Giants

The unsung influence behind the Giants' pitching dominance

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The unsung influence behind the Giants' pitching dominance

DETROIT Long before Ryan Vogelsong went to Japan, beforehe had his elbow cut, before those years of misery in Pittsburgh or those twosets of Triple-A walking papers that forced him to look up to find the end ofhis rope

He went to lunch. With Mark Gardner.

Gardy and I were teammates, said Vogelsong, on the eve ofhis first World Series start. Thats how we met for the first time. I was justa young pup then, and Gardy was one of our starters and he took me under hiswing right away.

He was one of those guys I bounced questions off a lot, andnot just about pitching but making sure I was in the right place at the righttime in spring training, and going through the drills and everything.

Recalled Giants GM Brian Sabean: Looking back, Gardy shepherdeda lot of the younger guys, whether it was taking them to lunch or dinner. Youcould tell he was someone who would stay in the game after he was done playing.

Vogelsong still calls Gardner a friend, but not a teammate. Theformer right-hander from Fresno is the Giants bullpen coach now, although inpractice he is nearer to being a co-pitching coach along with Dave Righetti.

Righetti is getting another national upwelling of well-deservedaccolades, now that the Giants starting pitchers are punching up theirperformance once again with the baseball world watching. The Giants rotation is5-0 with a 0.55 ERA and a .195 opponents average over the past five games three elimination victories against the St. Louis Cardinals to burglarize theNL pennant, and then a pair of tone-setting wins at home against the DetroitTigers to set the tone in the World Series.

Barry Zito, Vogelsong, Matt Cain, Zito again and MadisonBumgarner have combined to issue just six walks and strike out 30 in 33innings. They havent allowed a single home run over that span.

Its a dominant run that club officials worried wouldnt bepossible, given the way so many of their arms lagged through September.Vogelsong was as lost as any of them, posting a 10.31 ERA over a seven-startspan from mid-August to mid-September in which opponents hit .366 against him.

But Vogelsong kept after the flaws that had crept into hisdelivery, and after finishing the regular season by flashing power stuff in hislast three starts, he has parlayed his hard, moving arsenal into a tremendouspostseason. Vogelsong is 2-0 with a 1.42 ERA in three playoff starts, includinga dominant effort against the Cardinals in Game 6 of the NLCS that kept theGiants alive.

He credits two people who have known him since the first dayhe stepped in big league camp as a wide-eyed kid.

I think they balance each other well, said Vogelsong, who rejoined the Giants on a minor league deal last year to begin his inspiring renaissance. Gardy,hell get into a lot of the mechanical stuff with you, and Rags is more on themental side. He does some mechanical stuff as well, but Rags is more of hesbeen through everything in this game that you can do as a pitcher. Hes closed,hes started, middle relief. Theres nothing as a staff we are going toencounter that this guy hasnt done in the game. That goes for Gardy as well,who relieved and started.

You know, I think they bounce things off each other all thetime, and they come up with what they think is the best solution if theres aproblem going on. I know I go to both of them because I want to try to get asmuch information as possible. They do a tremendous job with our staff.

Theyve been doing it a long time. How many bullpen coachesare on their third manager, instead of vice versa? And Righetti, with 13seasons, ranks as the longest tenured pitching coach with his current club, nowthat Dave Duncan has taken a leave of absence from the Cardinals.

Sabean is frustrated that Righetti, andbench coach Ron Wotus, have not received more interest on the major leaguemanagerial carousel. Then again, its not like he wants to see either man go.

On the pitching side, we have two guys who are verypatient, theyre good at their craft and also aggressive when need be when theyfeel adjustments need to be made, Sabean said. The players trust them. Theyhave confidence in their acumen in helping to turn them around, and the managercooperates and goes with their lead.

That was never more evident than this postseason, whenRighetti told Bochy that Zito would give them a chance to bring them back fromGame 5 in St. Louis. The left-hander responded with 7 23 shutout innings.

The Giants had to extend themselves to a seventh game tobeat the Cardinals, so they didnt have the luxury to set up their rotation forthe World Series as the Tigers did. The Giants faced a soft spot for Game 2,and Bumgarner already had been yanked from the playoff rotation after gettingbattered for an 11.25 ERA in two starts, including 15 hits and three homers injust eight innings.

But Gardner worked with Bumgarner on shortening up his torsorotation, Righetti helped him sharpen his slider just enough and the results inthree bullpen sessions were encouraging enough.

Righetti recommended that Bumgarner take the ball. Justbased on numbers alone, it would be like driving the jet fuel truck into astructure fire. But Bochy acted with faith, and Bumgarner rewarded it. TheTigers managed two hits in seven innings against the left-hander.

EXTRA BAGGS: Giving rope to Bumgarner, etc.

Now Righetti is getting the laurels. But save some forGardner, too.

Gardner is just happy he's seeing the starters perform to their capabilities.

We knew going into the playoffs the starting pitching wouldbe so important, Gardner said. You only go as far as they take you. AndSeptember, yeah, it was rough on them and you knew that going in. But therewere times the bullpen stepped it up for them, and now you see theyre doingit.

What gives Gardner such an eye for mechanics? Well, perhapsits because he was a shortstop at Fresno State who was learning pitching fromscratch. He didnt have to unlearn bad habits.

They had us work with another guy and watch them, observe,and I think it started then, Gardner said. You learn early on that everybodyhas their own style, but there are parts of a delivery you need to do. You haveto have an eye for it and try to pass it along.

Balance. Stride. Release point. Where you are when your foothits the ground. When your hands separate, and where they are at every point inyour motion.

Its all part of making a pitch, Gardner said. With theseguys here, all of them made 30 starts so you know every one of them is going tohave a rough spot. But weve been lucky with these guys. Theyve beenoutstanding and durable and they get their work done, so its easy to have guyslike that.

It wont be easy this offseason, though especially when itconcerns Tim Lincecum, who has been successful in a relief role this postseasonbut plummeted from one of the leagues most effective aces to a pitcher whoseshocking, 5.18 ERA was the highest among all qualified NL starters.

Itll be up toLincecum to tweak his mechanics and reinvent himself as a pitcher thisoffseason.

Hes just in transition, Sabean said. Hes going to have tolearn how to pitch with less velocity and hell have to get his arm or hisrelease point in a better spot to make pitches. Because its about throwingstrikes with consistency, and in his case hes not going to miss as many bats.So hes going to have to be resourceful and try to throw fewer pitches perat-bat and play to contact.

Lincecum tends to adhere to his own process and listen tohis own voices. But Righetti will lend his, and hell channel Gardnersthoughts along the way.

Who knows? Maybe a nice, leisurely lunch would help, too.

Just a number? Longoria says slow down with concerns of Giants' aging roster

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AP

Just a number? Longoria says slow down with concerns of Giants' aging roster

The Giants added two premier face of the franchise players this offseason in Evan Longoria and Andrew McCutchen. Together the two have combined for eight All-Star Game appearances. 

What they don't bring to San Francisco though, is youth. Longoria (32) and McCutchen (31) are the latest to join an again Giants roster. Buster Posey turn 31 in March, Johnny Cueto turns 32 in February, Hunter Pence turns 35 in April, Brandon Crawford turns 31 in January, and Brandon Belt turns 30 in April.

Father Time though, is far from getting Longoria and the rest of the Giants' stars according to the third baseman. 

"I believe that all of us believe we're in our prime and we are more than capable of competing," Longoria said Wednesday on KNBR. "That's just ways of making waves in the news. Our job is to just go out and do our job. I think we'll be just fine." 

Longoria is entering his 11th season in the big leagues. That has certainly added wear and tear on him, but also added knowledge of his body. 

"I'm definitely a different player," Longoria says now at 32 compared to 22. "There's a lot of ways that I prepare now that I didn't have to do or I didn't know how to do when I was a younger player. For me personally, it's going to be quite an experience."

While Longoria and McCutchen may not have the freshest pair of legs in baseball, they are two of the most durable players in the game. In 2017, both players appeared in 156 out of 162 games.

"Being prepared for the season is one thing and I know how to do that and I know how to get myself ready for that," Longoria said. "It's just a matter of the day in and day out homework so to speak that I'll have to do. That's gonna change based on the league and based on the division."

Evan Longoria reacts to Giants' 'big, big acquisition' of Andrew McCutchen

Evan Longoria reacts to Giants' 'big, big acquisition' of Andrew McCutchen

When Evan Longoria heard he was being traded to the Giants, he instantly thought of the three World Series trophies. 

"They've won three World Series in the past eight years or whatever, everyone knows that," Longoria said Wednesday on KNBR. "It's a great place to be. The fan base is amazing. I'm just looking forward to playing in front of that and being a part of that." 

That's true, the Giants have won three titles in the last eight years. At one point, it was three in five years, building a modern-day dynasty. That also means they have come up short the last three years. 

In 2017, the Giants fell well beyond short. Playing his whole career in the American League East for the Tampa Bay Rays, Longoria didn't realize quite how bad things were going in San Francisco this past season. 

His wife did though. 

"My wife was actually the one that said, 'Hey, did you know the Giants basically had the worst record in baseball last year?'" Longoria shared. "I said 'I'm excited to be going to a contender' and she said 'Uhh... wait a second here.' But I know that those things happen and it's very tough to compete atop of the division every year and there's years that you have to punt so to speak and start preparing for next year." 

None of that matters to Longoria. The past is the past. All Longoria cares about now is 2018 and beyond. And he believes the Giants are in line to make some more Even Year Magic.

"I truly believe that this organization, obviously with the moves that they've made this offseason, with the recent acquisition of [Andrew] McCutchen, I believe that they're still not done," Longoria says. "I think they wanna do a few more things and that shows a committment to winning. We're definitely on the path to turning it around this year." 

The Giants acquired McCutchen from the Pirates on Monday for prospects Bryan Reynolds and Kyle Crick. Longoria couldn't be any more excited to be in the same lineup as McCutchen. 

"It's a big, big acquisition," Longoria said. "I think when you look at Cutch's numbers, they speak for themselves. When you look at what he's done on the baseball field is probably some of the best numbers and performances in the last 10 years in the National League.

"When you add a player like that, it brings a mindset that the team is committed to winning and I've heard nothing but great things about McCutchen in the clubhouse and off the field too. Whether or not you can quantify it, I believe those things go a long way." 

Longoria and McCutchen combined for 48 home runs and 174 RBI in 2017.