochy told Schierholtz: “Thanks for everything you did for us. If not for you, we never could have rallied around Hunter Pence‘s inspiring pre-game speeches.”

OK, so he didn’t say that.

But as a member of the 2012 Giants, Schierholtz received his ring Saturday. It was cool that Bochy packed away Schierholtz ring on the trip to Chicago. It was a little odd that he would decide to wait until before the third game to give it to him.

Oh well, better to wait two days than three months, when the Cubs visit San Francisco in late July.

It could have been that Bochy was waiting to give the ring to Schierholtz in the first game that Nate was not in the lineup.

And even though he was on the bench, Schierholtz (or his absence) factored in Saturday’s game.

In the seventh with one out and pitcher Madison Bumgarner on second, Marco Scutaro looped a single into right. Bumgarner waited to see if the ball would fall, so he got a late break off of second. Still, third-base coach Tim Flannery sent Bumgarner. Any kind of a good throw would have easily got MadBum at the plate. But right-fielder Scott Hairston‘s throw was anything but good, and Bumgarner scored to make it 3-0.

If Schierholtz is in right, there’s no way Flannery sends Bumgarner home. Pablo Sandoval followed by grounding into an inning-ending double play. So instead of being 3-0, it might have been 2-0, and Dioner Navarro‘s pinch-hit homer in the seventh might have tied the game.

Schierholtz again could have been a big factor in the eighth. The Cubs put the first two runners on, and Alfonso Soriano hit a ball sharply off the chest of Sandoval. But shortstop Brandon Crawford picked up the ricochet and threw out Soriano at first. BARELY (if at all). If Soriano had been called safe, then Schierholtz comes to the plate as a pinch-hitter with a chance to do big damage.

But with the out called, it left first base open. So Bochy walked Schierholtz. Then Wellington Castillo hit the first pitch into a double play to end the inning.

OTHER NOTES

  • Bumgarner had his third outstanding start of the season, giving up just the two-run pinch-hit homer to Navarro on his 110th pitch of the day. He finished allowing two runs on six hits and two walks in 6.2 innings. He fanned six and has a 1.77 ERA on the season.
  • Santiago Casilla was outstanding in posting a six-out save. He only allow one baserunner, and that was on the intentional walk to Schierholtz.
  • Marco Scutaro is back. After starting the year 2 for 23, he’s now hitting .286 after going 3 for 4 on Saturday.

San Francisco Giants Friday Farm Report: Heston is 2-0 in Fresno

Chris Heston

Chris Heston

At the top of the list on concerns for the San Francisco Giants heading into the 2013 season was the organizational depth at starting pitching.

Should something go awry with one of the Giants’ five starting pitcher, there are questions on who would be able to step in and fill the void.

At the top of that list in right-hander Chris Heston. Heston was the Double-A Eastern League pitcher of the year in 2012, which is worth noting because former Giants prospect Zach Wheeler also pitched well in the Eastern League last year.

In his first two starts at Triple-A, Heston is learning the difference from pitching in the pitcher-friendly Eastern League and the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. (more…)

Cubs 4, Giants 3: Has Bochy gone to the Romo well a bit too much this season?

Well, you knew it couldn’t last forever.

Sergio Romo was absolutely brilliant through the first 10 games of the year. He was 6 for 6 in save opportunities, had an ERA of 0.00 and had only allowed two baserunners.

But Wrigley is Wrigley, and the Cubs used the wind to their favor.

Chicago Cubs' Starlin Castro, right, celebrates with teammate Luis Valbuena after hitting a game-winning double against the San Francisco Giants during the ninth inning of a baseball game in Chicago, Friday, April 12, 2013. The Cubs won 4-3. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Chicago Cubs’ Starlin Castro, right, celebrates with teammate Luis Valbuena after hitting a game-winning double against the San Francisco Giants during the ninth inning of a baseball game in Chicago, Friday, April 12, 2013. The Cubs won 4-3. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

After the Giants rallied for three runs in the top of the ninth to take a 3-2 lead, Dioner Navarro greeted Romo in the bottom of the ninth with a wind-blown solo home run to right.

It was the third wind-blown homer of the day for the Cubs. All three would have been outs on Thursday. All three would have outs at AT&T Park — well, at least two would have been for sure.

It spoiled what looked to be another great day to be a Giant. After being stifled for 7.1 innings by Carlos Villanueva, the Giants finally got into the Cubs’ shaky pen and it paid off in the ninth.

Marco Scutaro started the rally with a one-out double to left-center. Pablo Sandoval followed with a bloop single to right, scoring Scutaro. Buster Posey was hit by a pitch. After Hunter Pence forced out Posey at second (on a play that look REALLLLY close to being a double-play), Brandon Belt lashed a double to right, scoring Sandoval and then Pence all the way from first for the lead.

With Romo in the ninth to close it, it looked like game over. But not on Friday. Not at Wrigley.

But Romo then got the next two Cubs out, and announcers Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow raised a good point.

Lefty Javier Lopez was warming up in the bullpen, and they wondered whether manager Bruce Bochy would bring in Lopez to face the left-handed DeJesus.

Krukow’s point, and I would agree, was that Romo’s job was to get the save. Now, with that gone, there’s no point taxing Romo with more pitches, especially when he was pitching in his fourth game in five days. (I would also argue that Bochy should not have used Romo to protect a three-run lead in the ninth inning Tuesday against the Rockies).

But Bochy left Romo in to face DeJesus. Romo was one strike away from ending the inning. But he tried to sneak a fastball by DeJesus, which he promptly laced to center for a single.

Then he made the same mistake to Starlin Castro. Slider, slider, slider for a 2-1 count. Then, on his 20th pitch of the inning, a fastball that Castro doubled off the wall in right center for the game winner.

The Giants talked this spring about not overworking Romo as he makes the transition into a full-time closer. And yet, 11 games into the season, Bruce Bochy has turned into Dusty Baker.

Hopefully, if some good comes out of this loss, it will make the Giants rethink how they use Romo in the future.

Giants 7, Cubs 6: We’ve got the perfect nickname for San Francisco Giants rookie Nick Noonan

San Francisco Giants' Nick Noonan, center, shakes hands with Giants third base coach Tim Flannery (1) after hitting a triple during the eighth inning of an exhibition spring training baseball game against the Oakland Athletics, Friday, March 29, 2013, in San Francisco. Athletics' Josh Donaldson is at right. (AP Photo/George Nikitin)

San Francisco Giants’ Nick Noonan, center, shakes hands with Giants third base coach Tim Flannery (1) after hitting a triple during the eighth inning of an exhibition spring training baseball game against the Oakland Athletics, Friday, March 29, 2013, in San Francisco. Athletics’ Josh Donaldson is at right. (AP Photo/George Nikitin)

The San Francisco Giants have a menagerie of animal nicknames for their players.

Kung Fu Panda

Baby Giraffe

White Shark

Crazy Horse

They all make for good sellers at the Giants Dugout store.

And now that other items like the Timmy wigs (he cut his hair) and Wilson beards (off the team) are now in the clearance bins, maybe it’s time for another fuzzy nickname.

And rookie infielder Nick Noonan appears to be the perfect candidate.

Of course, the first thing that comes to mind when Noonan comes to the plate is to yell “Noonan! Noonan!” in reference to the Danny Noonan character from “Caddyshack.”

Well, that’s not a good nickname. You don’t want Giants fans yelling “NNNNNNoonan!” whenever he comes to the plate. But if you want a cute and fuzzy nickname, you just need to take the Caddyshack reference a step further.

gopher

Noonan = Caddyshack = Gopher!

Somebody cue Kenny Loggins!

Noonan has certainly earned it. He went 3 for 5 with two runs in Thursday’s game against the Cubs, raising his season average to .455 (5 for 11) and helping the Giants rally from an early 5-0 deficit.

And think about, the nickname worked on Thursday. Bill Murray is a big Cubs fan. Murray starred in Caddyshack as the groundskeeper who was tormented by …. The Gopher! The Gopher tormented the Cubs on Thursday.

Last season, the rookie call-ups from Fresno didn’t fare so well. Charlie Culberson, Conor Gillaspie and Francisco Peguero struggled to hit their own weight.

But Noonan is holding his own after he became the Giants’ fallback option for a reserve infielder. He may even allow the Giants to forget about Tony Abreu, who still hasn’t begun his rehab assignment from quad troubles that sidelined him during spring training.

Noonan can play second base (where he got his first big league start Thursday in place of the resting Marco Scutaro), shortstop and third base.

So let’s hear it for Noonan, a.k.a The Gopher. Let’s get some legs on this nickname. Spread the word.

I expect to see gopher hats in the Giants Dugout stores by the end of the month.

goferhat

Giants 10, Rockies 0: The continuing saga of the resurgence of Barry Zito

(more…)

Giants 9, Rockies 6: Brandon Crawford not just another pretty face with a soon-to-be Gold Glove

San Francisco Giants' Brandon Crawford, top, is congratulated after hitting a three-run home run off of Colorado Rockies pitcher Adam Ottavino to score Gregor Blanco (7) and Hector Sanchez (29) during the sixth inning of a baseball game in San Francisco, Tuesday, April 9, 2013. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

San Francisco Giants’ Brandon Crawford, top, is congratulated after hitting a three-run home run off of Colorado Rockies pitcher Adam Ottavino to score Gregor Blanco (7) and Hector Sanchez (29) during the sixth inning of a baseball game in San Francisco, Tuesday, April 9, 2013. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

When the Giants handed the starting shortstop job to Brandon Crawford prior to the 2012 season, they told him that all he had to worry about was playing good defense.

The Giants would take any kind of offensive production he could offer.

But I’ve always like what I saw from Crawford, from the day he got called up to the majors. And it wasn’t just his grand slam in Milwaukee in his big-league debut. Even as he battled to hit .200 for the Giants that season, he just had the look of a good hitter.

But results have been slow in coming. Crawford followed up his .204 2011 season by hitting .248 in 2012. I felt 2013 could be a big season at the plate for Crawford. It was one reason why I drafted him in fantasy baseball league (and, yes, it’s an NL-only league; and, yes, I was the last owner to select a shortstop).

After a quiet first week, Crawford is starting to produce at the bottom of the lineup, and Tuesday brought one of the bigger moments of the brief big-league career.

With the Giants trailing 6-2 in the bottom of the sixth, the Giants got something going after walks to Gregor Blanco and Hector Sanchez to open the inning. Colorado starter Juan Nicasio was replaced by Adam Ottavino.

Crawford greeted Ottavino with a three-run home run to left — his first opposite-field home run since opening the 2011 with Class A San Jose rehabbing a broken finger suffered in spring training that year.

“I’ve kind of lost the feeling for opposite-field home runs,” Crawford quipped afterwards.

It was only his second home run in 363 at-bats at AT&T Park, and it was the first home run this season for a Giant not named Pence or Sandoval.

Here’s another interesting home run fact for Crawford: he’s hit eight home runs in his career — three have been three-run homers and two have been grand slams.

The Giants don’t need Crawford to be a .300 hitter for them to succeed. But if he manages to hit .260 or .270, it will be big boost.

And Tuesday’s win wasn’t just about Crawford’s blast. It was a team effort. Every Giant who took at least one plate appearance Tuesday got a hit or a walk — well, except Brandon Belt who went 0 for 5.

Angel Pagan went 3 for 5, Marco Scutaro went 3 for 4, Pablo Sandoval was 1 for 3, Hunter Pence was 2 for 5, Blanco was 1 for 3 with two walks, Sanchez drew two walks (SANCHEZ!!!). Even Tim Lincecum and pinch-hitters Nick Noonan and Andres Torres were 1 for 1, as the Giants banged out 14 hits and drew six walks.

And the bullpen was once again outstanding in relief of Lincecum, throwing four shutout innings, allowing no hits and only one walk. Good job by Jose Mijares, George Kontos, Santiago Casilla and Sergio Romo, who is now 5-for-5 on save pops.

LINCECUM’S NIGHT

Lincecum had a terrible second inning, but he might have escaped trouble with a little help from his defense. After walking Troy Tulowitzki to open the inning, Michael Cuddyer hit grounder to Marco Scutaro. Instead of taking the sure out at first, Scutaro try to throw the lead runner out at second. His throw was off the mark, allowing Tulowitzki to take third. Todd Helton’s infield chopper brought the first out of the inning, but it also allowed Tulowitzki to score. After a walk to Wilin Rosario, a wild pitch and stolen base put runners on second and third, Lincecum struck out Chris Nelson for the second out. With the pitcher Nicasio up next, it looked as if Lincecum would get out of the jam having allowed just the one run (on zero hits). But Lincecum inexcusably walked Nicasio to load the bases. Dexter Fowler followed with a two-run double, and Josh Rutledge hit a two-run single to make it a five-run rally.

“You have to feel good after the team wins, especially coming back from the hole I put them in there in the second inning,” Lincecum said. “I feel good about that. But I’m going back to the chalkboard after every start and going into refining mode and trying to fix the errors. That second inning really was a doozy for me.”

Yes, it was.

Have you ever wondered what’s up with all that gunk on Pablo Sandoval’s helmet?

The Panda usually heads to the plate with a helmet full of crud.

The Panda usually heads to the plate with a helmet full of crud.

I’ve been watching baseball games for more than 30 years. But I ran across something I never realized before. So I thought I’d share with you.

So I was watching a San Francisco Giants game recently when someone asked me “What is up with all that gunk on Pablo Sandoval’s helmet?”

My response: “Aw, it’s just something baseball guys do.”

Friend: “Is there any purpose to it?”

Me: “Is there any purpose to baseball players spitting every 30 seconds?”

Friend: “Well, it’s disgusting. They should make a rule against it.”

I shrugged the suggestion off. I mean, Pablo’s not the first nor the only player to encase his batting helmet in gunk.

I can remember Craig Biggio doing it in the 1990s and early 2000s.

biggiocrud

And Vladimir Guerrero was another culprit.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at New York Yankees

And, of course, Manny Ramirez.

LApinetar

It just seemed like an age-old tradition.

But last week while watching game, one of the TV commentators talked about the gunk on the helmets, and gave a perfectly logical explanation that never dawned on me before.

It’s pine tar, that sticky substance that is normally on a rag on the on-deck circle for batters to apply to the handle of their bat for a better grip.

Well, some hitters will also rub that pine tar rag on their helmets as they head to the plate. Why? Well, if you’re in the middle of a particularly long at-bat and you want a little more stick to your grip, you don’t have to walk back to the on deck circle to grab the pine tar rag — and the umps probably wouldn’t let you — you just have to adjust your helmet and get a little more pine tar.

But some players have taken this practice to the new level. Take a look at this image of the Dodgers’ Matt Kemp.

Matt Kemp

I was watching Kemp last week, and I saw that stain on his shoulder. I couldn’t remember Kemp making a diving play in the outfielder or sliding on the basepaths to get that stain. And even if he had, how could the only stain be on his shoulder.

Then I realized that Kemp, instead of rubbing his batting helmet in pine tar, he rubs the rag on his shoulder for his extra supply when he is at the plate.

Of course, there is an inherent danger to carrying all this pine tar on your body. What if you helmet flies off your head as you’re racing down to first base. The pitcher could pick the helmet up for the hitter and hand it back to him. Looks like a nice gesture until you realize that the pitcher has some sticky pine tar on his pitching hand and is now able to snap off some wicked sliders or curveballs.

Something to think about.

And, of course, whenever you play around with pine tar, it’s always a good idea to be careful.

You don’t want to end up like this guy.

bretttar

Giants 4, Rockies 2: Let’s hear it for the Giants bullpen

San Francisco Giants pitcher Sergio Romo (54) celebrates after striking out Colorado Rockies' Wilin Rosario to end the ninth inning of a baseball game in San Francisco, Monday, April 8, 2013. The Giants won 4-2. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

San Francisco Giants pitcher Sergio Romo (54) celebrates after striking out Colorado Rockies’ Wilin Rosario to end the ninth inning of a baseball game in San Francisco, Monday, April 8, 2013. The Giants won 4-2. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

There were several good things to talk about after Monday’s win over the Colorado Rockies — Hunter Pence‘s three-run homer, Buster Posey‘s first RBI of the season, Madison Bumgarner battling through a less-than-perfect outing to earn the win.

All good topics, but we are going to give it up to the bullpen.

After Bumgarner left with two out in the sixth, Santiago Casilla, Jeremy Affeldt and Sergio Romo came in and retired 10 of the final 11 batters the Rockies sent to the plate, six of them by strikeout. The only batter to reach was Josh Rutledge, who doubled off Romo to lead off the ninth.

Rutledge was the first batter that Romo has allowed to reach base off him this season.

In fact, going back to last postseason, Romo had retired the last 24 batters he had faced — nine this regular season and the final 15 of the postseason (9 in the World Series and the final five of the NLCS Games 5, 6 and 7).

But after Rutledge’s double, Romo shut the door with strikeouts of Chris Nelson, Todd Helton and Wilin Rosario.

When protecting a lead, Giants relievers have an ERA of 0.87 with only two hits and no walks allowed in 10.1 innings. In all games, Giants relievers not named George Kontos have a combined ERA of 1.62.

  • Sergio Romo 4 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 6 Ks
  • Jeremy Affeldt 3 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 3 Ks
  • Chad Gaudin 5 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 5 Ks
  • Santiago Casilla 2 IP, 0 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 2 Ks
  • Javier Lopez 1.2 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 1 K
  • Jose Mijares 1 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 1 K

OTHER NOTES

  • The Giants’ win Monday was their seventh in a row against the Rockies dating back to last September.
  • Bumgarner wasn’t early as sharp Monday as he was last Tuesday in Los Angeles. But he muddled through to keep the Giants in the lead. He gave up two runs on five hits and five walks over 5.2 innings. He struck out five.
  • Buster Posey looked lost against Jorge De La Rosa, striking out twice and popping out. But against Chris Volstad in the eighth, he slapped a pitch into right field for an RBI single, his first RBI of the season.
  • Pence’s three-run homer to left was this third of the season in just seven games. It took him 38 games last year to hit his third home run after being acquired by the Giants from the Phillies. It was his second at AT&T this season. He only hit two last season at AT&T as a member of the Giants over a span of two months.

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