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.”


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.”