Josh Osich

Chris Stratton finishes strong spring on high note

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USATSI

Chris Stratton finishes strong spring on high note

SAN FRANCISCO — The Giants are down their ace. They will spend the first month of the season without another pitcher who regularly churns out 200-inning seasons. Their closer may also start the season on the disabled list. 

There were, naturally, some long faces at AT&T Park on Tuesday. Team officials held a meeting before batting practice, and some emerged looking almost shaken. They understand that a lot needs to go right early on for the team to survive the injuries that have hit over the past week, and that’s why Tuesday night’s game was so encouraging in one respect. 

The Giants need a pitcher to step up and take the leap, and Chris Stratton is as good a candidate as any. Coming off a breakthrough second half, Stratton has had a strong spring. He finished the exhibition season Tuesday by scattering four hits and striking out three in five shutout innings against the A’s. 

“You kinda wish this one would count towards it," he said. "But it's good to build up and get your confidence going."

Early on, it looked like Stratton might just add to the list of concerns. He loaded the bases with no outs in the top of the first, but he got Khris Davis to bounce into a 5-2-3 double play. The next hitter, Matt Olson, swung over the top of a high-spin curve, Stratton’s bread-and-butter pitch. 

“Not ideal, for sure,” Stratton said of the start, smiling. “The first inning sometimes can get a little rocky for me, but it was good to settle down.”

Stratton, a former first round pick, had a 2.42 ERA in nine starts once he was inserted into the rotation last August. Duplicating that number is a lofty ask, but anything close would go a long way toward keeping the Giants in the race while Madison Bumgarner, Jeff Samardzija and Mark Melancon get right. 

--- Here's the roster moves from last night, with news on Steven Duggar, Gregor Blanco and others. 

--- Bruce Bochy finally confirmed what was telegraphed by lineups all spring: Joe Panik will hit leadoff against right-handed pitchers and Austin Jackson will do so against lefties. Panik opened up with a triple in the first inning Tuesday and scored the night’s first run. He also made a crazy diving stop and took the time to enjoy it.

--- Pablo Sandoval has had a strong spring at the plate and continued to impress the staff this week when he asked to catch a bullpen session during the Bay Bridge Series in preparation of emergency catcher duty. Sandoval will be the big bat off the bench most nights, but he may have a different role sometimes. Bochy said he’s considering sliding Brandon Belt to left on occasion so Sandoval can start at first. 

--- Josh Osich faced one batter Tuesday and struck him out. His spring: 11 innings, 0 runs, 3 walks, 16 strikeouts. Osich and Hunter Strickland have been lights out for a month; with others ailing or struggling, perhaps this is the year they take control of the back end of the bullpen? 

--- The latest pitchers hurting: Mark Melancon is still feeling something in that arm, and Julian Fernandez got the news no pitcher wants. 

--- D.J. Snelten, a left-handed reliever, pinch-hit in the bottom of the eighth. Why? (Other than the fact that it made a certain beat writer irrationally happy, obviously.) The Giants were apparently out of ready position players, and you can bet they didn't want to use a big leaguer given the recent injury issues. So this was the conversation, according to Snelten. 

Bochy: "Can you hit?"
Snelten: "I have a couple minor league at-bats."
Bochy: "That's not what I asked."

Snelten struck out, but he enjoyed the moment. 

Josh Osich goes back to his roots looking to unleash all the potential

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AP

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.”

'Piss poor' seventh inning haunts Giants at Dodger Stadium

'Piss poor' seventh inning haunts Giants at Dodger Stadium

LOS ANGELES — The Giants put together a long rally in the top of the seventh inning Friday, scoring three runs to take a 4-2 lead. In the bottom of the inning, Matt Moore walked the leadoff hitter on four pitches. 

“You don’t deserve anything really that good after something like that,” Moore said. “That’s piss poor.”

Nothing good came after the walk, as Moore expected. That man, Austin Barnes, would come around to score. Three more Dodgers would, too. It added up to a 6-4 win for the Dodgers. For the best team in the National League, this was a familiar feeling. For the most disappointing team in baseball, the same was true. 

The Giants have played so well against the Dodgers this season, but in one inning at Chavez Ravine, they fell apart. They looked exactly like the team that has bottomed out over the last calendar year, and none of the pitchers who threw in the inning were spared. 

Moore had a good night in general, and his second half is showing signs of promise. But he was left angry with the result, and much of that anger was directed at himself. An hour after it happened, Moore was still stewing over the four pitches to Barnes and the double he gave up to Joc Pederson.

“You’ve got to make him earn his way on there,” Moore said of Barnes. “I’ve got to be better than that in the seventh.”

Moore’s night ended when Yasiel Puig entered the on-deck circle. Puig hasn’t hit lefties this year, but Bruce Bochy didn’t like the look of some pitches Moore had thrown in the inning, and he was pulled after 96 pitches. George Kontos entered and got Puig, a righty-destroyer, to hit an RBI grounder to short. Then he hung a 3-2 slider to Chris Taylor that was knocked into left for a game-tying double. 

“He’s been very good at times,” Bochy said of Kontos. “But the breaking ball that he’s left up, that’s the one that’s hurting him.”

Josh Osich was called upon and put a curveball on a tee. Corey Seager blasted it and that was that. The Giants sent Steven Okert down to the minors last weekend, leaving Osich as their lefty in the ‘pen. Bochy reiterated that he needs more from the young pair. Neither has taken hold of a long-term job since Will Smith went down to Tommy John surgery. 

“It’s their time,” Bochy said. “We need one of them to step up.”

Perhaps another reliever has. Kyle Crick struck out two in an impressive eighth, lowering his ERA to 1.88. It was an inning with less at stake, and that’s been the norm for Crick. He has pitched 12 times in the big leagues and 11 of the games have been losses. The lone win was a 9-2 blowout. 

The Giants have said they want to get Crick into higher-pressure spots. The inning before his on Friday night might have accelerated that plan.