Veteran lefty Derek Holland 'in the mix' for a Giants' roster spot


Veteran lefty Derek Holland 'in the mix' for a Giants' roster spot

PEORIA, Ariz. — Derek Holland didn’t know much about the young Giants starters when he signed up to come to camp at Scottsdale Stadium. Because the White Sox faced the National League West last season, Holland had studied some film of hitters facing fellow lefty Ty Blach, but that was about it. 

He has spent a month getting to know the competition, and he likes what he’s seen. Most of all, he likes the fact that the competition is fierce but the team is close-knit. 

“There’s not one guy saying, ‘Hey, I hope you suck today,’” he joked. 

Holland hasn’t on his days. Because Johnny Cueto pitched at minor league camp in the morning, Holland started against the Mariners at night. He allowed just a solo homer in 3 1/3 innings, striking out four. In 11 innings this spring, Holland has allowed four runs and struck out 13. 

"You've got a pro out there that's showing good stuff, too," manager Bruce Bochy said. "He's commanding the ball well. You saw him in traffic and he's got good poise out there. He knows what he's doing, so he's in the mix."

Holland, 31, has been a starter throughout his nine years in the big leagues, and he said that’s still his focus. He can opt out of his minor league deal on March 24, but he said he’s not thinking about that yet. He also made it clear he’s not yet thinking about being this club’s long reliever. 

“My number one goal is to be a starter, but at the same time you’ve got to take what you get,” he said. “I’d be be blessed with the opportunity to be part of this ballclub.”

While Holland has impressed, so too have Chris Stratton and Blach. They entered camp with a leg up on the others, and both have thrown well. The Giants also may not need a fifth starter for the first couple weeks of the season, so a bullpen spot is the most likely path for any newcomers. It wouldn’t be hard for the Giants to squeeze Holland into a bullpen that currently has just one lefty — Tony Watson — and appears to have two spots available. Even if they slide Stratton or Blach to the bullpen early, they still could keep Holland and one other pitcher, perhaps Josh Osich — who has thrown extremely well — or Rule 5 pick Julian Fernandez. 

Holland said he’ll worry about what he can control, and about what he shows. This is an audition for the Giants but also for other teams that may sniff around later this month. After tailing off in the second half last year, Holland came in with a simple spring plan. 

“My goal was to show everyone that I’m healthy,” Holland said. 

He certainly has. Holland sat 91-92 mph most of the night but hit 93 a few times. He flashed a good curveball, getting out of a third-inning jam with a particularly nasty one to Mike Zunino. 

“I’ve seen kind of every side of him. He was throwing 95-96 (early in his career) and then he was battling injuries for a while and the velocity was down,” longtime American Leaguer Evan Longoria said. “It’s good to see the velo back up now. I think he could be a big asset for us if he can do what he did today.”

POLL: Giants Memorable Moments -- Ross' two HRs in Game 1 of 2010 NLCS vs Mike Ivie GS off Don Sutton


POLL: Giants Memorable Moments -- Ross' two HRs in Game 1 of 2010 NLCS vs Mike Ivie GS off Don Sutton

PROGRAMMING NOTE: NBC Sports Bay Area is looking back at the Giants' 60 Memorable Moments since the franchise moved from New York to San Francisco. Tune into Giants Pregame Live at 6pm to see the next two moments you can vote on! Then, after the Giants and Nationals conclude, tune into Postgame Live to see which moment will move on to the next round! Make your vote count!

1. Cody Ross' two home runs off Roy Halladay in Game 1 of the 2010 NLCS (Four-time winner -- defeated First game in San Francisco -- An 8-0 win over the Dodgers at Seals Stadium in 1958)

(From Cody Ross)

'Best memory out of the 60 hands down'

In Game 1 of the NLCS we had the hardest matchup that we were going to face the entire playoffs. We were staring down the Late Roy Halladay, who in my opinion was the best pitcher I’ve ever faced. He threw a Perfect Game against me when I was on the Marlins earlier in the year and was coming off a no-hitter in the NLDS against the Reds in his previous start. Not to mention he’s a 2x Cy Young award winner and an 8x All-Star. 

As I walk to the plate in the 3rd inning of a 0-0 game I’m realizing Roy has not given up a hit yet again. He was one of those pitchers who had a chance to throw a no-hitter every time he took the mound. That’s how good he was. Up until this point, I had tried every approach with little-to-no success against him. I tried to work the counts and see pitches, stay inside the ball and hit it the other way, stay up the middle, etc etc... none of these seemed to get the job done. Finally that cold October night I said to myself, “Just try and hit a home run”... and all of a sudden on a 1-1 count I swung as hard as I could and “Bang! A HR!” The best contact I’d ever had against Roy and I was just as surprised as anybody in the ballpark or the millions watching on TV. I couldn’t feel my legs running around the bases and couldn’t believe what just happened. It was the first hit he had given up in the playoffs and it was a go-ahead home run to put us up 1-0 with Tim Lincecum also throwing a gem. 

As I stepped up to the plate in the top of the 5th the game was tied 1-1. At this point I had a ton of confidence and felt like nobody could get me out. I went with the same approach of trying to hit a home run and on a 2-0 pitch the unthinkable happened again! Hard contact and I see the ball flying over the left field fence. I took a peek at Roy and he was in disbelief just as I was. 

There are many memorable playoff HR stories but it’s hard to find one against one of the most dominating pitchers in this era. It will definitely go down as one of my greatest baseball memories. I hope all the Giants fans enjoyed it as much as I did.


2. Mike Ivie's grand slam off Don Sutton in front of record crowd at Candlestick in 1978

(From Alex Pavlovic)

The Giants sold out AT&T Park for 530 consecutive games this decade, but those crowds didn’t compare to the one that was on hand when Mike Ivie led a thrilling win over the Dodgers on May 28, 1978. 

In front of 56,103 at Candlestick Park, Ivie hit a grand slam off Don Sutton. With the Giants trailing 3-1 in the sixth, Ivie pinch-hit for shortstop Vic Harris. Darrell Evans, Jack Clark and Larry Herndon had all singled to load the bases before Ivie’s slam, which was the big blast in a 6-5 win. 

The pinch-hit homer was part of a trend. Ivie, a former first-round pick of the Padres, was 12 for 31 as a pinch-hitter in 1978, with four homers and 20 RBI. Ivie had a more consistent role the next season and hit 27 homers.


A year after Chris Stratton's breakthrough, a longtime teammate is doing the same

A year after Chris Stratton's breakthrough, a longtime teammate is doing the same

SAN FRANCISCO — Six years ago, in a small town in Washington named Everett, Mac Williamson met Chris Stratton.

The power-hitting third-round pick from Wake Forest made his debut for the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes on July 24. A day later, the hard-throwing first-rounder from Mississippi State made the third start of his minor league career. Both were trying to make good impressions. 

“I think he threw pretty well,” Williamson recalled Monday night. “My first at-bat was a ground-ball double play. I stumbled over first and did a couple of barrel rolls trying to beat it out because I didn’t want my first at-bat to be a double play.”

The 2012 draft picks, both of whom are 27, have come a long way since, experiencing plenty of highs but also more than their fair share of lows. Williamson was standing 50 feet away from Stratton when he was hit by a line drive during batting practice and suffered a concussion that ended his first professional season. Stratton was Williamson’s teammate in San Jose two years later when the outfielder was told his rise through the minors would be halted by Tommy John surgery. Both have in recent years become all too familiar with the stretch of highway between San Francisco and Triple-A Sacramento. 

Yet there they were Monday, six years after first meeting, once again sharing the stage. Williamson hit a two-run homer against the Nationals that brought back memories of Barry Bonds and left jaws hanging in the dugout. Stratton once again used his four-pitch mix to shut down a quality lineup, throwing 6 2/3 innings and allowing just two runs in a 4-2 win over the Nationals. 

Afterward, Stratton stood in front of a banner adorned with Giants logos and talked about his recent run of success. Williamson did the same 15 minutes later. 

“What he’s been able to do for this team this season, it’s been fun to be a part of,” Williamson said of Stratton. 

Teammates are now starting to say the same of Williamson. 

The Giants have taken three of four from playoff-caliber opponents since Williamson was recalled for yet another big league tryout. This one appears to have staying power. Williamson, in his fourth year in the big leagues, has two loud homers and five RBI in his first four starts in place of Hunter Pence, but the numbers that really stand out are the ones that have only just begun to be tracked. 

His home run in the sixth inning Monday landed a dozen rows up in right-center, a part of the park that is unforgiving for even the best left-handed power hitters. It went an estimated 464 feet, standing as the longest homer by a Giant at AT&T Park since Statcast began tracking them in 2015. It had an exit velocity of 111.5 mph.

Well, maybe. 

“It said 111. That’s BS,” first baseman Brandon Belt said. “That was one of the hardest-hit balls I’ve ever seen. That was harder than 111. For that to go to that spot with the wind and the cold, that's beyond impressive.”

There isn’t a player in the big leagues who is more familiar with the harsh conditions of Triples Alley than Belt. On a cold, windy night, like Monday, you have virtually no chance of hitting a ball out to right-center. Belt has learned that dozens of times over the years, so he took off on a dead sprint from first when Williamson made contact. Williamson did, too. He thought he might have to bust it into third for a triple. When Belt looked up, the ball was sailing into the seats. 

“I was just kind of in awe,” he said. 

Bruce Bochy wached from a stunned dugout. Later, he took a deep breath when asked about the home run.

“I just haven’t seen many balls hit there, even in BP,” he said. “That was impressive. It shows you how strong he is. It’s an area where few guys can hit the ball.”

Williamson has always had that ability, but it has been unlocked by an offseason spent overhauling his swing. He said the work is not done, and in that respect, he is once again similar to the man selected two rounds before him.

Stratton wasn't happy with his changeup and altered his grip in recent days. When Evan Longoria and Andrew McCutchen made defensive misplays to put runners on second and third with one out in the top of the sixth, Stratton did not turn to the fastball that seems to rise, or the curveball and slider that are darlings of the spin rate era. He threw Matt Adams three consecutive changeups to get a big strikeout. 

“A young pitcher, when you get in a jam, you have a tendency to want to go harder,” Bochy said. “But he’s got confidence in his changeup and he used it.”

Stratton was asked about that confidence level after the game. He laughed, and wondered aloud why some reporters keep asking him how confident this run of success has made him. But a few minutes later, when asked about Williamson following a similar late-career path to a breakout, he lowered his voice and smiled.

“I know it’s weird saying exactly what someone just said about the confidence thing but he just looks so confident at the plate,” Stratton said. “It’s the most comfortable I’ve seen since I’ve played with him. He believes in his approach and his new swing and that’s paid dividends for our team so far.

"He just looks really confident up there and that goes a long way.”