Span, Crawford return, Giants respond with first three-game winning streak

Span, Crawford return, Giants respond with first three-game winning streak

SAN FRANCISCO — A couple of times over the past week, Bruce Bochy has referred to the three days the Giants spent in Cincinnati as “embarrassing.” Players don’t often want to admit they were shamed on the field, but the Giants did concede Sunday that a rematch at AT&T Park meant just a bit more than it normally would.

“After a while of playing like we did you start to take stuff personally,” first baseman Brandon Belt said. “We knew we were a better team than that, and with some of our guys back in the lineup, everyone is feeling more confident.”

It showed on both sides, as the Giants took three of four from the Reds after getting Denard Span back atop the lineup and Brandon Crawford at shortstop. The three-game winning streak, modest as it is, is the first of the season. 

Jeff Samardzija, who clinched the third win, called the day at the yard “fun” and “one of those days you can enjoy.” It’s likely nobody got a thrill more than Bochy, who joked earlier in the week that his team was messing with him by always threatening to give the lead back even on nights when the Giants won. This one was a laugher, with the Giants scoring seven in the first two innings and rolling to an 8-3 win. 

“It’s been a while since we’ve had a cushion like that,” Bochy said. “It’s nice to get an early lead and add on. The first couple of innings, it was good to see us put up some crooked numbers there.

“You look at what happened in Cincinnati — we got pummeled pretty good to the point where it was embarrassing. They came here and won the first game, and that’s four in a row, so to bounce back and win three in a row and to play the way we did and execute, it’s a good bounce back.”

The Giants believe this is somewhat sustainable, and they point to two players as their main pieces of evidence. Crawford was his usual self at short, teaming with Joe Panik to gobble up just about anything hit to second, short, shallow left, shallow right, behind the mound, and even down the third base line. Crawford added a two-run double Sunday, a sign that his swing is coming back after a DL stint. 

Span’s swing came back on the first night. He had four hits Thursday and seven in the series, raising his average 68 points. He scored four runs, including two on Sunday. Span flew to Arizona when the Giants headed to Cincinnati, taking extra batting practice and even taking swings off rehabbing right-hander Albert Suarez. 

“It wasn’t like I was in Cancun or Cabo, but all things happen for a reason,” he said of being well-rested. “It sucks being on the DL but I made sure my legs were fresh. I wanted to stay ready so that when I did come off the DL, it wouldn’t take me long to get into the swing of things.”

Span’s big return has Bochy ready to settle things down in the lineup. The Giants will be without Hunter Pence (hamstring) for at least a few days, but Bochy said he’ll have a regular group out there. Span and Panik are his guys atop the lineup, Belt looks comfortable back in the three-spot (he homered for the third time in the series), Posey is hitting cleanup again, and Crawford is back in the No. 5 spot. 

“I like the way it’s set up,” Bochy said. 

The players do, too.

“Getting everyone to where they’re set in a certain spot in the lineup helps, instead of constant mixing and matching,” Belt said. “We have our guys back and it lengthens the lineup.”

The starting pitchers took advantage against the Reds, showing their own length while combining for 29 innings. Samardzija went 6 1/3, picking up his first win of the season. He is not one who worries about statistics, but changing the tune of the record next to his name was a nice addition to his Sunday. 

Samardzija now will sit back and hope his fellow starters can keep it going in a huge series against the Dodgers. Matt Cain, Ty Blach and Johnny Cueto will take the ball, and the Giants are eager to get another crack at a team they’ve played well. This time, they’re pretty close to full strength, too.

"You get back your leadoff hitter and bring back a middle-of-the-order hitter," Panik said. "Hopefully now we can kind of start rolling with it."

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.”