After fight, Strickland denies intentionally throwing at Harper

After fight, Strickland denies intentionally throwing at Harper

SAN FRANCISCO — There’s a certain rhythm to a baseball brawl. A player gets drilled and inches toward the mound, often at the invitation of the man who threw the pitch. The catcher rushes to get in the way as both benches and bullpens clear. Within five seconds, most baseball “fights” turn into a “hold me back” tournament. 

Monday’s showdown between Hunter Strickland and Bryce Harper was not your normal baseball fight, in part because it was a long time coming. 

Three years after Harper twice took Strickland deep in the NLDS, the second homer leading to a stare down and primal screams from the Nationals’ best player, the two met again. Strickland’s first pitch to Harper since that series was a 98 mph fastball directly at the hip. Harper charged the mound and both players connected with shots before sanity was restored.

Strickland was waiting for reporters when the clubhouse opened after a 3-0 loss. He denied any intent.

“Obviously I’ve left the ball over the plate a couple of times to him and he’s taken advantage of that. It was mostly to go inside and obviously I got it in a little bit too far,” Strickland said. “I didn’t expect that (fight) but it’s part of the game and that’s what he decided to do.”

There’s no upside in coming out and saying you flat-out tried to hit a guy, but actions spoke louder than words during the fight and afterward. Buster Posey didn’t move as Harper charged his pitcher, as if to say, this is your mess. Bruce Bochy said he talked to Strickland after the fight to reiterate that this was not the situation to seek payback.

“We’re trying to win a ballgame,” Bochy said. “It’s 2-0 and I had to talk to him. Obviously we don’t take or do things that are out of the ordinary from what I want. We go out there and try to win a ballgame. It’s a situation where I needed to talk to him and make sure that we’re straight with something. We did talk.”

Bochy called the incident “unfortunate” and said a couple of times that “it looks bad.”

“You have two guys that probably don’t care for each other much,” he said.  

No, they certainly don’t, but that’s nothing new. This started in Game 1 of the 2014 NLDS, when Harper, already one of the league’s better hitters, took Strickland, then a rookie, deep. Three games later he hit a game-tying shot into McCovey Cove, watching it as it soared into the dark night. He stared Strickland down as he rounded second and yelled back at the mound as he took his gear off in the dugout. 

It’s unclear why that first incident quite turned out the way it did. There was some speculation that Harper was reacting to Strickland saying after Game 1 that he would throw Harper more fastballs. After the second homer, Harper looked out at the field and yelled, "Let's go! Again!" Either way, nothing more came of that first tussle. The Giants eliminated the Nationals and went on to win the World Series. Harper and Strickland didn’t square off in either of the past two seasons. 

With two outs in the eighth Monday, they finally faced off again. After taking the pitch off the hip, Harper pointed his bat and then flung it down. The players exchanged expletives and Strickland stood with a calm expression on his face, his glove dropped to the ground. Harper threw his helmet toward second and Strickland got the first shot in, an open-handed right to the face. Harper got one good punch in before players from both sides collided on the mound. 

“It’s go time,” Strickland said. “You’ve got to protect yourself and stand your own grand, you know.”

Harper told Nationals reporter that this was probably the first time he was certain a pitcher was going to throw at him.

“One thing I’ve got to say about Strickland: He hit me in the right spot. I do respect him for that. He didn’t come up and in at my face or anything like that, which some guys do," Harper said. "So I respect him on that level, because he could’ve come up and in and got me somewhere you don’t want to get hit. He got me on the hip. But there’s some times where it’s just not relevant. That was a spot where it wasn’t relevant. It was three years ago, over 1,000 days. I don’t know why he’s thinking about it.”

Strickland claimed he wasn’t thinking about 2014, even if the connection was immediate to anyone watching. 

“I can see how that kind of stands in people’s minds, but that’s the past,” he said. “Like I said, I left the ball over the plate a couple of times to him and he’s taken advantage of that. Obviously I’d rather miss in than over the plate.”


Starting to rev things up, Hunter Pence has big night at plate and in left

Starting to rev things up, Hunter Pence has big night at plate and in left

PEORIA — Jeff Samardzija spent a couple minutes after Thursday’s start talking to reporters about how deep he thinks the Giants lineup can be. It’ll be a hell of a lot deeper if Hunter Pence keeps hitting like this. 

After a slow start to the spring, Pence is charging. He had three hits against the Padres: a triple that bounced off the top of the wall in right-center, a hard single up the middle, and a double to center. The more encouraging plays for the Giants happened in left field. Pence chased down a drive to the line in the third inning, leaving the bases loaded. He opened the fourth by going the other direction and gloving a fly ball to left-center. 

"A good game for Hunter, both ways," manager Bruce Bochy said. "He's getting more comfortable out there. You can see it with the jumps he's getting right now. It takes a little while when you change positions, but I think he's going to be fine out there."

The Giants appear set to have Austin Jackson and Pence atop the lineup against left-handed starters, and that duo could see plenty of time early. Seven of the first nine games are against the Dodgers, who have four lefty starters. 

--- Evan Longoria had a double off the right-center wall on Wednesday after missing a week with a sore ankle. He had a single the same way in his second at-bat Thursday. More than the at-bats, Longoria has impressed with his soft hands and steady arm at third. The ankle looks fine, too. 

“My ankle feels pretty good,” Longoria said. “I don’t think it’s going to be an issue going forward.”

--- It’s been a quiet spring for Andrew McCutchen, but we saw the wheels tonight. McCutchen easily stole second after a two-run single in the fifth. When Evan Longoria bounced one to the left side, shortstop Freddy Galvis tried to go to third for the lead out, but McCutchen beat that throw, too. He got up and put his hands on his hips, as if to say, "Why'd you even try that?"

--- Samardzija allowed three homers in a six-batter span in the third. He allowed three homers in an inning in his previous start, too, but he said he’s not concerned. Samardzija deemed it a sequencing issue. He’s working in a new changeup and threw it in situations he normally wouldn’t; Eric Hosmer took advantage of a floating one, crushing it to deep, deep right for the third homer. 

--- With a runner on, Brandon Belt put down a perfect bunt to foil the shift. Belt does that every spring, particularly against NL West teams, but rarely during the regular season. Maybe this will be the year?

Belt later crushed a homer to deep right. That had to feel good for a number of reasons. Belt is fighting a cold and he learned earlier in the day that his college coach, Augie Garrido, had passed away.

Josh Osich goes back to his roots looking to unleash all the potential


Josh Osich goes back to his roots looking to unleash all the potential

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — For most pitchers, spring training is a time to experiment and add a pitch or two. Josh Osich is using this month to go the other direction. 

Osich spent the offseason watching film of his 2015 season, when he looked like he might one day be the closer in San Francisco, and decided that he needed to get back to his roots. That means the curveball, which he tried so hard to mix in last year, is now far back in the cupboard. The four-seam and two-seam fastballs are once again the focus, with an emphasis on changing eye levels more than he did a year ago. The changeup and cutter will round out his arsenal for the most part. 

Osich’s raw stuff is still as good as just about any lefty reliever in the league, and he hopes to take advantage of that while putting a rough 2017 season in his rearview mirror. He had a 6.23 ERA last season and 1.73 WHIP.

“It’s just one of those learning years,” Osich said. “I tried to live at the bottom of the zone and I was, but I was actually below the zone. So then I would fall behind and need to throw a strike and that’s when guys would hit me.”

Osich, 29, had a 2.20 ERA and 1.12 WHIP during that 2015 season that he keeps going back to. He walked eight batters in 28 2/3 innings, a far cry from the 27 he walked in 43 1/3 last year. While watching the 2015 version of himself, Osich saw that his hands were higher, and that’s something he’s working to replicate. He’s also trying to slow his pace to the plate. So far, the results are nothing but encouraging. Osich allowed one hit and struck out one in a 2 1/3 inning appearance on Wednesday night. Manager Bruce Bochy let him extend himself to keep the good vibes going. 

In six appearances this spring, Osich has allowed just four hits over seven scoreless innings. He has seven strikeouts and one walk. 

“O, it just seems like he’s got confidence,” Bochy said. “He’s kept it simple, he’s not tinkering with different pitches. He’s throwing more strikes, and more than anything he’s just trying to pound the strike zone now with quality strikes. That’s all he has to do. You look at him and he’s hitting 95 with a couple of good off-speed pitches. That works here.”