With Ohtani officially available, Giants ready to make their pitch


With Ohtani officially available, Giants ready to make their pitch

SAN FRANCISCO — Late in the season, after watching his team lose yet another game to the Dodgers, Bruce Bochy pulled up some Shohei Ohtani clips on a laptop and spent a few minutes watching the two-way star. The highlights brought a smile to Bochy’s face even as the Dodgers celebrated a division title a few hundred feet away. 

Two months later, the Giants — along with 29 other teams — will finally get their shot at the 23-year-old who throws 100 mph on the mound and hits mammoth homers in his spare time. Ohtani was officially posted on Friday when a new agreement was reached between Major League Baseball and Nippon Professional Baseball. He can negotiate with MLB clubs until 11:59 p.m. on Dec. 22. 

It’s unclear what exactly Ohtani is looking for in a future home, and the Giants, per multiple sources, have gotten no indication that they are or are not in the running. But they have taken the chase seriously, with Bobby Evans and assistant GM Jeremy Shelley scouting Ohtani in Japan in September and team officials spending much of their offseason preparing a recruiting pitch. 

Bochy has watched a lot more film and pored over scouting reports since September. His first impression of Ohtani hasn’t changed at all. If anything, he is more convinced than before that Ohtani could be a frontline starter and play a corner outfield position multiple times a week. 

“This guy is special,” Bochy said on Friday, shortly after Ohtani was posted. “I see him as somebody who could be a starter and it’s possible you’re also looking at 300 or 400 at-bats. It’s going to make it a little easier next year with our days off, looking at the new schedule, to where he could play even more because he’ll get that additional rest. That’ll make it easier, too.”

The new CBA calls for an expansion of off days, from 21 to 25, and interested teams are said to be mapping out prospective schedules for Ohtani. With four veteran starters already, along with Chris Stratton and Ty Blach as swingmen, the Giants would seem well-positioned to manage Ohtani’s initial workload as a pitcher. He would not be blocked in the outfield on a team desperate for power, and Bochy has shown with Madison Bumgarner that he has no concerns about giving pinch-hit at-bats to a pitcher who can hit. Bochy said he could see Ohtani playing the outfield on the days after starts and then spending the day or two before his next start preparing to pitch. 

The workload would be unprecedented in modern baseball and nobody truly knows if Ohtani can actually make it work. It’s clear, though, that teams will have to let him try in order to be in the running. Ohtani is potentially giving up hundreds of millions by coming over at the age of 23, but he wants to test himself against the best in the world. On talent alone, he appears ready to give this a shot. 

“He’s got a great swing,” Bochy said. “We all know he has a great arm and he’s got the equipment to be a No. 1 starter, but the overall athleticism is what’s so impressive with this guy. He’s got a great arm but he runs well and he’s a good outfielder with a nice swing. He’s got plus power and great plate discipline. You can tell it’s a swing he’s worked hard on. It’s a beautiful swing.”

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.”