Bullpen, surprise leadoff hitter lead Giants to first win of 2017 season

Bullpen, surprise leadoff hitter lead Giants to first win of 2017 season

PHOENIX — The Giants will blow save opportunities other than Sunday’s, and the relievers know it. They don’t mind. It’s part of the game, and they know they’ll take heat when it happens. 

But the timing of the season’s first meltdown was a bummer. This is a group that believes it will grow into being a very good bullpen, and after the way last season went, lighting a lead on fire on Day 1 stung. 

“No doubt about it,” Hunter Strickland said. “Obviously it brings back pretty mad memories, but we came back tonight and battled through. We’ll get back to where we need to be.”

Tuesday’s second chance was a big step back in the right direction. Strickland and three others combined for four one-hit innings in relief of Johnny Cueto. Cory Gearrin got the first three outs, George Kontos cut through the heart of the Diamondbacks’ lineup in the seventh, Derek Law breezed through the eighth, and Strickland shut it down in the ninth for an 8-4 victory. 

“It was unfortunate that opening day went the way it did — I think our guys were a little amped up and left some pitches up — but we came back out today and showed what we’re capable of doing it,” Kontos said.

Manager Bruce Bochy wasn't particularly bothered after Sunday’s outing. He viewed it as a fluke, and before Tuesday’s game, he worried more about all the runners the Giants left on base while losing their opener. Hiding behind all the blown saves last season was a lineup that often failed to add on, putting maximum pressure on Santiago Casilla and the rest of the late-inning guys. Bochy thought the Giants should have scored 10 runs Sunday, and they came close Tuesday. 

The lineup had 15 hits, with six different players picking up multiple knocks. Joe Panik had three hits out of the eight-spot and Hunter Pence, who slumped all spring, had three in the three-spot. The biggest contributions came from the leadoff spot, where Gorkys Hernandez started because Denard Span woke up Monday morning with a sore hip. Hernandez faced Patrick Corbin on short notice, but he drove in four runs, matching his total from a year ago. 

“You have to be ready all the time,” he said. “You never know what’s going to happen. When Bochy says be ready, I’m ready.”

Bochy said Hernandez did “a terrific job,” noting his defensive contributions in addition to the four runs driven in. The production came from up and down the lineup, and even Cueto got involved. When Paul Goldschmidt charged hard on a bunt in the second inning, Cueto pulled the bat back and chopped a single over Goldschmidt’s head. The read was one Cueto made in the batter’s box. 

“You can’t chop the ball any better than that,” Bochy said. 

Cueto lined out to center in the fourth, ending a three at-bat hitting streak to start the season for the starting staff. He reached on an error in the fifth and ended up being a big part of a five-run inning that started with a soaring Brandon Crawford homer. When Hernandez shot a rocket off the left field wall, Cueto busted for third. Phil Nevin sent him home. He raced across the plate, nicking it with the back of his heel in a play that was so close the Diamondbacks took time for a second look in their clubhouse. Did Hernandez think Cueto had any shot at giving him a second RBI on the play?

“Uhh, no. No,” he said, smiling. “I never thought about that. I hit the ball and I’m trying to go hard to second and when I looked up I saw Johnny going to the plate and thought, ‘Oh my god!’” 

Panik had earlier scored from second when he got a great read on a flare to right. On the double, he jogged home. 

“I turned around and heeeeeere’s Johnny,” he said. “Just chugging home.”

When Cueto got back to the dugout, Eduardo Nuñez told him to take it easy.

“He said it’s just the second game of the season,” Cueto said. “But my instincts took over.”

And the bullpen took it home from there.


Giants reliever, coach put calmer spin on pregame handshake

Giants reliever, coach put calmer spin on pregame handshake

We've all seen the pregame handshakes that are meant to fire up players. JaVale McGee was the designated handshake guy for the Warriors the last two years. He had custom handshakes with all the starters, including Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant.

Handshakes are supposed to have energy.

Someone clearly forgot to tell Giants reliever Sam Dyson and first base coach Jose Alguacil.

On Wednesday in San Diego, the pair were caught on camera engaging in a strange ritual in the dugout. As you can see in the video above, Dyson starts by wiping away any sweat on the bald dome of Alguacil with a towel. Then he gently places a batting helmet on Alguacil's now-dry head and dabs at it with the towel. After infielder Chase d'Arnaud sneaks in for a handshake with Alguacil, Dyson and Alguacil shake for a solid five seconds before placing a hand on each other's chest.

Hey, whatever it takes to get fired up for Game No. 153.

Giants' Brandon Crawford confident knee issue won't linger

Giants' Brandon Crawford confident knee issue won't linger

SAN FRANCISCO — The Giants have lost their starting catcher, first baseman and center fielder for the year due to injuries that have required or will require surgery. Two of their top three starting pitchers coming into the season are on the 60-day disabled list, along with their top bench bat. 

The injury updates this season have ranged from bad to catastrophic, but when it comes to the starting shortstop, the recent developments have been positive. After sitting out five games in eight days because of left knee discomfort, Brandon Crawford believes he has turned a corner. He’s confident that this is not something that will plague him long-term or next season, comparing it to right shoulder soreness that popped up four years ago but has been managed with proactive rehab. 

“Cartilage doesn’t grow back, but as long as I stay on top of it like the shoulder stuff, it shouldn’t be an issue,” Crawford said of his knee. 

The pain Crawford has been dealing with throughout the second half is under the kneecap, but the training staff has found some traction strengthening his quad muscle and doing other rehab work that loosens the IT band. The work Crawford has been doing is similar to what you would do during a DL stint, but Crawford never felt he could take that much time, even as his numbers cratered after an All-Star first half. 

“I probably should have spoken up about how much it bothered me, but I wanted to be out there every day,” he said. “We were trying to make the playoffs.”

Now, the Giants are simply trying to keep others out of the playoffs. Manager Bruce Bochy gave Crawford a night off Tuesday, but expects him in the lineup for all three games against the contending Cardinals this weekend. You can bet that a Bay Area native who grew up learning how to dislike the Dodgers will be in the lineup all three games next weekend, too. 

Crawford wants more than to just be in the lineup, of course. He was the hottest hitter in the National League for a long stretch in the first half and was batting .338 at his peak. The knee injury has kept him from utilizing his normal approach and sitting on his back knee. He was drifting with his swing, but in recent games the results have been better. Crawford had three hits Wednesday and has four multi-hit games in his last nine starts.  

Crawford’s numbers won’t end up anywhere near where they might have had he stayed healthy. Asked Wednesday if the knowledge he now has about his knee makes that easier or more difficult to swallow, he paused. 

“I guess in a way I’m glad there’s a reason for it and it’s not just that I forgot how to hit,” he said, smiling. “It’s something that I didn’t realize was affecting me this much until it was too late.”