Giants

Giants enter offseason 'very concerned' about their defense

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USATI

Giants enter offseason 'very concerned' about their defense

SAN FRANCISCO — Brian Sabean knew in March that his team had some issues. By May, he knew that the deficit was mathematically overwhelming. In September, he watched the Giants stumble to the finish line and finish in last place in the National League West. 

On the third day of October, Sabean — having watched all that — sent a passionate message to the fans.

“We had a last-place season. That can happen in sports, just like you have a lost year in life,” he said. “But we’re not last-place people and we’re not a last-place organization. We’re the furthest thing from that … This isn’t a ‘blow it up,’ this isn’t a rebuild. We hope it’s a reset. 

“Now, what it’s going to take and how that plays out to go from where we finished to being competitive to a playoff team, that’s incumbent on all of us to figure out. That’s been going on for months. The autopsy has been going on for months. I don’t know how much more we can tolerate knowing that the patient got sick and why it got sick. Fortunately, it didn’t die.”

At times Tuesday, the four men on a podium at AT&T Park looked like they had witnessed a death. This was not the press conference they wanted to be giving, in part because of the date. Sabean, Larry Baer, Bobby Evans and Bruce Bochy sum up every season from that podium, but it’s rare that they’re doing so before the first playoff game. Never have they had to do so after such a wildly disappointing run. 

There were few details, because it’s too soon to give details. Any coaching changes will be announced later, and the roster is healthy heading into the offseason, for the most part. While the Giants have spent months formulating an offseason plan, tampering laws exist and they’re also just not sure which players might be available. 

There was a general outline, though, and you didn’t have to read between the lines much. The clear priority is fixing the outfield defense, with the thought that doing so would have a cascading effect. The outfield was worth negative 45 defensive runs saved, per the Fielding Bible, a distant last in the majors. The A’s were 29th at negative 32. The Dodgers, by comparison, saved 14 runs in their outfield, per that metric. 

The eye test matches the numbers, and the Giants believe a change in center field can lead to much better results for a pitching staff that disappointed in 2017. Denard Span is preparing to move to left field, and team executives hinted Tuesday that they could also make a move in right and perhaps limit Hunter Pence’s playing time if there’s a complete outfield overhaul.

“Defense is something we’re very concerned about,” Evans said. “It’s one of the ways we can help support our pitching, and it’s important we support our pitching with excellent defense. We struggled in that area this year.”

The Giants have a list of defensive-minded outfielders they will pursue, and the focus is on trades, not free agency. They’re not thought to be big fans of players like Lorenzo Cain, who is 31. The focus is on getting younger and more athletic, and hopefully finding a center fielder who would be under team control for several years. 

In a perfect world, the Giants would add right-handed power with their new outfielder. It may be tough to do otherwise, although Evans joked Tuesday that the team might get Madison Bumgarner more at-bats next year. While Bochy would love a masher to take over the cleanup spot and protect Buster Posey, team executives were vague about that pursuit on Tuesday. 

They did not, however, waffle on how much work is to be done. 

“We can’t come back next season with the same roster and expect different results,” Evans said. 

Giants look poised to put Mac Williamson in left field Friday

Giants look poised to put Mac Williamson in left field Friday

PHOENIX — After his team was held to fewer than two runs for the 10th time this season, manager Bruce Bochy said Mac Williamson will be in Anaheim on Friday as part of the taxi squad. The Giants need the outfielder to be more of a tow truck. 

This is a lineup that has not gotten in gear in any way, but a red-hot reinforcement is on the way. Williamson was hitting .487 with six homers in 11 games in Triple-A, and while Bochy couldn’t say he’ll be active and in left field against the Angels, it was not hard to read between the lines. Hunter Pence said the thumb he sprained in the home opener continues to give him problems and needs a few days of rest. It seems likely that Williamson will officially be called up Friday, with Pence going on the disabled list. 

“We’ll see what happens tomorrow,” Bochy said. “Mostly he’s coming up because he’s swinging the bat well. We’re hoping he’ll be a shot in the arm and provide some production, and we need some help in that area.”

The futility has the Giants six games out of first after just three weeks of action. The culprit is clear. Johnny Cueto, Chris Stratton and Ty Blach combined to give up three runs over 20 innings in a tough ballpark, but the Giants still dropped two of three. 

They need more than just one offensive fix, but Williamson represents a start. The 27-year-old has never stuck in the majors, but he rebuilt his swing in the offseason while working with Doug Latta, a private instructor in the Los Angeles area who helped Justin Turner became a star. Williamson’s swing has many of the same markers as Turner’s, and he had a huge spring as he continued to work on adjustments. Williamson lowered his hands and added a higher leg kick in hopes of keeping his bat in the zone longer and being shorter and more direct to the ball. 

“In the past I’ve been really active with my shoulders and hands late in the swing instead of just going and attacking the ball,” he said this spring. “I’m trying to just really calm down a lot of that non-essential movement.”

Williamson knew there was not a spot for him on the opening day roster, but hoped to make an impact sooner than later. His torrid start, plus the struggles at the big league level, have made this a daily question. 

“He showed this spring with the adjustments he made that he’s primed,” Bochy said. “He went out and did what we were hoping.”

The key for the Giants now will be to show more faith than they have in the past. Williamson is a .226 hitter in the big leagues, but his 212 at-bats have been scattered across three seasons and plenty of call-ups. It seems he is always one 0 for 3 night away from a demotion, but the Giants would be well served to let him work through any kinks this time. 

The incumbent in left field, Pence, is batting .172. His backups — Gorkys Hernandez and Gregor Blanco — are better fits as defense-first reserves. Pence hurt his thumb while diving in left field during the home opener and said it has never gotten better. An MRI back then showed a sprain. 

“It’s been going in a backwards direction,” he said. 

So have the Giants, but perhaps help is finally on the way.

Bumgarner has pins removed from pinky, to begin strengthening program

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USATSI

Bumgarner has pins removed from pinky, to begin strengthening program

PHOENIX -- The removal of three small pins in Madison Bumgarner's left pinky represented a big step for the pitcher. 

Bumgarner had the pins taken out Thursday and he now will begin the process of strengthening his hand, which was fractured during his final spring training appearance. He could begin playing catch in two weeks. 

"Once he gets that going, I think you'll see him make real progress," manager Bruce Bochy said. 

It still will be a long process for Bumgarner, who is on the 60-day DL and not eligible to return until May 26. It seems unlikely that he's ready on that day, but it could be soon thereafter. Bumgarner will need to play catch for a bit before starting bullpen sessions and eventually a real rehab assignment. Realistically, the Giants are hopeful that he'll be back in the rotation in early June. Bochy said he wouldn't be surprised if Bumgarner beats the initial timetable. 

"But it all depends on (how he feels) when he starts throwing," Bochy added. 

The Giants will get another key pitcher back Friday when Jeff Samardzija makes his season debut. 

--- Hunter Pence has a sore right thumb and wasn't in Thursday's lineup. The timing is, well, interesting. Mac Williamson wasn't in Triple-A Sacramento's lineup, so this could be the time a move is made, but the Giants also will need to clear a spot for Samardzija and they're hoping to stick with eight relievers for now. Stay tuned.