With fourth straight win, Giants headed in right direction, but not getting giddy

With fourth straight win, Giants headed in right direction, but not getting giddy

SAN FRANCISCO — Bruce Bochy kept a stoic expression through much of the season-opening slide, but he couldn’t hide his emotions in the fourth inning Monday. As the Giants took advantage of a bungled rundown and scored two runs, Bochy turned his face toward the outfield. He smiled and chuckled briefly before slipping back into character.

Bochy enjoyed Monday night, and so did his players. They’re finally headed in the right direction, and there was no “it’s the Reds” caveat this time. The red-hot Dodgers came into town and on the first night the Giants pitched well, hit well, defended as they always do, and took advantage of mistakes. 

“When you’re having some success that certainly helps your personality,” Bochy said. “We’re not getting giddy out there. We dug ourselves a hole (but) every day you’ve got to come out with your best game. You’ve got to believe the worm is going to turn and it has, but we’ve got our hands full the next couple of days.”

The Giants will face Rich Hill on Tuesday and Clayton Kershaw on Wednesday. If they needed a reminder of how difficult it will be to keep this charge going, they got it in the ninth inning of an 8-4 win. The bullpen took a seven-run lead into the inning but Bochy had to turn to his closer, Derek Law, as the third pitcher of the frame. Steven Okert was warming up, too.

Law shut it down, however. This was the rare night when the Giants had done so much right that a late stumble couldn’t derail them. Most of the damage was done in the fourth, when the lineup opened with four straight hits and scored four runs. That gave Matt Cain a 5-1 lead, and he went deep with it. 

Cain threw 112 pitches, his most since 2014. He has allowed one run in 12 1/3 innings against the Dodgers this season. In mid-May, he’s 3-1 with a 4.04 ERA. Talk about the worm turning. 

“He’s in such great control out there with his delivery,” Bochy said. “He’s not putting a lot of effort in and he’s showing great command. His stamina is back, the stuff is there, and he just made some great pitches all night.”

As Bochy walked out to the mound to take the ball in the seventh, the infielders rushed to the mound. There was a bit more urgency than normal, with five players eager to show their appreciation for the longest-tenured Giant. Cain walked off to a standing ovation. 

“It feels good, it definitely feels good,” he said. “It’s been a long road but it’s something we’ve been grinding at. We’ve had to find that confidence again and keep going out there and repeating the delivery.”

Cain caught a couple of breaks on double-play balls early, but the Giants certainly weren't apologizing. They scored their first run on a bloop single by Denard Span. “I think that was our first two-out bloop of the year,” Brandon Crawford said. The luck continued in the fourth on Eduardo Nuñez’s broken-bat infield single that scored two. Asked to explain the play, Crawford smiled. 

“No, I don’t think I can,” he said. 

He went on to say Phil Nevin had thought the second baseman had stopped the ball, and that would have given Crawford room to get home from second. Crawford assumed the ball had gotten into center field. When he looked up, shortstop Corey Seager had thrown it in to pitcher Brandon McCarthy. Crawford froze between third and home. Nuñez was caught up between first and second. McCarthy for some reason spun toward second and Crawford scored easily. Nuñez was safe, too. 

“Yeah, you know, we’ve gotten so many of those this year,” Crawford joked. “That’s something that just happened. I don’t think I’ve seen that before.”

After six weeks of not forcing the issue and also not getting any help, the Giants will take it. They found ways to score in more conventional ways, too. Crawford's RBI double was smoked. Mac Williamson had two hits and an RBI in his return, earning an addition of “Return of the Mack” to the post game victory soundtrack. Buster Posey hit his fifth homer in seven games. 

The third Posey blast came Wednesday in New York, the day Cain points to as the start of all this. He noted that Christian Arroyo’s bases-clearing double that night brought joy back to the dugout. Crawford thought the 17-inning game on Friday turned the tide. 

It’s a discussion without a sure answer, but that doesn’t matter. Any discussion about wins is one the Giants will happily have at this point.


Jeff Samardzija to miss start of season after MRI reveals strained pectoral muscle


Jeff Samardzija to miss start of season after MRI reveals strained pectoral muscle

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants nearly left Scottsdale unscathed. Instead they'll leave with an injured No. 3 starter, but the news on Jeff Samardzija late Thursday night was good news. 

Manager Bruce Bochy told reporters that Samardzija has a strained pectoral muscle that will sideline him for the start of the season. But given that Samardzija, who has had a rough spring, went for an MRI on his shoulder a week before the season opener, team officials have to be breathing a sigh of relief. 

"He'll go a week without throwing the ball and then crank it back up," Bochy told reporters, including Kerry Crowley of the San Jose Mercury News. "It should't take long to get him back on the mound so it's good news."

Samardzija was supposed to take the ball next Saturday at Dodger Stadium. Instead, the Giants will rely on two young pitchers and a non-roster invitee at the back end of their rotation. The injury ends a three-way race for the final two spots between Chris Stratton, Ty Blach and Derek Holland. The Giants could use all three in the rotation until Samardzija is healthy, or they could skip their No. 5 starter and move one of the pitchers into the bullpen. 

Because the Giants have two off days before their seventh game, Madison Bumgarner can line up to pitch three of the first nine games. The Giants have been considering that all spring, although they have yet to publicly announce a decision one way or the other. Bumgarner said early in camp that he would be up to the challenge, and given how sharp he was all spring, that might be the best way to tread water until Samardzija is cleared to return to the rotation.

No. 79? No. 53? Before they were stars, Giants wore random numbers


No. 79? No. 53? Before they were stars, Giants wore random numbers

SCOTTSDALE — A couple of veterans walked past a clubhouse TV earlier in camp and saw that the Giants and Padres were tied heading into the bottom of the 10th of an exhibition game. The Padres infielders were just standing around, and there was not yet a new pitcher on the mound. 

“It’s that time when No. 99 comes in to pitch,” one of the players joked as he headed home for the day.

A few seconds later, a big left-hander took the mound. He was, in fact, wearing No. 99, and in his inning on the mound he would face a No. 74 (Aramis Garcia) and No. 78 (Steven Duggar). This is the norm for spring training, when dozens of players — including teenagers and journeymen still hanging around the low minors — get into every game. That leads to action between numbers you would never see in a normal game. The Giants had 60 players in camp, plus 10 coaches and staff members with numbers. Throw in their 10 retired numbers and the unofficially retired ones (25, 55, etc.) and, well, there aren’t a whole lot of choices left. 

If Duggar makes the Opening Day roster, he’ll get an upgrade from his lineman’s number. Ditto for Garcia, who could be Buster Posey’s backup as soon as next season. Still, a taste of big league action doesn’t guarantee a normal number in camp, when young players regularly find themselves back at the end of the line. 

Ryder Jones wore 83 in camp last year and 63 in the big leagues. When he showed up this year, with 150 big league at-bats under his belt, he was told that he would have to wait until the end of the spring to upgrade. Players with more service time (think No. 2 Chase d’Arnaud or No. 19 Josh Rutledge) get priority, at least until all the cuts are made. Jones said he has a few numbers in mind for his next stint in the big leagues, but he won’t be picky. 

“Anything under 40 works,” he said, smiling. 

The steady climb toward single digits happens to just about everybody. Long before Brandon Crawford’s became @bcraw35, he wore 79 in his first camp. He moved up to 53 after that and Mike Murphy flipped that to 35 when Crawford became the big league shortstop. Hunter Pence doesn’t remember his first spring training number with the Astros, but he knows it was in the low eighties. Joe Panik wore 66 the first time he spent a spring at Scottsdale Stadium. “I was an offensive lineman,” he joked. Tyler Beede, now on the cusp of his big league debut, got promoted from 63 to 32 when he arrived last spring, only to swap to 38 this year because of some in-season shifting. When Pablo Sandoval arrived last summer, Steven Okert switched from 48 to 32.

Then there are those who have only known one jersey. Posey was a can’t-miss prospect when he arrived and doesn’t remember wearing anything other than 28. Brandon Belt was a top-25 prospect when he came to camp for the first time, and he’s been 9 since that day. Madison Bumgarner wore 40 in his first big league camp because he had already made his big league debut, but somewhere in the team archives, there are probably a few photos of a 19-year-old Bumgarner wearing something else. 

“The previous spring I came up to pitch a few times,” Bumgarner said. “I’m pretty sure I had a different number every time I came over and I’m pretty sure it was always in the eighties.”

There were seven Giants in the eighties this spring. Duggar was one of two top prospects — Chris Shaw inherited Crawford’s old 79 — to come close, and he didn’t mind one bit. He’s not thinking too far ahead, even though he could be a big leaguer in eight days. 

“I’ll take anything if I’m in the big leagues,” he said. “I’ll take No. 112 if that’s what they give me.”