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7:57AM

Bochy has a new view of McCutchen and Longoria

By Art Spander

SAN FRANCISCO — The thinking last year, misled as it might have been, was that the Giants would sign Giancarlo Stanton, the free agent with the big bat. But of course he went to the Yankees, so San Francisco ended up trading for Evan Longoria and Andrew McCutchen, who, well, aren’t Giancarlo Stanton.

But as Giants manager Bruce Bochy explained, they have attributes that, from the opposing dugout, were not as apparent as they have turned out to be.

Numbers were only part of the equation, said Bochy on a Monday night when the Giants returned from an awful road trip — they were almost zero for Pennsylvania — and, in un-Giants-like style, got home runs, doubles and a 10-7 victory over the Cincinnati Reds.

McCutchen, obtained from Pittsburgh, had a couple of those doubles, his 1,499th and 1,500th hits in the majors. Longoria, who came from Tampa Bay, had the other and a single.

After the victory that pushed the Giants back to .500 (21-21), Bochy gave a baseball man’s observations about skills that a fan or journalist may not understand.

“When you watch those great players with tremendous talent, from the other side,” said Bochy, “you are hoping they don’t hurt you and beat you in some way. But you do appreciate the talent they have. Until you have a chance to see them on an everyday basis, to work with them, you don’t appreciate how good they are.

“Five-tool players (hit, run, throw, field, hit with power). The ball (McCutchen) hit in center would have been out of every other ballpark. He’s got speed. Doing a great job in right field. You watch those guys every day and have a basis on how good they are.”

They had company. In the eighth inning of a game that would feature 27 hits, Brandon Belt hit his seventh home run of the season. Earlier shortstop Brandon Crawford, who would have been rested if so many infielders weren’t injured, had two doubles and drove in two runs.

The evening was unusual. The small crowd (36,156 announced) seemed just as interested — maybe more interested — in the Warriors' playoff victory over the Houston Rockets.

A 3.5 earthquake centered across the bay in Oakland was felt in the stands. And the Giants, after losing six in a row at Philly and Pittsburgh, won their second in a row.

“We played well tonight,” affirmed Bochy, who was less happy with the performances on the road. “It’s tough travel coming back from Pittsburgh. But we were ready to play. I just loved the energy.”

And the runs. Every time it appeared the Giants would break things open, going in front 6-1 in the third, then 10-4 in the eighth, the Reds, who were on a six-game win streak and had swept the Dodgers in L.A., got close — if never in front.

“It was important we got those runs,” said Bochy. “Important to start a home stand this way.”

Chris Stratton was the Giants' starter, but he came out after five innings, having been battered for two homers and four runs.

“We’re fortunate we hit tonight,” said Bochy, “because they were scoring runs too. Those are the things that win ballgames, clutch hitting. Really through our lineup, we have professional hitters who know how to drive in runs. They have a nose for an RBI.”

On the 4-6 trip (which started with three wins in Atlanta, followed by four losses in Philly and two more in Pittsburgh), the Giants had a nose for the strikeout. Then Sunday, they beat the Pirates 5-0. Exhale.

Everything that went wrong suddenly went right. On Monday, catcher Buster Posey threw out Rosell Herrera trying to steal in the sixth, halting a Reds rally.

“To me, that was on one of the turning points of the game,” said Bochy. “That was a beautiful throw.”

10:24PM

Giants trying to take two steps forward without a step back

By Art Spander

SAN FRANCISCO — These Giants are different, certainly from those of the championship years, even the years when they weren’t champions but were successful. Different, they believe, from last year, when the bottom fell out and the fans’ faith fell off.

These Giants are trying to take two steps forward without more than one step back, a team in which every situation evolves into an incident, good or bad.

A win, in a game or more notably in a series, is large. A defeat, such as that 15-2 debacle on Wednesday afternoon at AT&T Park, is taken as a sign that it’s going to be another awful season.

Already, a baseball expert from ESPN, Buster Olney, has suggested that by early summer if the Giants are out of the pennant race, which could happen, they trade Madison Bumgarner, which won’t happen. Hey, it’s not even May, and while San Francisco is down in the standings it’s only two games below .500.

The Dodgers and Padres come to AT&T consecutively, and in the post-game presser Wednesday someone asked Giants manager Bruce Bochy if it was time to make a move. On the field, not the roster.

Bochy pointed out that, despite being routed by the Washington Nationals, the Giants won the series two games to one, as they did the previous series against the Angels at Anaheim.

“Well, I think it’s early to make our move,” said Bochy. “We won two series. There’s no being content with that, and we got a good team (the NL champion Dodgers) coming in. Yeah, we do need to be more consistent here. We got to get more runs up there. But with the exception of today, we’ve been pretty good on the mound.”

But Wednesday, with Jeff Samardzija making his second start after spending time on the disabled list, they were not good at all, the Nats scoring three runs in the top of the first and bunches thereafter.

“It’s important we have a good home stand before we hit the road,” Bochy said.

Mac Williamson, who had homered in the previous two games against the Nats, didn’t play Wednesday. “He had a stiff neck, and we scratched him,” Bochy said. “He should be back Friday against the Dodgers.”

Not that Williamson’s presence would have meant much. “It was one of those games that started rough,” said Bochy, doing his Stephen Colbert routine, “and got worse.”

And with Cy Young winner Max Scherzer pitching for the Nats, even if a bit imperfectly — but only a bit — the Giants had no chance in this one.

Samardzija only made it into the fourth. He was charged with six of the 15 runs. “Just one of those days,” said Samardzija. “No explanation for it. Yeah, a pitcher wants to get that good rhythm going. When you get a chance against a good lineup, you want to get guys early and often.”

He barely got them late and infrequently.

Good pitchers, indeed, have bad days. On another team, a contender such as the Dodgers, the Red Sox or the Diamondbacks, it wouldn’t matter. But on the Giants, everything matters.

Such as the very ineffective pitching of lefthanded reliever Josh Osich (four hits, four runs, 1 1/3 innings Wednesday). Osich was sharp during the exhibition season, but he has an 8.10 earned run average in the games that count this spring.

“They’re not on track,” Bochy said about Osich and Corey Gearrin, who although not allowing a run has a 6.14 ERA. ”Osich had some good moments today. Corey is just battling himself instead of going out there and attacking the strike zone.

“This game is all about confidence. You get shaken, you don’t throw with as much conviction. Just let it go. For these guys, there’s a fine line when the other team gets in run-scoring position. You want guys to expand, but there’s a fine line there in turning it up a notch with men on base.”

The Giants are hovering, they need a strong bullpen. They need Mac Williamson to continue his hitting. What they don’t need, after he’s healthy once more, is to trade Madison Bumgarner.

That would be dozens of steps backward without any forward.

 

9:43PM

Giants: Glass half full, bleachers half empty

By Art Spander

SAN FRANCISCO — So we deal with that question of whether the glass is half full or the bleachers are half empty, which they were again Wednesday at AT&T Park when the Giants played well enough to tease but not to win.

These are new times for the San Francisco nine. You lose nearly 100 games, you’re not thinking of championships — unless your brain is half empty — but of progress.

And although the home stand ended with a 7-3 loss to the Goldschmidts, a.k.a., the Diamondbacks, the Giants seem to be improved.

They are 5-6 in this young season. A year ago after 11 games they were 4-7. One small step for the Giants, one big leap for, well, not Hunter Pence, who has lurched and swung (and missed) his away to a .194 batting average so far.

Of course, one of the new guys in town, Evan Longoria, is — yikes —hitting .132.  What’s with these free agents who changed teams and leagues? Longoria and the guy the Giants wanted but didn’t get, Giancarlo Stanton, about to strike out more in two weeks than Joe DiMaggio did in a season?  

Yes, the Giants need power, as verified again by losing to Arizona. On Tuesday night, slumping Paul Goldschmidt of the D-backs hit a ball nearly to Alameda, although the Giants managed to win.

On Wednesday, he hit another just as far for another homer and one far enough for a double, prompting a journalist to semi-seriously ask Giants manager Bruce Bochy whether Goldschmidt ought to be walked at every at bat, as opponents once did with Barry Bonds.

“He was one of the coldest hitters when he came here,” Bochy said of Goldschmidt, who still is only at .190 with two homers. “He took advantage of some mistakes, some pitches up in the strike zone. But the guy behind him (A.J. Pollock) has been swinging the bat pretty good (now .283), and you don’t want to start putting a lot of guys on right away.”

The Giants had their own guys on, early, and Buster Posey hit a two-run homer to tie the game, 3-3, in the fifth. But San Francisco is missing its three top starting pitchers, Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija, forcing new kids to start and everyone to work in relief.

The new kids, Tyler Beede on Tuesday night and Andrew Suarez on Wednesday, both making their major league debuts, weren’t bad at all. The bullpen? Can we talk about the attendance (35,041)? Yes, a new era.

In six of their 11 games, the Giants have scored two runs or fewer. So after the Wednesday defeat, someone asked Bochy about the offense, as it were. “These guys are too good,” he replied, implying the hitters will hit eventually.

On the trip, the Giants play the Padres, the Diamondbacks (yes, again) and then the Angels. Scoring a run or two against Los Angeles or Arizona won’t be enough.

“Hunter Pence’s timing is off,” said Bochy, still believing his outfielder can overcome the years and the injuries. “He’s pulling out a little bit. Maybe he’s trying to hit home runs.”

He doesn’t have a single one.

What Sam Dyson is trying to do as a relief pitcher is get batters out when runners are on. In the top of the sixth, he failed. Replacing Suarez after Ketel Marte doubled, Dyson faced Goldschmidt, who banged one off the left field fence for his own double, an RBI and a D-backs lead.

“He’s been up and down,” Bochy said of Dyson. “He’s a guy with experience. We put him in a tight ballgame. We’ve got to get him on track. I’d like to think he’s going to find his game here. That pitch to Goldschmidt was nowhere near where he wanted it.

“This bullpen has been taxed quite a bit. He knew we needed him.“

That they do. They need everybody. They also need a man who can hit home runs like Paul Goldschmidt.

 

8:24PM

A chill in the Giants camp

By Art Spander

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — “Frost,” the sign read. “Stay off grass.” No one-liners, please, even if the warning is so very Nor Cal. Besides, this was after the Giants had worked out Wednesday in weather chilly enough to keep observers bundled, but not chilly enough to keep young ballplayers from working out.

There’s a new field at the Giants' complex, with two infields. Not exactly as impressive as, say, the White Sox and Dodgers' facility 15 miles west at Glendale, where each team has a dozen diamonds apiece. But the Giants have civilization, which counts for something.

Not as much as some power hitting and relief pitching, of course. This spring training of 2018 is one of problems and questions. For the first time in years, San Francisco enters — let’s say it — as an also-ran, a team theoretically without hope.

The Giants bottomed out in 2017. A chill. A fall from the heights. Three World Series championships in five years, certainly. But that was then. Now is a muddle.

Will Evan Longoria and Andrew McCutcheon make that much of a difference? The Dodgers and Diamondbacks are locks, aren’t they, and the Rockies should make the postseason. The Padres were seven games in front of San Francisco and just signed Eric Hosmer for millions.

It is a sobering reminder that last season the Giants not only didn’t win four out of every 10 games, they finished 40 games behind the dreaded Dodgers. That seems impossible. It wasn’t.

Maybe it’s the temperature, the high down here just 61 degrees. Maybe it’s the reality. But for the Giants, the usual optimism of spring training seems absent. How do you pick up 20 games on the Dodgers, never mind 40? And how do you feel good wearing parkas in Arizona?

Giants manager Bruce Bochy spent a good part of Wednesday on that new back field, watching prospects such as Andres Blanco and Chase D’Arnaud. “I need to put the face with the name,” said Bochy, ”although I know them all. They have it a little tougher.”

He meant tougher than the veterans, who are not to be rushed. The Giants’ exhibition season opens Friday, split squad against Milwaukee, and Buster Posey will be watching, not playing, and probably a game or two after that. Posey is approaching 31. Catchers wear down.

Pablo Sandoval already is 31 and, at times, being dropped by Boston and then returning to the Giants in July 2017, already looked worn down. He hit .225 with five home runs in 47 games with San Francisco.

Bochy said Sandoval, with a history of being overweight, is in good shape. He’ll be used at third base and first base, backing up, and at times as a bullpen catcher. Where the Panda will not be used is in the outfield.

“We were playing one of those postseason games in Taiwan, a lot of major leaguers,” said Bochy. “I put Pablo in left field. There’s a line drive in the gap. He looks to his left at the center fielder, a speed guy (it was Curtis Granderson), as if, ‘That’s your ball.’

“But everything that’s happened to Pablo over the years hasn’t fazed him.”

What happened last season certainly fazed the Giants and their fans. The AT&T Park sellout streak ended at 530 games. Madison Bumgarner fell off a dirt bike and missed a couple of months. It was as if the baseball gods were making San Francisco pay for the glory of earlier years.

When Bumgarner went down, Ty Blach stepped up. And Blach will start the Cactus League opener on Friday. The usual contention is that exhibition games don’t mean anything, that pitchers are working to get in shape.

But for a team built on pitching, a team coming off a rotten year, these exhibition games over the next month could mean a great deal. They could make everyone, players and fans, believe.

“My job,” said Bochy, “is to get these guys ready for opening day.” Being ready does count. Being successful counts much more.

 

9:03PM

Bochy on 2017: 'This isn’t who we are'

By Art Spander

SAN FRANCISCO — That was a Giants flag, a black SF on a circle of orange, almost like the Great Pumpkin, flapping in the freshening breeze and incoming fog atop the right field foul pole at AT&T Park on Wednesday afternoon.

A rare sight after a rare victory, a tease of what should have been this season, decent pitching, timely hitting, a good break — Jarrett Parker’s excuse-me double in the seventh that scored two runs — a 4-2 win over Milwaukee and a rare series victory.

A little more than a month remaining in the Great Lost Season, when the players stopped performing — for the most part — and the fans stopped coming, and given the farm system and budget restrictions, no one is quite certain how corrections can be made.

Unless, perchance, they don’t need to be made. Unless, as Giants manager Bruce Bochy said when the talk drifted from failure to frustration to potential, this season of 2017 was an aberration, a rare set of misfortunes that now and then strike teams in baseball.

“We don’t think we’re the team that had this rough a year,” said Bochy. ”We’ve been there the last six, seven years. These are really good ballplayers, really good pitchers. This year is different, injuries, off years. This isn’t who we are.”

So, instead of talking about 2018, Bochy's idea is to play well the rest of 2017, to regain lost confidence, find new belief.

No small issue, but with baseball's reliance on home runs, the Giants ought to find some new power. San Francisco’s cleanup hitter, Buster Posey, while batting .317, has only 12 home runs. The Brewers’ cleanup batter, Travis Shaw, has 27.

The cliché is good pitching will beat good hitting, but for the most part — yes, Madison Bumgarner was out weeks — the pitching hasn’t been that good. Which is why Matt Moore’s third straight quality start had Bochy enthusiastic and explanatory.

Moore went six innings and allowed only a run. He left when the game was tied 1-1. Hunter Strickland got the win, Mark Melancon the save — just as it was planned in March, before Strickland was inconsistent and Melancon was injured.

Still, Moore has a 4-12 record and a 5.54 ERA. And as we know, the Giants were eliminated from postseason play in mid-August, something unimaginable in spring training.

“It’s how you finish,” said Bochy. ”You’re going to have your struggles, your hiccups, bumps in the road. Matt had some good starts now. For him, less is more. He’s backed off his pitches a little bit.”

And some would say a little late.

The reflection of this season is as much in the bleachers and grandstands at AT&T as on the field. This is the 18th season for the park, but the first when there were huge areas of empty seats. 

The announced attendance Wednesday, meaning tickets sold, was 40,015, some 2,000 below capacity. Even in that streak of sellouts, which ended earlier this year, were unfilled seats. Now there are hundreds, probably thousands.

Giants fans, Bay Area fans, cannot accept losing. Interest in the Giants and Athletics has tumbled. No longer are BART trains packed with fans wearing orange and black.

The Wednesday game was joyful for those in attendance, a reminder of the way it was. A Giants win and that black-and-orange flag.