Misplay in center is costly for Giants, who again fall short of a comeback

Misplay in center is costly for Giants, who again fall short of a comeback

SAN FRANCISCO — The rain arrived in the late innings Tuesday night, swirling around the field and soaking a home team that was trying to come back and a visiting squad that was desperately trying to keep a hot start to the season going. 

For the Giants — especially center fielder Gorkys Hernandez — the rain and the accompanying wind arrived a few innings too late. Hernandez couldn’t haul in a Jake Lamb blast that kept carrying to the wall in the third inning. The three-run triple was the deciding play for the Diamondbacks, who gave up three in the eighth and ninth as the ballpark got smaller but held on for a 4-3 win. 

“I thought he had a bead on it, I did,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “He’s so good out there. He was upset with himself. That’s a big play obviously. He’s a gifted center fielder and he just didn’t quite come up with it. That’s not an easy play. He just didn’t come up with it and that was the difference, probably.”

For Hernandez, starting in place of Denard Span, it was a night where the inches never went his way. He scalded a ball the other way in the first but right at Paul Goldschmidt. In the bottom of the second, he came a few feet from a grand slam. That ball settled into a glove. Hernandez couldn’t say the same after Lamb’s shot. 

“I was pretty close, I almost got it,” he said. “It happens. I was trying to do the best I could for (Jeff) Samardzija and the team. It happens. I jumped and tried to catch the ball, and it didn’t get in my glove. Sometimes that happens.”

The Diamondbacks added a little salt to the fresh wound in the bottom of the inning. Aaron Hill lined what looked to be an RBI double to left-center, but center fielder A.J. Pollock made a spectacular grab. It was that kind of night for the Giants, who hit several balls hard but left 13 on base. 

They finally inched closer in the eighth, getting a run back. In the ninth, Nick Hundley and Eduardo Nuñez drove in runs, and Nuñez swiped second with Brandon Crawford pinch-hitting. The Giants couldn’t finish the rally against Fernando Rodney. 

“We’ve done that three times where we battled back to get within one run and just couldn’t finish it,” Bochy said. 

--- Samardzija was much better in his second start, allowing just the three runs on the Lamb triple. He struck out seven in 6 2/3, stretching it out to 112 pitches. 

“It’s good to get there and feel good,” he said of the pitch count. “I still felt I could attack them there in the seventh and I was still using all my pitches.”

Bochy has pushed his starters early. For all the holes that are opening up, the Giants still have a strong starting staff, and they certainly intend to ride those guys hard. 

--- Nuñez had four hits, raising his average to .389. He stole his fifth base, so he’s already one-third of the way to last year’s Giants leader. Bochy said he will continue to hit sixth for now. It’s a spot Nuñez likes. 

“I just like him there,” Bochy said. “It breaks up the lefties and puts him in a position where he’s driving in runs or stealing bases. I could put him in the leadoff spot, but I just like him in that area. It doesn’t mean I won’t change it (at some point).”

--- Look, it was clear that Samardzija got a bit of revenge on the day Buster Posey went on the DL. The Giants did not feel Taijuan Walker was throwing at Posey, and they don’t generally throw at hitters themselves, but there are unwritten rules and all that. So, Paul Goldschmidt -- the Buster Posey of Arizona -- got one right on the backside. If you follow the unwritten rules, an early plunking somewhere around the waist is exactly how you do it. 

Samardzija did not answer a question about it and Bochy cut one off, which is fine. No point in getting on the commissioner’s radar. But good for Goldschmidt for understanding the situation and not escalating it, and good for the umpires for not freaking out with a series of warnings. This beef now seems squashed.


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.”