March 2014

Transformation of Giants’ Tim Lincecum into finesse pitcher takes another good turn

San Francisco Giants' Tim Lincecum pitches to the Kansas City Royals in the second inning of a spring training baseball game, Friday, March 7, 2014, in Surprise, Ariz. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

San Francisco Giants’ Tim Lincecum pitches to the Kansas City Royals in the second inning of a spring training baseball game, Friday, March 7, 2014, in Surprise, Ariz. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

Tim Lincecum kept the impressive spring going by the Giants starting rotation.

Lincecum tossed three scoreless in a 5-0 win Friday against the Royals. Combined with Tim Hudson’s three scoreless innings on Thursday in a 3-2 win over the Angels, it gives the Giants’ rotation a 0.39 ERA for the spring (23 IP, 1 ER, 13 hits).

Lincecum gave up two hits with no walks or strikeouts (he did hit one batter). He fastball clocked at 89-91 mph.

“I’m not really too worried about trying to get it up or where it is at,” Lincecum said. “It’s all about placement. I know if I set my sights low in the zone I’ll be better off.”

It’s all part of Lincecum learning to become more of a finesse pitcher. He was efficient on Friday, throwing 35 pitches, 26 for strikes.

As Lincecum put it, he’s pitching for more “crappy contact” and worrying less about strikeouts.

“I just wanted to pound the zone a little bit more than I did,” Lincecum said. “My last game I had a batter where I threw four straight balls and I was really trying not to let that happen and attack the zone. Even if I was behind to hitters, come back and make really good pitches. That’s where my mindset was at.”

Here’s how Lincecum’s outing went Friday:

FIRST INNING

  • Norichika Aoki doubles down left-field line
  • Lorenzo Cain pops to first
  • With Alex Gordon batting, Aoki caught stealing third
  • Gordon singles to center
  • Billy Butler flies to right

SECOND INNING

  • Danny Valencia flies to right
  • Justin Maxwell flies to center
  • Brett Hayes hit by pitch
  • Alcides Escobar grounds to third

THIRD INNING

  • Christian Colon grounds to short
  • Aoki groundsto short
  • Cain pops to second

Looks like lots of crappy contact there.

Lincecum has now allowed three hits and one walk in five scoreless innings this spring. For a guy with a career spring ERA of 5.51 (10.57 last spring), that’s worth noting.

To ready more on the Freak’s approach this spring, read Andrew Baggarly’s post here.

 

New home plate collision rule: We’re predicting you won’t miss them

Florida Marlins' Scott Cousins, top, collides with San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey (28) on a fly ball from Emilio Bonifacio during the 12th inning of a baseball game in San Francisco, Wednesday, May 25, 2011. Cousins was safe for the go ahead run and Florida won 7-6.  (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Florida Marlins’ Scott Cousins, top, collides with San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey (28) on a fly ball from Emilio Bonifacio during the 12th inning of a baseball game in San Francisco, Wednesday, May 25, 2011. Cousins was safe for the go ahead run and Florida won 7-6. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Major League Baseball and the players association agreed to implement a provisional rule that would limit home plate collisions.

It can’t be called a home plate collision ban, thanks to a compromised made by both sides.

MLB wanted to make the rule simple: Runners would be required to slide into home plate; catchers would not be allowed to impede the runner in any way.

But the players association contended that years of conditioning of big-league catchers could not be undone in one spring training (which MoreSplashHits believes is silly, but OK).

So MLB added the following provision to the rule:

“The catcher, without the ball in his possession, has no right to block the pathway of the runner attempting to score. The base line belongs to the runner and the catcher should be there only when he is fielding a ball or when he already has the ball in his hand.”

This provision would seem to indicate that catchers can still block the plate if they have the ball in hand. This has led some players to deduce that a rule intended on protecting the catcher is now putting the runner in danger.

And they have a point. Also, it created some gray area that is confusing to some.

“Yesterday, we were thoroughly confused, trying to figure out ways to do it,” the Brewers’ Jonathan Lucroy said. “There were so many issues as far as, ‘Will this be legal? Would that be legal?’”

Now if catchers are spending this spring trying to figure ways that they can still be allowed to block the plate, then there will be issues.

But if teams spend this spring instructing their catchers to position themselves in a way that will avoid most contact, then there will be few issues.

That’s what Giants fans have learned over the past couple of years.

Ever since Buster Posey had his 2011 season ended by a collision with the Marlins’ Scott Cousins — and even before that, Posey says — Giants catchers have been taught to position themselves to receive the ball out in front of home plate (i.e. between home plate and the mound). Then catch the ball and turn to tag out the runner with a sweep tag.

This technique is nothing new. Carlton Fisk decided early in his career that he would rather have a long and prosperous career than turn himself into a human baracade at the plate. So he used the sweep tag, which allowed him to make the Hall of Fame.

So Giants fans haven’t seen many home plate collisions in the past few years. And they haven’t missed them.

As someone who has covered high school baseball for a quarter century — home plate collisions are not allowed in prep baseball, or the college game for that matter — I can tell you that you don’t really miss them.

What you will notice is that any runner to can get to the plate before the ball arrives will be safe. Those that don’t will be out.

Just like every other base.

Will there still be collisions from time to time? Sure. Just like there are when pitchers and runners sometimes collide when a pitcher is covering first. Or when a wide throw carries first basemen into the path of oncoming runners.

But these plays will be left to the judgment of umpires to decide if the contact was incidental or intentional, and rule accordingly.

MoreSplashHits believes after the 2014 season, this experimental rule will become permanent, with the potential elimination of the aformentioned provision which allows catchers to block the plate if they have the ball.

And there will still be exciting plays at the plate, like this one from the 2012 World Series.

Spring training: Giants 3, Angels 2 — Cain keeps strong pitching going

San Francisco Giants' Matt Cain throws before an exhibition spring training baseball game last season. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

San Francisco Giants’ Matt Cain throws before an exhibition spring training baseball game last season. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

Matt Cain continued the stellar start to the spring by the quintet of pitchers who will make up the Giants’ starting rotation this season.

Cain gave up just one hit in three scoreless innings, walking none and striking out two in a 3-2 win over the Angels. It was Cain’s first spring training start as his previous start last Saturday was rained out, forcing him to throw a bullpen session indoors.

None of the Giants’ starting rotation pitchers have allowed a run this spring when starting spring training games. The only run allowed by a Giants rotation pitcher was by Ryan Vogelsong pitching in relief of Madison Bumgarner.

Yusmeiro Petit, who is fighting for a job as a long relief man, has made the other start this spring for the Giants.

Here are how the pitchers in the Giants starting rotation have fared this spring:

  • Madison Bumgarner — 2 games, 1-0, 5 IP, 0 R, 5 H, 0 BB, 3 K 0.00 ERA
  • Tim Lincecum — 1 G, 0-0, 2 IP, 0 R, 1 H, 1 BB, 1 K, 0.00 ERA
  • Tim Hudson — 1 G, 0-0, 2 IP, 0 R, 0 H, 0 BB, 1 K, 0.00 ERA
  • Ryan Vogelsong 2 G, 1-0, 5 IP, 1 R, 4 H, 0 BB, 2 K, 1.80 ERA

Put that all together, and the Giants projected starting rotation has allowed one run on 11 hits, one walk and nine strikeouts in 17 innings of work (0.53 ERA).

As we always say in the spring “It’s just spring training.” But it’s a good sign to see the starters getting good results, especially Tim Lincecum who has a track record of ugly numbers in the spring.

Now, the Giants’ hitters haven’t been nearly as impressive this spring.

Wednesday’s win pushed the Giants’ spring record to 4-3. But the Giants have scored more than three runs in a game in their last three outings.

Other highlights

  • Pablo Sandoval had a pair of RBI singles in three at-bats.
  • Mike Morse drove in the other Giant run with a double, and he had a walk.
  • Minor league 1B Mark Minicozzi went 2 for 4.
  • Heath Hembree pitched a 1-2-3 ninth with one strikeout to earn the save.

Thursday

Tim Hudson takes the mound as the Giants host the Reds at 12:05 p.m.

Spring training: Giants 3, Rockies 2

San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner pitches to a Colorado Rockies batter during the first inning of an exhibition spring training baseball game Tuesday, March 4, 2014, in Scottsdale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner pitches to a Colorado Rockies batter during the first inning of an exhibition spring training baseball game Tuesday, March 4, 2014, in Scottsdale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

OK, it’s March 4. So it’s time we start blogging about the Giants.

MoreSplashHits has emerged from its winter hibernation to check in on what’s going on with the Giants down in Scottsdale

On Tuesday, Giants starting pitching continued its strong spring with solid outings against the Rockies by Madison Bumgarner and Ryan Vogelsong.

Bumgarner, slated to be the Giants’ opening day starter, gave up just two hits in three shutout innings of work. He struck out. This was MadBum’s second spring start and he has yet to allow a run.

“My command was better,” Bumgarner said. “The pitches I made from the stretch felt better than they did last time. There still were balls that I left up, but nothing on a regular basis.”

Ryan Vogelsong, the No. 5 starter, gave up one run on three hits in three innings of work. He has a spring ERA of 1.80.

Another point of interest for both starters and relievers is throwing strikes. Bases on balls were a big problem for Giants pitchers in 2013.

On Tuesday, five Giants pitchers allowed just one walk, that coming from Edwin Escobar. George Kontos and Jake Dunning also pitched Tuesday.

Other highlights

  • Brandon Belt, who has been battling a stiff neck, returned to the lineup and went 2 for 3 with a double.
  • Tyler Colvin, looking to make the team as a utility reserve, went 1 for 2 with an RBI double.
  • Former top prospect Gary Brown had an RBI single.

Wednesday

Matt Cain takes the hill for the first time in exhibition play when the Giants face the Angels at 12:05 p.m. Cain’s previous start was rained out, so he threw a bullpen session indoors.

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