Kelby Tomlinson

Squatting Panda: Pablo Sandoval to catch bullpen sessions this spring

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AP

Squatting Panda: Pablo Sandoval to catch bullpen sessions this spring

SCOTTSDALE — On his first day in camp, Pablo Sandoval showed reporters that in addition to his third base and first base gloves, he was breaking in a catcher’s glove. That was enough to get Sandoval, the emergency catcher this season, signed up to squat for a few bullpen sessions this spring. 

“He showed me the glove,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “That’s all I need.”

Sandoval is also carrying an outfield glove this spring ...

“He doesn’t need to show me that glove,” Bochy said quickly.

It turns out Bochy actually has seen Sandoval play the outfield. The two went to Taiwan with other big leaguers a few years ago to play exhibition games and Sandoval wanted to try the outfield. A line drive was hit into the gap and Sandoval didn’t move, simply looking at center fielder Curtis Granderson, who went and chased it down.

Sandoval caught 176 games in the minors but admitted it has been a while since he has even caught a bullpen session. Bochy said that history does not make Sandoval any more likely to actually catch in a game, but he certainly is more qualified than Bochy’s past emergency catchers. When Buster Posey got dinged up early last year at Coors Field, Bochy said his emergency guy would be Aaron Hill.

"He just found out today that he's our third catcher," Bochy joked that day. 

--- Sandoval and Kelby Tomlinson came to camp with a leg up on others for bench spots, and Bochy said Tomlinson will get a lot of work at shortstop this spring. That's key for his job security, as the Giants don't really have a solid backup option there since Eduardo Nuñez remains in Boston. Chase d'Arnaud, Josh Rutledge and Alen Hanson are among the veterans in camp fighting for that job. Hanson has been an early standout because of his speed. 

--- Ty Blach will start the Cactus League opener on Friday and Madison Bumgarner will start Sunday, but the rest of the schedule hasn't been revealed yet. Some members of the rotation are on different schedules. Jeff Samardzija will throw a live BP session on Friday and Johnny Cueto will throw his second bullpen session Thursday. He was slowed by the flu a couple weeks ago. 

--- If you're coming out to Scottsdale this weekend, don't expect to see Posey or Evan Longoria. Posey will sit at least the first three games and it sounds like Longoria will, too. Because there is less than a week between reporting day and the first game, MLB isn't being strict on the rule that says you have to have four starters in the lineup. Bochy intends to take advantage and give his older players plenty of rest. 

--- Julian Fernandez is all ready to go after cutting his finger a few days back. Fernandez is a Rule 5 pick, so the Giants will need to see him early and often. 

--- Hard-throwing right-hander Chase Johnson said his recovery from Tommy John surgery is going so well that he'll take the mound at the 11-month mark. Johnson expects to throw a couple of innings on the minor league side this spring. He made six appearances in Triple-A last season before having surgery. 

--- In case you missed it, Steven Duggar was the latest podcast guest. You can stream it here or download it on iTunes here. 

--- It was a slow day at camp, so I followed Posey around (sorry, Buster). Check out my Instagram story (pavlovicnbcs) for a bunch of photos and videos from his day at Scottsdale Stadium.

Could Kelby Tomlinson be part of Giants' solution in outfield?

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USATSI

Could Kelby Tomlinson be part of Giants' solution in outfield?

SAN FRANCISCO — The “hot stove” seemed to finally get going Wednesday morning when several reporters tweeted that Pirates right-hander Gerrit Cole was headed to Houston. 

Would that lead to free agent starters signing deals they had in hand? Would the Pirates finally tear it down and trade Andrew McCutchen and Josh Harrison, too? Would the Giants be on the other end of a McCutchen deal?

Well … none of the above. Cole hasn’t been traded, at least as of this posting, and the offseason remains as quiet as ever. 

But, there are still Giants topics to go over, so here’s another round of Q&A as we wait for real moves. Thanks to everyone who reached out on Twitter and Facebook, and as a reminder, you can ask your questions here on Twitter or here on Facebook and I’ll get to them in these mailbag pieces or on the podcast. 

What is Kelby’s role? Can’t they groom him for center field and put him in the leadoff spot? — Frankie Jai Barker, via Facebook. 

Kelby Tomlinson has played parts of three seasons in the big leagues and the staff has simply never really viewed him as a starter. It’s a bit weird when you look at his career splits: he has a .280/.347/.352 slash line as a starter and a .292/.359/.348 line off the bench. I mean, he is what he is, an average-dependent player with intriguing speed and little power, but that’s a nice piece on a team without much depth. 

Tomlinson is blocked at every infield spot, and to answer this specific question, the Giants don’t believe that he can really transition to the outfield.

At the same time, I watched this front office and coaching staff put Aaron Hill in left field at the end of his career. I watched Travis Ishikawa move out there. I watched Ryan Theriot take fly balls. I have no idea why Tomlinson got just two starts in the outfield on a 98-loss team. The most underrated failure of the 2017 season is that the Giants saw practically no development at the big league level. A lot of that had to do prospects getting hurt, but the staff certainly missed an opportunity to experiment a bit with guys like Tomlinson or Chris Shaw, who I still believe should have gotten September at-bats.

Steve Young retired after his fourth concussion in three years. Brandon Belt is in that ballpark. Has he or the team given retirement a thought? — Patrick Connolly, via Facebook

Belt’s concussion in August was his third in the last four seasons and fourth in eight years when you include a really bad one he suffered while playing at the University of Texas. There was concern when this latest one happened and I’m sure Belt and the team still have concerns, but in talking to Belt and team officials, I’ve never heard a hint of retirement talk. In September, when he admitted his season was over, Belt said he was focused on 2018, and added that none of the doctors he has seen have told him he should stop playing. 

“There are always going to be some questions about whether this has some long-term effects, and hopefully it doesn’t,” Belt told me. “But right now it’s not going to keep me from playing baseball … It’s not like I’m repeatedly banging my head against something. If that was the case, it might affect me more in the long term. This is more sporadic and the hits aren’t too terrible. Once I get over these concussions, they tell me that I won’t have to worry about them anymore.”

For the sake of Belt and his family, you hope that that’s true. This is different than football in that Belt doesn’t really have any other collisions that have gone undiagnosed, and there’s no reason to think he’ll take another blow to the head. As I always say when people call him injury prone, people just need to stop throwing baseballs at Belt and he’ll be fine. Hopefully that’s the case for the rest of his career.

Why would the Giants pursue either a free agent (Bruce) or a rental player (McCutchen), rather than try to get a player that they would have more control over the next few years? I would think that the allure of having a stable lineup would be better than the volatility of the market. — Eric Quertermous, via Facebook. 

In a perfect world, the Giants would have walked away from the Winter Meetings with Marcell Ozuna, or they would be at the front of the line for Christian Yelich, or they would have a deal ready for Jackie Bradley Jr. Unfortunately, they live in a world where they just don’t have very many prospects that appeal to other teams. The Marlins made it clear that the Giants didn’t have enough to get Ozuna, who would have solved a ton of their problems, and there’s no way they can outbid others for Yelich, who is 26 years old and owed just $44.5 million over the next four years. 

This is why Brian Sabean has said that he doesn’t want to give up draft picks (second and fifth rounders) for a player like Lorenzo Cain, and it’s why I believe strongly that they need to stick to those guns, no matter how weird this offseason gets. To compete as this core ages, they’ll need a better farm system so they can be more competitive on the trade market. 

Or, a more ideal situation: Start developing homegrown stars again and then lock those guys up. That’s light years more efficient than their recent run of spending hundreds of millions in free agency. 

With Matt Moore gone, is Ty Blach back in the rotation? Stratton, Beede, Suarez or get a vet starter to round out the top five? — @Jeff_Henig

After the Moore trade, I kept thinking back to a conversation I had with Bruce Bochy in September. I asked him if Chris Stratton was legit and if he would be the No. 5 starter in 2018. “I think he’s more than that,” Bochy said. He always viewed Stratton as more than a swing guy, and I would expect the right-hander to open the year as the No. 4 starter. The Giants have been hesitant to say much about Blach’s role before he gets to spring training, but my gut says he’s headed for the bullpen as another lefty/long reliever. As I wrote in an earlier mailbag, don’t overlook Andrew Suarez in the race for the No. 5 spot, but my guess is that the Giants will sign a veteran to a minor league deal, and that he will win the job in Scottsdale. That’s what they do. 

Alex, wondering if Eduardo Nuñez is still available? Would definitely prefer to see Nuñez over Pablo Sandoval. — Mark Hanes, via Facebook. 

Mark, I’m sure the rest of the fan base agrees, and Nuñez is still looking for a job. Ken Rosenthal wrote recently that some established big leaguers have started to ask their agents if they’ll have to take minor league deals, and if Nuñez is sitting there in a month and looking at nothing but cheap one-year offers, I would absolutely make the call. He would be perfect as super-utility backup, and man, this team sure could use more guys with energy. I’ve got to think that eventually someone will give him $4-5 million or so, and the Giants would be better served using that kind of money on their bullpen, but who knows … this continues to be the weirdest offseason in recent memory. 

Series of Giants mistakes allows Dodgers to overcome 'Tommy-ball'

Series of Giants mistakes allows Dodgers to overcome 'Tommy-ball'

SAN FRANCISCO — In three plate appearances against the best pitcher in the world, Kelby Tomlinson had a homer, single and walk. He also made a spectacular play up the middle that ranks as one of his best as a big leaguer. 

“It was a little bit of Tommy-ball tonight,” manager Bruce Bochy said. 

Tomlinson was not able to fully enjoy his night. The Giants weren’t able to celebrate him, either. Tomlinson’s game also included one of several defensive mistakes the Giants made behind Johnny Cueto, and they never recovered. Clayton Kershaw got the first 18 outs and Kenley Jansen got the final four as the Dodgers edged the Giants 5-3, ending their 11-game losing streak. 

The Dodgers officially clinched a postseason spot after two weeks of confusion. The Giants officially became the first MLB team to 90 losses. 

Three plays stood out as the Giants fell behind 4-1. Hunter Pence drifted toward a pop-up to shallow right and watched as it dropped behind Joe Panik. That misplay cost Cueto 10 grueling pitches on a night when he felt like his old self. An inning later, Austin Slater whiffed on Kershaw’s liner to left that turned into a double. Tomlinson tried to get Kershaw at third on an ensuing grounder, but his throw was wide. Kershaw would come around to score, and the Dodgers would tack on two more. 

The sequence taught two lessons … 

First of all, the official scorekeeping rules are dumb. Neither ball to the outfield was ruled an error, and despite getting what should have been four outs in the fourth, Cueto was charged with four earned runs. 

The second lesson: “You’re going against one of the elite pitchers in the game,” Bochy said. “With somebody as good as Kershaw, you’ve got to play your best ball, and we didn’t do that.”

The Giants rarely have this season. The 90-loss year is their first since 2008 and it has included so many nights like this one. There was plenty of good, but the bad moments outweighed the highlights. Tomlinson was left shaking his head after what could have been a career night. 

“I really wanted to get that one,” he said of the missed out at third. “I tried to make a play and it didn’t work out. It makes it tough when you look back at the end of the game.”

The Dodgers are in such a tailspin that they didn’t even realize they had clinched a postseason spot until after their postgame handshake line. MLB’s computers did more work during the game and realized that their previously stated tiebreaker scenarios were off. 

“We’re in the postseason?” Dave Roberts asked Dodgers reporters. 

The Giants have known for months that they won't be. They are playing spoiler, and they missed an opportunity to add a little more pain to a brutal September for their rivals. A clear single to right and two infield singles to the mound loaded the bases against Jansen in the ninth, but Buster Posey swung through a cutter right down the heart of the plate and Nick Hundley struck out for the 10th time in 10 career at-bats against Jansen.