Giants

In return to KC, Bumgarner will face hitter he first met 17 years ago

In return to KC, Bumgarner will face hitter he first met 17 years ago

KANSAS CITY — The Royals know Madison Bumgarner all too well at this point, and there will be a familiar lineup on the other side when the lefty digs back in at Kauffman Stadium on Wednesday night. Longtime anchors Alex Gordon, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer and Salvador Perez will make up the top of the order against Bumgarner, but the new No. 6 hitter is actually the Royal who has been facing him the longest. 

A day after getting called up from Triple-A, Whit Merrifield will take a crack at a player he has known for nearly two decades. Merrifield grew up in Mocksville, North Carolina, about 75 minutes away from Bumgarner's hometown. The two played against each other and played together on high school All-Star teams, but their first meeting wasn’t a positive one for Merrifield.

“So, my first memory of Bum was we were 11 years old and it was my first ever travel ball game and he was pitching for the Catawba Valley Storm, we were playing against them,” Merrifield said Wednesday. “He was this big-old-donkey lefty on the mound. I was leading off that game and my first at-bat he drills me in the head. 

“He goes on later that game to hit two home runs, and ever since then he was kind of a legend around those parts.” 

Told that story by local reporters on Tuesday, Bumgarner smiled and grimaced. 

"I did?" he said. "Geez, I don't remember that. I'm sure it was an accident."

Merrifield wasn’t bitter. He said the two got to know each other in high school.

“He’s a great guy,” Merrifield said. “It’s good to see him have success. Like I said, he was kind of a legend in North Carolina.”

Merrifield, 28, is hoping to carve out his own role in the Majors. He has come a long way since that first meeting, which was his first ever game playing outside of his county. He went to South Carolina and became a ninth-round pick of the Royals. Merrifield has played all over the field in eight minor league seasons, posting a .274/.334/.403 slash line. He batted .283 in 81 games for the Royals last year and hit a solo homer Tuesday in his return to the big leagues. 

Merrifield and Bumgarner ran into each other in the parking lot after the series opener. The Royal is looking forward to facing a pitcher who was making hitters uncomfortable long before the Giants discovered him.

“When you get a chance to go up against one of the elite guys, it’s going to be a fun night,” he said. “He comes right after you. I like to be aggressive. He’s an aggressive pitcher and I’m an aggressive hitter. Something has got to give, and hopefully my aggression will prevail over his.”

 

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.