Sandoval extends hitless streak, Giants go down quietly at Coors


Sandoval extends hitless streak, Giants go down quietly at Coors

DENVER — As Jae-Gyun Hwang flies back to South Korea, at some point he might ponder an important question: What if the Giants had given me a marketable nickname?

Hwang had hoped to get some serious time in September for the Giants. The team chose instead to remove Hwang from the roster and take a second look at Pablo Sandoval, and after some mildly encouraging early returns, the gamble has backfired. 

Sandoval was 0-for-4 on Monday at Coors Field and he’s hitless in his last 33 at-bats. That’s the longest streak by a Giant since Johnnie LeMaster made 37 consecutive outs in 1984. Sandoval is batting .196 in 97 at-bats since returning to his first home, with an OPS that’s about 100 points below the mark that inspired the Red Sox to cut bait and swallow $50 million. 

Asked about Sandoval after a 4-3 loss, Bruce Bochy said sharply, “We’ve got a few guys cold.”

“It’s not like any young players are tearing it up, either,” Bochy said. “I’m just being honest. He’s had some success here (at Coors) and against their pitcher (Chad Bettis). We’re trying to finish strong and give Pablo a good look with (Ryder) Jones and (Mac) Williamson.”

Before Monday’s game, Bochy said Sandoval is drifting too much in his swing as he prepares to take hacks. It doesn’t help that his aggressiveness on pitches out of the zone is what it was in his first go-around. 

The Giants appear to have been wrong about Sandoval, but Bochy is right about one thing: He has plenty of cold hitters, a list that includes Jones, another option at third. Jones didn’t play Monday but the guys who did didn’t do much. Joe Panik and Denard Span had six hits at the top of the order. The other Giants were 1-for-25 at the best hitter’s park in the game. 

That made for a tight game, and the Giants generally blow those. Three different players made mistakes in the ninth. Williamson was too far back with a lefty, Charlie Blackmon, at the plate to lead off. He said he didn’t want to let a ball get behind him in the thin air, and the wind was swirling. When Blackmon hit a pop-up to shallow left-center, Williamson’s diving attempt ended with the ball hitting off his glove. Blackmon reached second, and Steven Okert intentionally walked Nolan Arenado and then unintentionally walked Gerardo Parra to put Cory Gearrin in a tough spot. 

Gearrin struck out Pat Valaika, but Joe West did him no favors by Joe West-ing it up and opening the next at-bat by ruling a clear strike was a ball. Gearrin sprayed three more to Carlos Gonzalez, walking in the winning run. 

“Regardless (of the first pitch) I have to come in there and throw strikes and make better pitches,” Gearrin said. “It’s just unacceptable for me to come in and not throw strikes and make that a competitive at-bat.”

The Giants didn’t have many competitive at-bats once it got past the top two in their order. Afterward, Bochy sat in the dugout for a few minutes and stared out at the field. When he met with reporters, he acknowledged that Sandoval will need another day off to try and clear his head and fix his swing. 

“We just gave him a day off,” Bochy said. “We just gave him a day off not too long ago.”

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.”