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Sandoval ready to embrace backup role after Longoria trade

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AP

Sandoval ready to embrace backup role after Longoria trade

SCOTTSDALE — Pablo Sandoval was heard before he was seen on Wednesday morning, and that’s the way he likes it.

“Every time I get in the clubhouse I’m the loudest guy,” he said. “I try to keep these guys loose.”

Sandoval made his rounds on the first day of workouts at Scottsdale Stadium, chatting with younger players, yelling as he watched a clubhouse TV with veteran starters, and sitting with fellow Venezuelan Gregor Blanco for a bit. Sandoval also met with manager Bruce Bochy briefly, but their next discussion will be more important. 

With Evan Longoria set to be the everyday third baseman, Bochy has been waiting for the opportunity to chat with Sandoval about his role. It will be vastly reduced, with the former All-Star set to back up Longoria and occasionally Brandon Belt. At the outset, Sandoval is saying all the right things. 

“Those guys (Longoria and Andrew McCutchen) were faces of the franchise for their old teams,” he said. “The front office did a great job of bringing those guys here to win. (Being a backup) is a role, and you have to do everything you can to be ready.”

The Giants believe Sandoval’s personality actually makes him the perfect choice for pinch-hit at-bats in big spots. His natural aggression is something Bochy likes from pinch-hitters, and Sandoval certainly has no fear. Sandoval’s energy should be an asset late in games. 

“It’s huge. Oh yeah, that’s something we really haven’t had,” Bochy said, noting that some past options have been more likely to quietly lock in on their own. 

Bochy won’t mind if Sandoval is in his ear the whole game. This was a quiet group last year and could use that kind of fire, and that’s one reason the Giants were so eager to bring Sandoval back after he hit just .225 upon returning last summer. Bochy went into the offseason confident that Sandoval could be an asset in a reserve role. 

“You have to look at intangibles on a player and how he accepts something or is with the club,” Bochy said. “The guy wants to be liked and help a team. He’s not just worried about his numbers.”

Sandoval’s past springs with the Giants have always been partly about the number on the scale, but he arrived looking fit. He also arrived with extra gloves, a sign that he’s willing to do what it takes to make the opening day roster. Sandoval caught 176 games in the minors and said he’ll break in a catcher’s glove over the next seven weeks. The Giants hope he can be a more useful emergency catcher than the ones they’ve had in recent years. 

“You know,” Bochy said, smiling. “Since (Pedro) Feliz retired we haven’t had that.”

--- Pitchers threw off the bullpen mounds for the first time, but Johnny Cueto didn’t join in. Cueto had the flu before arriving in camp and he’s about five days behind the rest of the group. Bochy said Cueto is still pretty “washed out.”

--- Right-hander Chris Heston returned to the organization in January but didn’t get a camp invite. It turns out he’s actually at a minicamp at the minor league facility for now, but he’s expected over at Scottsdale Stadium at some point. The staff wanted Heston and others to get more work in before joining the big leaguers. The group at Scottsdale Stadium is much smaller than in past years, so the cuts shouldn't be as dramatic over the next few weeks. 

--- In case you missed it, Buster Posey was the latest guest on The Giants Insider Podcast. You can stream it here or download it on iTunes here. There are plenty more coming this spring, so subscribe if you can. 

--- What is a spring day like for Mark Melancon? Here’s a behind-the-scenes look. 

--- Rain washed out the last few minutes of Wednesday’s workout, but if you’re looking for a baseball fix, I have videos and photos on my Instagram page. 

Blach, Suarez get off to quick start in race for rotation spots

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USATSI

Blach, Suarez get off to quick start in race for rotation spots

SCOTTSDALE — If Ty Blach is feeling any pressure to win a job this spring, it hasn’t shown. Blach has had a smile on his face throughout camp, and some in the clubhouse have noted he is showing more of his personality than in the past. When reporters approached his locker during Friday’s game, Blach reached up and pulled his cap into place. 

“Howdy,” he said. 

Blach has good reason to be relaxed. He’ll be on this staff in some role, whether it’s in the rotation or the bullpen. The Giants had considered Blach as a potential solution to their lefty reliever woes, but team officials have backed off that plan a bit since the Tony Watson addition. Blach will focus on starting for now, and his debut was promising. 

Blach threw the first Giants pitch of 2018, a strike to Jonathan Villar of the Brewers. In two innings, he allowed one hit and struck out two. 

“It feels like I definitely belong here,” Blach said. “I know my routine and the guys. I feel comfortable.”

Because they have two off days before their seventh game of the season, it’s likely that the Giants will skip their fifth starter at least once. It remains to be seen if that’ll be Blach’s role, but he’s flexible enough to move to the bullpen for a week if the need is there. For now, he’s ready to hold off the competition for his rotation spot. 

Lefty Andrew Suarez was also impressive, striking out three in his two innings. Right-hander Tyler Beede and lefty Derek Holland are also vying for the job. The competition should be one of the better ones in camp, but Blach said he’s not thinking about it much. Instead, he’s focused on cleaning up minor issues that led to a dip in his numbers late last season. 

Blach was sharp in his first eight starts last year after replacing Madison Bumgarner, posting a 3.08 ERA. He had a 5.64 ERA the rest of the way and was moved to the bullpen in September. Blach said he redistributed some weight in the offseason, building up his legs in a bid to stay strong throughout a long season. He’s also tinkering with his slider in hopes of getting more swinging strikes. Blach admitted that bouncing back and forth was difficult at times last season, but he’s ready for any role this year. 

“I feel like mentally and physically I’ve put myself in a really good position to be able to have success no matter what role they put me in,” he said. 

--- The Giants wore Stoneman Douglas caps during today’s game. Blach, who grew up near Columbine, and Suarez, who is from Florida, explained why it was such a special tribute. 

--- The Giants lost to the Brewers 6-5. They committed six errors. Nick Hundley and Pablo Sandoval went deep, and Steven Duggar had a two-run double. 

--- Suarez and Tyler Cyr were the guests on today’s episode of the Giants Insider Podcast. You can stream it here or download it on iTunes here. 

--- Jonah Arenado, Nolan’s brother, played third base for the second half of the game. He had a single in his second at-bat. 

--- On my Instagram page (pavlovicnbcs) there’s a story with behind-the-scenes footage and photos from today’s Cactus League opener. 

Giants pay tribute to Marjory Stoneman Douglas in Cactus League opener

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ALEX PAVLOVIC

Giants pay tribute to Marjory Stoneman Douglas in Cactus League opener

SCOTTSDALE — As Ty Blach prepared to kick off the Cactus League season on Friday morning, some fans asked him about the hat the Giants were wearing. Blach was happy to spread the word.

The Giants joined the rest of Major League Baseball in wearing Marjory Stoneman Douglas High caps on the first day of the exhibition season. Teams were given the option of wearing the caps -- which were black and had a red “SD” logo -- during the game, and the Giants unanimously took part. For Blach, who grew up about 20 miles from Columbine High, the tribute was a special one. 

“It’s such a tragedy what happened down there,” Blach said of the campus shooting in South Florida that left 17 dead earlier this month. “It’s hard on a lot of people. We’re not geographically in Florida but it hits home for everybody.”

Blach was eight years old at the time of the Columbine shooting and said his school went into lockdown. 

“It was horrible,” he said. “It’s something that stayed close to home for me. I see all these shootings and it’s tough.”

The pitcher who followed Blach on the mound Friday also appreciated MLB’s decision and the moment of silence before the first pitch. Andrew Suarez, a lefty from the Miami area, said he played summer ball a few years ago with a kid who went to Stoneman Douglas. 

“Everyone was happy about it,” he said of the caps. “I was pretty happy about it. I’m from South Florida and I know a kid from there. I was glad to wear it and represent them.”

New Era produced more than 2,500 caps so that players, coaches, umpires and team employees could represent Stoneman Douglas on Friday. Clubs were encouraged to have the caps signed and auctioned off to raise funds to assist the victims and families of the February 14 shooting. An authenticator was in the clubhouse during Friday's game to help with the process. 

“Major League Baseball is proud to see our Clubs supporting the Parkland community and the students of Stoneman Douglas in a way that is both meaningful and natural to our sport,” commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement. “The idea began with several of our Grapefruit League Clubs and quickly turned into a league-wide effort. We hope this demonstration by our teams, players, coaches and umpires helps contribute to the healing process of everyone affected by this horrible tragedy.”