Giants

The man who knows Posey's pain

697130.jpg

The man who knows Posey's pain

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. He couldnt walk for three months.One surgery rebuilt his ankle. Another removed the screws. When he returned to baseball, no single activity was pain-free. No amount of treatment could take away the soreness, the stiffness, the unpredictable breaking of scar tissue.As for the mental scars, they are as raised and raw as ever. He cant forget or forgive the baserunner who vaporized him on that awful night.This is not Buster Poseys story. This belongs to Todd Jennings.Nobody wants to sign an injured catcher, said Jennings, a former Giants prospect and second-round pick out of Long Beach State. Im going to these open tryouts and some of these people have no business being there. Had one with the Dodgers last week. Did really well, too. Im in the best shape of my life, finally feeling 100 percent.But its hard. Its hard when nobodys seen you play in four years.Jennings, like everyone else, saw replay after replay of Poseys collision on May 25. It began with a fly ball and a throw from the outfield. Posey dropped right fielder Nate Schierholtzs one-hop heave. Florida Marlins pinch runner Scott Cousins, as if shot from a sling, delivered a targeted, shoulder-to-shoulder blow.Posey had fallen to his knees. He was a sitting duck.Same exact thing, dude, Jennings said.For Jennings, AT&T Park was Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha. His Scott Cousins was a blocky, Triple-A outfielder named Mitch Maier. It was May 2, 2008, and the first inning. Fresno left fielder Justin Leone caught a fly ball and heaved his throw. It was up the line.Jennings fell to his knees. He was a sitting duck.Both plays were sacrifice flies. Both times, the catcher paid it.Both times, Schierholtz was the right fielder.I dont recall all the specifics, said Schierholtz, of that cool night in Nebraska. But Ill never forget the hit.It was worse than Poseys collision. Maier was bigger than Cousins. Jennings was smaller than Posey.Absolutely blown up, Schierholtz said. It did not look good. It was very, very similar to Busters collision. Obviously, we didnt have a replay over and over. But he lowered his shoulder. He got killed. Complete yard sale, stuff flying everywhere.It was hard to watch that happen to a friend.This spring, Schierholtz and his teammates are watching with hope and optimism as Posey straps on his gleaming gear, catches bullpens, takes batting practice and runs the bases. He remains the golden child of the organization, the first star position player drafted and developed since the days of Will Clark and Matt Williams. He is expected to bring his lamp to the cleanup spot and guide a league-worst offense out of darkness.But more than nine months after the collision, Posey is not healed. Not yet. And nobody can understand his pain better than Jennings.I know, said Jennings, who tore an MCL in his knee in addition to multiple ankle ligaments in his crash. Hes going to find its tough mentally more than anything. You want to come back and perform, but the ankle and the whole situation hinders you from doing what you normally can.At where he is now, nine months, hes just going to be real, real stiff and its going to affect his performance because the ankle is pretty critical for being a catcher. Hes not going to be as mobile blocking balls and stuff like that. Your range of motion, you just dont have it because of all the scar tissue. No matter how much you do to loosen it up, its still there.Hell be all right, but this year will not be easy. Hell have to be patient have to be.Posey knows what lies ahead. He spent the offseason working with Giants physical therapist Tony Reale, who has remained in contact with Jennings. Plenty of NFL players have recovered from three torn ankle ligaments. Jennings is one of few test cases for a catcher.The big questions to be answered this spring, beginning Friday when Posey plays for the first time in 288 days: How much can he catch? Is 100 games too much? Or 120? Or will his ankle tolerate much less? On days he doesnt catch, should be start at first base? Or will his ankle require complete days of watching, powerless and jacketed, from the dugout?Jennings cannot provide a perfect comparison. Posey is more than nine months removed from the injury. Jennings was barely six months out when he went to play winter ball in Mexico.But I know if he plays on it every day for two months, hes going to be done, Jennings said. It was killing me after three weeks. So if Im running their team, Id give him just three or four games a week to start, at least for the first month or two.Posey wont be in the lineup every day this season. But hell spend all 162 in the trainers room. Dave Groeschner has prepared Posey for that reality. Itll be hour after dull hour on the table, alternating ice and heat.Everyone wants him to be perfect, but hes going to have bouts of soreness all year long, said Groeschner, the Giants head athletic trainer. He knows that. Weve talked about that. Its just about trying to manage it as best we can, knowing that hes going to play a lot.The nice thing about spring training is it can be much more controlled than the regular season. Were trying to add things in incrementally to see how he tolerates it, how he feels, and so far, its been good.Will he get tired of staring at those ceiling tiles in the trainers room?He already is trust me, Groeschner said, with a faint smile. This year its going to be a necessary evil. We know he doesnt want to be in there, but hes dealing with it pretty well.Jennings is still dealing with the fallout. Its hard to forget that night in Omaha when its your last in affiliated baseball.After Mexico that winter, Jennings was invited to major league spring training with the Giants in 2009. Still sore but managing his knee and ankle, he reported early with the other catchers. Posey was in his first big league camp and Jennings remembered taking a liking to the kid.We got along well, Jennings said. Wed go down in the cages and sit on the pitching machines, hang out and talk.The first week of camp wasnt yet over when Jennings was taking part in a throwing drill. He felt something pop in his elbow. Tommy John surgery. Another 12 months, gone.This time, nobody barreled him over. His wind got knocked out nonetheless.Jennings rehabbed his arm on the Giants tab, but the club released him in the spring of 2010. The organization had too many other catchers. Hed been passed up on the chart.So Jennings found independent ball. In one season, he was a Newark Bear, a Long Island Duck, a Bridgeport Bluefin. He was traded twice in a week. The bank took his condo. When he called his agent, seeking intercession, he couldnt get a call returned.Last year, he found a home with the Fargo-Moorhead Redhawks in the American Association. They treated him well there. If the Dodgers dont call, he plans to go back now a 30-year-old catcher amid part-time plumbers and hangers-on, still chasing the dream.He keeps in touch with Schierholtz, Sergio Romo and a few other ex-teammates. He was thrilled when the Giants won the World Series in 2010, even if he had to watch with hands pressed against the glass.He honestly believes he has what it takes to reach the major leagues.I just did four moths of combat training, he said. Im in the best shape of my life. Im throwing as good as ever, so why should I stop playing?Therein lies the hope. Jennings said Poseys ankle wouldnt limit him forever.Its gonna take a solid year, but its gonna heal, Jennings said. It took me at least a year to be 100 percent and not feel anything to be able to run and cut. He might start off slow, but Id expect him to be 100 percent after the All-Star break, barring any setbacks. And in the long run, with all the rehab, its going to be a lot stronger. Now my leg and knee are stronger than they ever were because of exercises I kept doing.But its mental, man. He went though the ultimate mental test. Hey, I applaud him for that. Im sure he has a good family too to stand by him, because its frustrating to watch on TV and not be a part of it. Its hard for me being in Arizona and not having a team to play for.One other detail from that night in Omaha: Mitch Maier was called out.Jennings held onto the baseball. He holds onto it still.When Jennings was thrashing around in pain and shock, his left leg numb and the rest of his body throbbing, Maier did not do what Cousins did. He did not reach back to offer a gentle hand on the shoulder. He made no contact whatsoever.Mitch Maier never called, never texted, nothing, Jennings said. That still eats me. I havent played a game in affiliated ball since that day. Thats why maybe I think (Posey) might have handled that the wrong way by not accepting an apology. But thats his decision.Make no mistake. Jennings isnt questioning Poseys character. He has nothing but admiration for him. By the time Posey guts through this season, Jennings expects to admire him all the more.He knows Posey's story. It belongs to both of them.It makes you, in the long run, a better person, Jennings said. Buster is a great kid with a good head on his shoulders and I think youll see hell be even better after this. Hes going to come out hungry. You watch, hes going to get on some of these other guys.Hell be a better person. Youll see. I guarantee it.

Report: Two Giants hitters elect free agency

gillaspie-moncrief-usatsi.jpg
USATSI

Report: Two Giants hitters elect free agency

With free agency set to begin five days after the World Series ends, two hitters that played for the Giants during the 2017 season have put their names on the open market.

Veteran third baseman Conor Gillaspie and longtime minor league outfielder Carlos Moncrief have both elected for free agency, according to Baseball America.

The 30-year-old Gillaspie appeared in 44 games for the Giants this past season. He hit just .168/.218/.288 with four doubles, two home runs and eight RBI. He was designated for assignment on August 3 and outrighted to Triple-A Sacramento on August 5. With the River Cats, Gillaspie hit .375 with four doubles in 15 games in August.

Prior to the 2017 season, Gillaspie signed a one-year, $1.4 million deal with the Giants.

As for Moncrief, the soon-to-be 29-year-old finally got his first call-up the majors this past season after eight and a half seasons in the minors. He debuted for the Giants on July 29. In 28 games, he hit .211/.256/.237 with one double and five RBI. While he didn't do much with the bat, Moncrief showed off a cannon for an arm when he patrolled right field.

Giants reassign pitching coach Dave Righetti, two other coaches

righetti-dugout-usatsi.jpg
USATSI

Giants reassign pitching coach Dave Righetti, two other coaches

SAN FRANCISCO — Late in a 98-loss season, general manager Bobby Evans met with members of the coaching staff to discuss new roles. The shakeup of the staff ended up being a stunning one. 

Pitching coach Dave Righetti was one of three coaches to be reassigned Saturday morning. After 18 seasons as pitching coach, Righetti will now serve as special assistant to the general manager. Bullpen coach Mark Gardner was given a “special assignment role to assist in pitching evaluations.” Assistant hitting coach Steve Decker will be a special assistant for baseball operations. 

The moves cap a 13-month run in which the coaching staff has taken much of the blame for a $200 million roster that was poorly constructed in places and played embarrassing baseball for long stretches of the 2016 and 2017 seasons. Third base coach Roberto Kelly was let go after the 2016 season and first base coach Billy Hayes was reassigned. More changes appear on the way. 

“It does raise the level of attention to change when you struggle as much as we have, but you’re always contemplating making changes to try to help keep pushing your guys and make sure you continue to have different perspectives and new voices and reflections on how to get the most out of them,” Evans said on a conference call. 

Throughout September, multiple coaches expressed concern about their future roles, but the Giants held off several weeks before announcing changes. At least two members of the staff were involved in managerial searches elsewhere, and third base coach Phil Nevin is reportedly still a candidate for the open job in Philadelphia. 

Evans confirmed that he has interviewed outside candidates for a hitting coach role, but he would not go so far as to say Hensley Meulens will be reassigned as well. He also would not speak to the future of Ron Wotus, although the longtime bench coach is expected to be mixed up in future changes as well. Evans indicated he would announce further moves after all the open managerial vacancies are filled.

For now, the Giants are in the process of trying to find a new pitching coach. They are focused on experienced outside candidates, and they have plenty of options, as several other teams have made changes this month. Evans hinted that he wants the next pitching coach to have a more analytical approach. 

Righetti's replacement will have massive shoes to fill. His run was the longest for a pitching coach in franchise history. The Giants, usually so reliant on pitching, finished 16th in the Majors with a 4.50 ERA, but it’s hard to see how Righetti takes the blame for that. Madison Bumgarner missed a chunk of the season after a dirt bike accident, Johnny Cueto had a brutal injury-plagued year, Matt Moore battled himself and had the worst ERA in the National League, and the bullpen struggled, with closer Mark Melancon pitching through an injury that required season-ending surgery. 

Righetti was credited with helping to develop a rotation and bullpen that won three titles, and the bond he shared with pitchers was on display during the final weekend of the year, when Matt Cain talked repeatedly about their close relationship and went straight for Righetti after he came off the field for the final time. While it’s often hard to figure out where to give credit, even in a down year for the staff, Righetti played a role in Sam Dyson’s resurgence, and he helped Ty Blach and Chris Stratton break in as big league regulars. 

“Ultimately a change for us in the clubhouse is really an opportunity just to put a new voice with our pitching staff and try to keep pushing to the heights that we aspire as an organization and a club,” Evans said. “Changes sometimes are needed as much for the sake of that new voice as anything, and I think that was really the priority here.”

Righetti will help Evans in a front office role. Evans admitted that Righetti’s “heartbeat is in uniform as a coach,” but said he was willing to take on a new role for an organization he loves. 

Gardner, a former Giants pitcher, had been on staff since 2003. He will now help to evaluate pitchers inside and outside the organization, and Evans said Gardner could serve an important role in evaluating trade options. Decker joined the big league staff in 2015 after a long run working in the minor leagues. The 2017 season was his 23rd with the organization. He will have a “blank canvas,” Evans said, working in different roles inside the organization. Decker will also help with draft preparation.