Giants open new month with 'May flowers' and a win over Kershaw

Giants open new month with 'May flowers' and a win over Kershaw

LOS ANGELES — Hunter Pence walked into the visiting dugout at Dodger Stadium on Monday afternoon and starting asking reporters how they were doing. At the time, Pence’s stat line said that he had just one homer. The smile on his face said he wasn’t all that concerned. 

“April showers bring May flowers,” he said, beaming as he headed onto the field. 

The first day of May ended up bringing what felt like a hurricane of offense. 

Pence banged a Clayton Kershaw curveball over the wall for a two-run shot and Buster Posey later added a solo blast, his first in nearly a month, on a hanging slider. The Giants put eight hits and four runs on Kershaw’s line, both matching his career-highs against his rival. The early onslaught — and that’s what four runs is against Kershaw, especially in his home park — held up for a 4-3 win on the first day of May.

“We took good, aggressive swings,” Posey said. “We were able to work counts and foul off tough pitches. Any time you can do that against Kershaw, it’s a good night.”

The tough at-bats came up and down the lineup. Christian Arroyo saw 27 pitches in four plate appearances, and he had two hits off Kershaw, who gave up the first of Arroyo’s career last Tuesday. Joe Panik saw 24 pitches. Gorkys Hernandez put down a bunt, advanced on an error, and scored a needed insurance run on Arroyo’s second knock.

It all left Bruce Bochy grinning ear to ear. This is how he likes to manage. This is how it’s supposed to be for the 2017 Giants. The bullpen showed some depth, backing the lineup and Johnny Cueto, who was sharp through seven.

Cueto entered the night with a 5.10 ERA, but he finally revealed a minor ailment that team officials have been whispering about during the rough start. Cueto dealt with a blister during his last start of March and he said it never went away.

“I’ve been dealing with it for a month,” Cueto said through interpreter Erwin Higueros. “It’s nagging me.”

The blister flared up in the third inning Monday, but Cueto buckled down, as if annoyed by its presence. After Kershaw’s RBI single in the second, Cueto retired 13 straight. The run ended in the seventh, when an infield single, a slick bunt by rookie Cody Bellinger, and a pinch-hit single got the Dodgers within one. Bochy made the slow walk to the mound. Cueto was at 100 pitches, and Bochy needed to look not at his finger, but at his eyes. 

Bochy liked what he saw. Cueto got Andrew Toles to ground out to first, yelling as he walked back to the dugout. 

“I needed to go ahead and strap up my pants and start pitching,” Cueto said. 

Bochy will occasionally publicly tells his players to pull their Big Boy Pants on, and two young relievers did so on a night when the closer wasn’t available. Mark Melancon pitched four of five days to end the homestand, and five of seven overall. 

“He’s fine, but I talked to him,” Bochy said. “He wanted to be available. He threw four of five and that would have been five of six. We have a lot of baseball left.”

Melancon told the younger relievers that he was down for the night, and they responded. Steven Okert was the first out of the ‘pen and he got Corey Seager, Justin Turner and Yasmani Grandal in order in the eighth. He came out for the ninth as Derek Law warmed up, and down went lefties Adrian Gonzalez and Bellinger. 

“Oh my gosh, he pretty much saved the game for us,” Law said. “That’s a big turning point right there. To come in and shut them down like that, they pretty much had no chance.”

Yasiel Puig was the last chance for the Dodgers and Bochy called on Law. He threw five pitches, striking out Puig for his first save of the season. The fist-pump at the end capped a stirring night for the Giants, who hope beating Kershaw is the springboard for a big road trip. At the very least, it brought some laughs back to a clubhouse that suffered two brutal losses over the weekend. 

“He’s a good friend for letting me get that save,” Law said as Okert got dressed a few feet away.

Okert smiled.

“Great save,” he said to Law. “He went in there and did exactly what was needed.”


Giants' outfield picture becoming clearer after latest round of roster cuts

Giants' outfield picture becoming clearer after latest round of roster cuts

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants moved closer to setting their opening day roster on Monday when they made a significant round of cuts to their spring training roster. 

A total of 15 players were reassigned or optioned, bringing the total to 31 players remaining in camp. Many of the players cut Monday entered the spring competing for jobs. 

In the outfield, Mac Williamson and Austin Slater were optioned to Triple-A and Chris Shaw was reassigned to minor league camp. Williamson had a huge spring and was the likeliest of the trio to push for an opening day spot, but he'll start his year in the minors. Steven Duggar was not among the cuts, and he remains an option to make the team, with the Giants also looking at Gregor Blanco, Gorkys Hernandez and Jarrett Parker for backup spots. Hernandez and Parker are out of minor league options. 

Tyler Beede was optioned and Andrew Suarez was reassigned to minor league camp, leaving three players vying for the final two rotation spots. Ty Blach and Chris Stratton have been the favorites all along, although both struggled the last time out and Derek Holland has had a strong spring. 

Both backup catchers -- Trevor Brown and Hector Sanchez -- were reassigned, along with Orlando Calixte, who saw time in the big leagues last year. Joan Gregorio, Jose Valdez, Justin O'Conner and Kyle Jensen were also reassigned. Chase d'Arnaud, who appeared to be making a strong push, was on the list, too, leaving Josh Rutledge as the only competition for Kelby Tomlinson for the final infield spot. 

Finally, Derek Law and Roberto Gomez were optioned to Triple-A. Josh Osich remains and appears the frontrunner for a bullpen job. Julian Fernandez, the Rule 5 pick, also remains in camp. 

The Giants break camp on Friday.

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.