Giants check off all the boxes, avoid sweep in San Diego

Giants check off all the boxes, avoid sweep in San Diego

SAN DIEGO — Mark Melancon was disappointed after blowing a save on Opening Day, but the veteran closer took it in stride. What happened next was a bit harder to comprehend. 

Melancon, given $62 million in the offseason to fix the ninth, didn’t throw another pitch for a week. As the Giants dealt with a slumping left field, imploding bullpen, and inconsistent starting staff, they never managed to get another lead into Melancon’s hands. He sat and watched through a four-game losing streak.

“It was tough because we were losing,” he said of his break. “You just don’t want to be losing. Today was about getting that win at all costs. I think we can build off today.”

Melancon was going to get back on the mound Sunday one way or another, whether it was as the closer or just to get his work in. After some tense moments, the Giants handed him a 5-3 lead. He picked up his first save in orange and black, getting dangerous Wil Myers to bounce into a game-ending double play with the tying run on base. 

It was a day of firsts for a team that had just one win through seven days. Chris Marrero opened the scoring with his first hit as a Giant, which doubled as the first hit for a Giants left fielder. Hunter Pence and Buster Posey padded the lead with back-to-back homers in the third, the first of 2017 for each player. 

The most important contribution, however, was nothing new. Last season, the Giants learned that Johnny Cueto always keeps something in the tank. When Cueto gave up two runs of a five-run lead in the sixth and loaded the bases, manager Bruce Bochy thought he was done. 

“I told him to give me one more,” Cueto said. 

Cueto was at 95 pitches and due up first in the top of the seventh, but Bochy sent him back out to the plate. It was a nod of respect to his best right-handed pitcher. It was also an acknowledgement of concern about the bullpen from a manager who has watched his team blow eight leads already. 

“He’s your guy,” Bochy said. “Of course, he walked the first guy to make me question it, but he settled down.”

Cueto got through the seventh, and in the top of the eighth Bochy delivered another vote of confidence. He let Marrero face a right-handed reliever with two on and one out, foregoing matchup plays even with Joe Panik and Jarrett Parker on the bench. 

“I really believe in this guy,” Bochy said of Marrero. “He’s a good hitter. He had a big spring. He’s got lift in his swing and he hit the ball deep enough. It just got up there and the wind knocked it back down.”

Marrero’s high fly ended up drifting back into shallow left, not deep enough for Posey to score. Aaron Hill flied out to end the inning and Derek Law immediately sent Bochy’s heart back into his throat as the bottom of the eighth started. Yangervis Solarte banged a leadoff homer and Ryan Schimpf followed with a walk, but Law got out of the inning. 

Melancon came on for the ninth and put two on with one out. Posey walked out to the mound for a meeting, and Myers was buzzed on the next pitch. He hit a cutter the other way and Hill and Brandon Crawford teamed up for the final two outs. The rough opening week ended without a sweep, but with the realization that the Giants will need to be better against the NL West. 

The division is supposed to come down to the Giants and Dodgers again, with the Rockies a popular dark horse pick. But the first week showed that Arizona remains talented enough to cause trouble, and while the rebuilding Padres have no hope of competing for a playoff spot, they can play care-free spoiler for 162 games. 

“What I take away from this trip is these two teams we played are full of good young athletes,” Bochy said. “They’re fast. Both of them are very athletic, with speed, and they’ve got some good arms. This team doesn’t have the experience of Arizona, but they have athleticism.”

The Diamondbacks will bring a 6-1 record into AT&T Park on Monday. The homestand finishes with a Rockies club that’s 5-2 through a week. You cannot win a division in April, but you can certainly dig yourself a big hole, so the Giants were thrilled to board their private Delta jet with a second win and a couple of souvenir baseballs tucked into travel duffels.

“It’s funny,” Posey said. “No matter how long you play, it’s always nice to get the first hit, the first save, and to get a win when you haven’t in a while.”

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.”