Blach, Suarez get off to quick start in race for rotation spots

blach_cubs.jpg
USATSI

Blach, Suarez get off to quick start in race for rotation spots

SCOTTSDALE — If Ty Blach is feeling any pressure to win a job this spring, it hasn’t shown. Blach has had a smile on his face throughout camp, and some in the clubhouse have noted he is showing more of his personality than in the past. When reporters approached his locker during Friday’s game, Blach reached up and pulled his cap into place. 

“Howdy,” he said. 

Blach has good reason to be relaxed. He’ll be on this staff in some role, whether it’s in the rotation or the bullpen. The Giants had considered Blach as a potential solution to their lefty reliever woes, but team officials have backed off that plan a bit since the Tony Watson addition. Blach will focus on starting for now, and his debut was promising. 

Blach threw the first Giants pitch of 2018, a strike to Jonathan Villar of the Brewers. In two innings, he allowed one hit and struck out two. 

“It feels like I definitely belong here,” Blach said. “I know my routine and the guys. I feel comfortable.”

Because they have two off days before their seventh game of the season, it’s likely that the Giants will skip their fifth starter at least once. It remains to be seen if that’ll be Blach’s role, but he’s flexible enough to move to the bullpen for a week if the need is there. For now, he’s ready to hold off the competition for his rotation spot. 

Lefty Andrew Suarez was also impressive, striking out three in his two innings. Right-hander Tyler Beede and lefty Derek Holland are also vying for the job. The competition should be one of the better ones in camp, but Blach said he’s not thinking about it much. Instead, he’s focused on cleaning up minor issues that led to a dip in his numbers late last season. 

Blach was sharp in his first eight starts last year after replacing Madison Bumgarner, posting a 3.08 ERA. He had a 5.64 ERA the rest of the way and was moved to the bullpen in September. Blach said he redistributed some weight in the offseason, building up his legs in a bid to stay strong throughout a long season. He’s also tinkering with his slider in hopes of getting more swinging strikes. Blach admitted that bouncing back and forth was difficult at times last season, but he’s ready for any role this year. 

“I feel like mentally and physically I’ve put myself in a really good position to be able to have success no matter what role they put me in,” he said. 

--- The Giants wore Stoneman Douglas caps during today’s game. Blach, who grew up near Columbine, and Suarez, who is from Florida, explained why it was such a special tribute. 

--- The Giants lost to the Brewers 6-5. They committed six errors. Nick Hundley and Pablo Sandoval went deep, and Steven Duggar had a two-run double. 

--- Suarez and Tyler Cyr were the guests on today’s episode of the Giants Insider Podcast. You can stream it here or download it on iTunes here. 

--- Jonah Arenado, Nolan’s brother, played third base for the second half of the game. He had a single in his second at-bat. 

--- On my Instagram page (pavlovicnbcs) there’s a story with behind-the-scenes footage and photos from today’s Cactus League opener. 

Giants pay tribute to Marjory Stoneman Douglas in Cactus League opener

sd-hat.jpg
ALEX PAVLOVIC

Giants pay tribute to Marjory Stoneman Douglas in Cactus League opener

SCOTTSDALE — As Ty Blach prepared to kick off the Cactus League season on Friday morning, some fans asked him about the hat the Giants were wearing. Blach was happy to spread the word.

The Giants joined the rest of Major League Baseball in wearing Marjory Stoneman Douglas High caps on the first day of the exhibition season. Teams were given the option of wearing the caps -- which were black and had a red “SD” logo -- during the game, and the Giants unanimously took part. For Blach, who grew up about 20 miles from Columbine High, the tribute was a special one. 

“It’s such a tragedy what happened down there,” Blach said of the campus shooting in South Florida that left 17 dead earlier this month. “It’s hard on a lot of people. We’re not geographically in Florida but it hits home for everybody.”

Blach was eight years old at the time of the Columbine shooting and said his school went into lockdown. 

“It was horrible,” he said. “It’s something that stayed close to home for me. I see all these shootings and it’s tough.”

The pitcher who followed Blach on the mound Friday also appreciated MLB’s decision and the moment of silence before the first pitch. Andrew Suarez, a lefty from the Miami area, said he played summer ball a few years ago with a kid who went to Stoneman Douglas. 

“Everyone was happy about it,” he said of the caps. “I was pretty happy about it. I’m from South Florida and I know a kid from there. I was glad to wear it and represent them.”

New Era produced more than 2,500 caps so that players, coaches, umpires and team employees could represent Stoneman Douglas on Friday. Clubs were encouraged to have the caps signed and auctioned off to raise funds to assist the victims and families of the February 14 shooting. An authenticator was in the clubhouse during Friday's game to help with the process. 

“Major League Baseball is proud to see our Clubs supporting the Parkland community and the students of Stoneman Douglas in a way that is both meaningful and natural to our sport,” commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement. “The idea began with several of our Grapefruit League Clubs and quickly turned into a league-wide effort. We hope this demonstration by our teams, players, coaches and umpires helps contribute to the healing process of everyone affected by this horrible tragedy.”

Giants Notes: No surprise here, Bumgarner set as Opening Day starter

bumgarner_opening_day.jpg
USATSI

Giants Notes: No surprise here, Bumgarner set as Opening Day starter

SCOTTSDALE -- Madison Bumgarner will start on opening day. 

Surprise!

Bruce Bochy made it officially official on Thursday after confirming that Bumgarner will make his first Cactus League appearance on Sunday. Clayton Kershaw will do the same, and the two are set to tangle at Dodger Stadium on the first day of the season. Bumgarner's opening day start will be his fifth straight. 

There won’t be any surprises after that, either, Bochy said. The rotation likely will include the durable Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija, along with young pitchers Chris Stratton and Ty Blach, but the staff doesn’t feel the need to split up the latter two so that the bullpen can help out more on Stratton or Blach days. 

It’s possible that one of the two is skipped because the Giants have two off days before their seventh game, and Bochy said the staff also could shake up the order on an off day if the bullpen is pitching too many innings on back-to-back Stratton-Blach days. But for now, there’s a belief that the workload will be relatively even. 

“That’s why I’m confident,” Bochy said. “Those two (Stratton and Blach) are durable and can get you somewhat deep into the game. We have coverage there with the bullpen, but it’s not like I’m concerned.”

Blach slowed down toward the end of the season, but at one point he had a string of eight consecutive starts of six-plus innings. If you take out the night when he faced just one batter because of rain, Stratton averaged 5 2/3 innings per start. 

--- Blach will start Friday’s Cactus League opener, but it’ll mostly be backups in the field. Nick Hundley will catch, Ryder Jones is at first, Miguel Gomez is at second, Kelby Tomlinson (Tommy Ball, Bochy said) is at short and Pablo Sandoval is at third. Jarrett Parker will be the DH.

The outfield is interesting, though. Hunter Pence and Andrew McCutchen both wanted to play and Steven Duggar will start in center. Asked about McCutchen, Bochy smiled.

“You saw McCutchen’s batting practice,” he said. “Wouldn’t you put him in there?”

McCutchen took Madison Bumgarner deep during live BP earlier in the week.

--- My main story today is about Duggar and his bid to follow Brandon Crawford’s path. Also, if you’ve never seen him — and you probably haven’t — here’s some footage of Duggar’s short swing. 

--- Some housekeeping: Tyler Cyr, Andrew Suarez, Pierce Johnson, D.J. Snelten and Madison Younginer will follow Blach on Friday. Stratton, Tyler Herb, Jose Valdez, Steven Okert, Roberto Gomez and Reyes Moronta are on the list for Saturday. 

The Saturday game is in Glendale, which is a bit of a drive by Cactus League standards, and Bochy approached a group of veterans and asked which one would volunteer to make the trip. Brandon Belt raised his hand.

“He’s the early leader for the Willie Mac Award,” a teammate joked. 

--- Willie Mays showed up in the clubhouse Thursday. McCutchen immediately sat down at the table and started chatting. 

--- Quote of the day, from Bochy, on his conversation telling Pence that he would be moving to left field: “There wasn't even a thought process when I was talking to him about it. He was so excited to get Andrew.”