Evans attends Holland's showcase; Giants 'getting a little more clarity'

Evans attends Holland's showcase; Giants 'getting a little more clarity'

PHOENIX — In talking about a pitcher he ultimately wasn’t able to reel in, Giants general manager Bobby Evans often jokingly referred to Andrew Miller as a “North Carolina guy,” a plus to Evans, who graduated from UNC. Is it possible the GM’s solution for the ninth inning is another closer from a Carolina school?

Evans and Dick Tidrow, the front office’s pitching guru, were among the executives in attendance Monday when former Royals closer Greg Holland held a showcase in Phoenix. The organization is casting a wide net in search of a ninth-inning solution, and Evans has already touched base with the agents for the big free agents. Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen and Mark Melancon are the marquee names, but Holland is an intriguing under-the-radar candidate.

“Based on his experience and success, you’re certainly going to look at him as an option to close,” Evans said Tuesday at the annual GM Meetings. “But these things are just barely unfolding right now.”

In the opening days of free agency, Evans has started to get a picture of the trade options that might be out there. The big fish in that respect would be Kansas City’s Wade Davis, but it hasn't yet been made clear that he's available. The Giants checked in with the Royals before the deadline but backed away when Davis got hurt. Ultimately, the Giants opted to bolster the rotation with Matt Moore. That left them short in the bullpen, and after a month of watching closers star in the postseason, finding a new one remains the No. 1 priority. 

“We’re getting a little more clarity on our options but it’s still only a little more clarity because there’s a lot of time left to see how things will unfold,” Evans said. “But we’re very clear that we want to be very sure who is finishing our games.”

The Giants saw in 2014 that Holland is capable of doing it as well as anyone, but they’re not alone. Per the New York Post, about 60 scouts from 18 different teams gathered to watch Holland throw at a small local college. Holland pitched a couple of simulated innings, sitting around 89-90 mph.

When healthy, Holland is on par with the game-changers who dominated in October. He posted identical All-Star seasons in 2013 and 2014 and might have been the most consistent relief pitcher in the game. Holland saved 47 games in 2013 with a 1.21 ERA and 13.8 strikeouts per nine innings. A year later, he saved 46 games, posted a 1.44 ERA, and struck out 13 batters per nine innings. 

No big league pitcher who threw at least 50 innings over that span had a lower ERA, and only Craig Kimbrel saved more games. Holland capped that run by saving seven postseason games and allowing just one run in 11 appearances, helping the Royals reach the World Series and take the Giants to a Game 7.

Holland’s numbers dropped off in 2015. He had, a 3.83 ERA and 9.9 strikeout rate before reconstructive elbow surgery ended his year. His agent, Scott Boras, believes that Holland will be back to his old self by the time spring training roles around. 

“The reaction should be pretty positive after (the showcase),” Boras told the New York Post. “He just had to illustrate that he was healthy because when he has been healthy, he has been elite.”

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.”