Spring Training

Chris Stratton finishes strong spring on high note


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. 

No. 79? No. 53? Before they were stars, Giants wore random numbers


No. 79? No. 53? Before they were stars, Giants wore random numbers

SCOTTSDALE — A couple of veterans walked past a clubhouse TV earlier in camp and saw that the Giants and Padres were tied heading into the bottom of the 10th of an exhibition game. The Padres infielders were just standing around, and there was not yet a new pitcher on the mound. 

“It’s that time when No. 99 comes in to pitch,” one of the players joked as he headed home for the day.

A few seconds later, a big left-hander took the mound. He was, in fact, wearing No. 99, and in his inning on the mound he would face a No. 74 (Aramis Garcia) and No. 78 (Steven Duggar). This is the norm for spring training, when dozens of players — including teenagers and journeymen still hanging around the low minors — get into every game. That leads to action between numbers you would never see in a normal game. The Giants had 60 players in camp, plus 10 coaches and staff members with numbers. Throw in their 10 retired numbers and the unofficially retired ones (25, 55, etc.) and, well, there aren’t a whole lot of choices left. 

If Duggar makes the Opening Day roster, he’ll get an upgrade from his lineman’s number. Ditto for Garcia, who could be Buster Posey’s backup as soon as next season. Still, a taste of big league action doesn’t guarantee a normal number in camp, when young players regularly find themselves back at the end of the line. 

Ryder Jones wore 83 in camp last year and 63 in the big leagues. When he showed up this year, with 150 big league at-bats under his belt, he was told that he would have to wait until the end of the spring to upgrade. Players with more service time (think No. 2 Chase d’Arnaud or No. 19 Josh Rutledge) get priority, at least until all the cuts are made. Jones said he has a few numbers in mind for his next stint in the big leagues, but he won’t be picky. 

“Anything under 40 works,” he said, smiling. 

The steady climb toward single digits happens to just about everybody. Long before Brandon Crawford’s became @bcraw35, he wore 79 in his first camp. He moved up to 53 after that and Mike Murphy flipped that to 35 when Crawford became the big league shortstop. Hunter Pence doesn’t remember his first spring training number with the Astros, but he knows it was in the low eighties. Joe Panik wore 66 the first time he spent a spring at Scottsdale Stadium. “I was an offensive lineman,” he joked. Tyler Beede, now on the cusp of his big league debut, got promoted from 63 to 32 when he arrived last spring, only to swap to 38 this year because of some in-season shifting. When Pablo Sandoval arrived last summer, Steven Okert switched from 48 to 32.

Then there are those who have only known one jersey. Posey was a can’t-miss prospect when he arrived and doesn’t remember wearing anything other than 28. Brandon Belt was a top-25 prospect when he came to camp for the first time, and he’s been 9 since that day. Madison Bumgarner wore 40 in his first big league camp because he had already made his big league debut, but somewhere in the team archives, there are probably a few photos of a 19-year-old Bumgarner wearing something else. 

“The previous spring I came up to pitch a few times,” Bumgarner said. “I’m pretty sure I had a different number every time I came over and I’m pretty sure it was always in the eighties.”

There were seven Giants in the eighties this spring. Duggar was one of two top prospects — Chris Shaw inherited Crawford’s old 79 — to come close, and he didn’t mind one bit. He’s not thinking too far ahead, even though he could be a big leaguer in eight days. 

“I’ll take anything if I’m in the big leagues,” he said. “I’ll take No. 112 if that’s what they give me.”

Will Clark says Steven Duggar can play 'Gold Glove center field right now,' trusts the bat too


Will Clark says Steven Duggar can play 'Gold Glove center field right now,' trusts the bat too

Will Clark won his first and only Gold Glove at first base for the Giants at age 27 in 1991. It was Clark's sixth year in the major leagues. 

Steven Duggar won't have to wait that long to win the biggest hardware for his defense in Clark's eyes. 

"He can play Gold Glove center field right now in the big leagues. He can flat out go get it in center field," Clark said on the Giants' prospect Tuesday on KNBR. "He can definitely, definitely play a Gold Glove center field." 

Clark, who now serves a role in the Giants' front office after playing in five straight All-Star Games for his former team from 1988-92, has watched Duggar closely for more than just this spring training. When asked about his feelings on the 24-year-old, Clark made them clear right away. 

"I've seen Steve parts of the last two seasons in the minor leagues and I am definitely a Steven Duggar fan," Clark said. 

The question with Duggar has always been his bat. He has elite speed, gets great jumps in center field and everyone from Bruce Bochy to Buster Posey has praised his ability to track down fly balls. 

"His thing is, how quick is he going to make the adjustment in the big leagues with the pitching. I know there's a lot of people that are asking that question right now," Clark. 

Count The Thrill as one of the leaders in Camp Duggar. He joined many others in complimenting his glove left and right. But what he has to say about the Clemson product's bat is what puts him over the top. 

"He's succeeded at each level he's been at," Clark pointed out. "He will do it at the major league level and I'm kind of staking my reputation on that."

This is confidence -- to say the least -- coming from someone who was a .303 lifetime hitter and bashed 284 home runs in 15 seasons. 

Over three years in the minor leagues, Duggar is a .292 career hitter with a .384 on-base percentage and .427 slugging percentage. Duggar started off scorching hot this spring with the Giants, but has cooled down with the Cactus League soon coming to a close. In 16 games, Duggar is slashing .250/.353/.545 and has shown more pop with four home runs.