Bullpen, surprise leadoff hitter lead Giants to first win of 2017 season

Bullpen, surprise leadoff hitter lead Giants to first win of 2017 season

PHOENIX — The Giants will blow save opportunities other than Sunday’s, and the relievers know it. They don’t mind. It’s part of the game, and they know they’ll take heat when it happens. 

But the timing of the season’s first meltdown was a bummer. This is a group that believes it will grow into being a very good bullpen, and after the way last season went, lighting a lead on fire on Day 1 stung. 

“No doubt about it,” Hunter Strickland said. “Obviously it brings back pretty mad memories, but we came back tonight and battled through. We’ll get back to where we need to be.”

Tuesday’s second chance was a big step back in the right direction. Strickland and three others combined for four one-hit innings in relief of Johnny Cueto. Cory Gearrin got the first three outs, George Kontos cut through the heart of the Diamondbacks’ lineup in the seventh, Derek Law breezed through the eighth, and Strickland shut it down in the ninth for an 8-4 victory. 

“It was unfortunate that opening day went the way it did — I think our guys were a little amped up and left some pitches up — but we came back out today and showed what we’re capable of doing it,” Kontos said.

Manager Bruce Bochy wasn't particularly bothered after Sunday’s outing. He viewed it as a fluke, and before Tuesday’s game, he worried more about all the runners the Giants left on base while losing their opener. Hiding behind all the blown saves last season was a lineup that often failed to add on, putting maximum pressure on Santiago Casilla and the rest of the late-inning guys. Bochy thought the Giants should have scored 10 runs Sunday, and they came close Tuesday. 

The lineup had 15 hits, with six different players picking up multiple knocks. Joe Panik had three hits out of the eight-spot and Hunter Pence, who slumped all spring, had three in the three-spot. The biggest contributions came from the leadoff spot, where Gorkys Hernandez started because Denard Span woke up Monday morning with a sore hip. Hernandez faced Patrick Corbin on short notice, but he drove in four runs, matching his total from a year ago. 

“You have to be ready all the time,” he said. “You never know what’s going to happen. When Bochy says be ready, I’m ready.”

Bochy said Hernandez did “a terrific job,” noting his defensive contributions in addition to the four runs driven in. The production came from up and down the lineup, and even Cueto got involved. When Paul Goldschmidt charged hard on a bunt in the second inning, Cueto pulled the bat back and chopped a single over Goldschmidt’s head. The read was one Cueto made in the batter’s box. 

“You can’t chop the ball any better than that,” Bochy said. 

Cueto lined out to center in the fourth, ending a three at-bat hitting streak to start the season for the starting staff. He reached on an error in the fifth and ended up being a big part of a five-run inning that started with a soaring Brandon Crawford homer. When Hernandez shot a rocket off the left field wall, Cueto busted for third. Phil Nevin sent him home. He raced across the plate, nicking it with the back of his heel in a play that was so close the Diamondbacks took time for a second look in their clubhouse. Did Hernandez think Cueto had any shot at giving him a second RBI on the play?

“Uhh, no. No,” he said, smiling. “I never thought about that. I hit the ball and I’m trying to go hard to second and when I looked up I saw Johnny going to the plate and thought, ‘Oh my god!’” 

Panik had earlier scored from second when he got a great read on a flare to right. On the double, he jogged home. 

“I turned around and heeeeeere’s Johnny,” he said. “Just chugging home.”

When Cueto got back to the dugout, Eduardo Nuñez told him to take it easy.

“He said it’s just the second game of the season,” Cueto said. “But my instincts took over.”

And the bullpen took it home from there.


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.”