Giants

As camp starts, Giants still looking for relief help

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AP

As camp starts, Giants still looking for relief help

SCOTTSDALE — There was a consistent theme over the weekend as players and coaches gathered for media day and FanFest at AT&T Park. Some players even said it out loud: “I can’t believe Evan Longoria and Andrew McCutchen are here.”

During the quietest MLB offseason in years, Brian Sabean and Bobby Evans managed to add two former franchise players to a roster that desperately needed fresh blood and power bats. But as the two executives met with reporters, another theme hung in the air.

“So, uhh, what about the bullpen, guys?”

Both men acknowledged that they have concerns, which were backed by the Friday morning addition of Derek Holland — a lefty who could end up in the ‘pen or rotation — and the reported chase of righty Seung-hwan Oh, a righty who signed with the Rangers. 

“We have of course been the beneficiaries of strong bullpens,” Evans said. “We understand the value. It’s not lost on us the challenges we’ve had.”

“Challenges” is the kind way of putting it. 

A year after the bullpen imploded in the second half and swept the Giants right out of the NLDS, the group posted a 4.34 ERA and once again piled up the blown saves. Mark Melancon, the big-money closer, struggled before season-ending surgery, and the rest of the group never found much consistency. At the end of the season, Sabean listed the bullpen as one of his three big areas of need. The plans changed a bit when free agency started and relievers began to fly off the board. 

“We did focus on the lineup and obviously the market relative to the bullpen was pretty strong pretty early,” Evans said. “A lot of clubs invested heavily in their bullpens and that made it more of a challenge to add.”

The Giants are still in the market for relievers, and this unique offseason could mean that a veteran or two is willing to arrive later in camp and fight for a job. But for the most part the front office is counting on returning players to find health and bounce back. They don’t really have many other options at this point. 

Melancon was cautious Friday when talking about his recovery from a procedure to relieve compression in his forearm, but there has been no indication that he won’t be ready for opening day. Smith’s recovery is going well, team officials say, but there are no guarantees after Tommy John surgery, and the Giants won’t be able to run the lefty out there that often in April even if he is cleared for opening day duty. 

Evans noted that Melancon, Sam Dyson, Smith and Hunter Strickland should be able to take care of “the latter stages of the game,” and Cory Gearrin will once again have a big role after a sneaky season that ended with a 1.99 ERA. 

After that there are question marks, but also lots of potential. Take Derek Law, for instance. At this time last year he looked like Melancon’s setup man. Now the Giants simply need him to become a reliable sixth-inning option. 

“He’s a guy that has everything that we need,” Melancon said. “He’s going to come back really strong this year.”

The staff is hopeful that Law locks up that job in Scottsdale. Team officials are also holding the door wide open for another young right-hander, Rule 5 pick Julian Fernandez. The 22-year-old has never pitched above A-ball, but he has a 100 mph fastball and Evans has repeatedly mentioned Fernandez as someone he would like to see when camp breaks. The Giants will need him to make the club in order to keep his rights. 

The situation on the left side is more complicated. Josh Osich had a 6.23 ERA last season and Steven Okert finished at 5.67, and with Sabean hopeful that the team opens the season with just 12 pitchers, the lefties have an uphill climb to opening day. The off days in April could allow for Ty Blach to settle into a swing role early on, but don’t expect other young pitchers to get that chance. Evans does not want prospects Tyler Beede and Andrew Suarez to debut as relievers. 

“We see them as qualified to break into the rotation at the right time,” he said. 

Twitter Roundup: Your random baseball thoughts and questions, answered

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USATSI

Twitter Roundup: Your random baseball thoughts and questions, answered

MESA, Ariz. -- The unwritten rules of baseball sometimes tend to be the rules most pay attention to, or abide by.

As for the real "rules" of the game -- or why things happen the way they do -- doesn't it make you wonder why? Why do people in the crowd boo when the pitcher attempts a pick-off from the mound? Why is it superstitious to step on a foul line when walking on and off the field? Etc. ...

I asked the wonderful people on Twitter some of the random thoughts they had on the sport, and I did my best to answer them. Or -- at least, my opinion on why certain things occur.

Here were some of my favorites. 

"Why do bullpens empty for brawls? What exactly can be accomplished that’s good by the time they get there?" -- @SPORTMAN32

I can see where Sportman is coming from, but I also believe in having the backs of your teammates. Whether you're able to be involved in the confrontation or not, knowing you have that person's back is essential to me.

"How much does a batter's warm up on deck impact their performance?" -- @dearkatiedodd

This is a great question, and something I've been wondering for years as well. I get the idea of having a routine -- a type of superstition if you will. I also try and put myself in the shoes of the pitcher and think about how frustrating that must be.

"Why fans boo pick-off attempts?" -- @THMead3

I don't know. I seriously have no idea, but it's annoying. (The booing).

"Why bullpens aren't subterranean lairs from which relievers rise, Phantom of the Opera-like, on a stage life to the mound." -- @zachrymer

Zach Rymer writes about baseball for a living so the fact that he asked me this I'm unsure. I'm always down for a Phantom of the Opera conversation, however.

"What they talk about during a mound visit." -- @SteeGar

I just spoke for a former Major League pitcher about this. Simply put, he said "the hitter."

He also admitted they've spoken about girls in the crowd as well. 

Can't hate on the honesty.

"If Ken Griffey Jr. never left Seattle, would he have 800+ home runs?" -- @MisaelGonzalez

Yes.

"It would be fun to learn what opposing team players say to each other once on base. It would be a great coffee table book." --@SFGIantsJeezus

I am trying to find the right network to pitch a reality television show that is all about what Joey Votto talks to runners on first about.

"Why are managers/coaches in uniforms?" -- @NegativeEddie83

This is something I've always wondered, too. Other coaches wear suits or khakis -- or sweatshirts that have the sleeves cut off. So weird.

"How does Brandon Crawford's hair look so perfect all the time?" -- @ScottSnow1

So, I actually asked Brandon's wife, Jalynne, for the answer ...

You're welcome. 

"Why is the shortstop numbered six in the box score instead of five?" -- @Stour51510

I believe it originated because the shortstop position was an outfield position at one point? And I think the number just kind of got stuck as the number to signify the shortstop position.

"Can Mike Trout make the Hall of Fame without any playoff success?" -- @jjkzjo

Well, he better. 

Giants' Brandon Crawford turns to golf to raise money for ALS research

Giants' Brandon Crawford turns to golf to raise money for ALS research

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Shortly before 2 p.m. on Friday, the sky finally cleared. Brandon Crawford stepped onto the grass and went into a familiar routine, positioning his feet, looking out at his target, and adjusting his grip. 

He did all of this as he prepared to swing right-handed.

Crawford, a lefty batter on the baseball field, plays golf right-handed. He got a chance to show his swing off Friday for a good cause, and he hopes this is just the beginning. The shortstop's family put on the Crawford Invitational Charity Golf Tournament for ALS CURE, an event that put two rival organizations on the same team. 

The proceeds from the event went to ALS CURE, a non-profit established by Mike Piscotty, the father of A's outfielder Stephen Piscotty. Their foundation works to invest capital and help research for the development of a cure for ALS. Gretchen Piscotty passed away from ALS last May. 

This was actually the third annual tournament for the Crawfords. It started with Brandon playing golf with his dad, Mike, and sister Amy. 

"Last year we kind of came up with the idea that we could make it bigger, so we had a few guys out there, a lot of my dad's friends and people who would want to come down to spring training," Brandon said. "And then some guys from the team. Then we thought about making it a yearly thing and to do it for charity."

It was easy to pick the right foundation. Mike Crawford and Mike Piscotty have been friends for years. Their daughters played softball together. 

Mike Crawford did the heavy lifting in recent months, putting together a tournament with an awards dinner and live auction fundraiser. The Giants and A's both came on as sponsors, along with about a half-dozen companies. 

The field was full of many of Crawford’s current teammates, including a foursome of pitchers — Tony Watson, Will Smith, Derek Holland and Sam Dyson — who came out on top in the team format. Former Giants Travis Ishikawa, Rich Aurilia and George Kontos played, along with Larry Baer, members of the A's organization, and friends who flew out from the Bay Area. 

[RELATED: Breaking down Giants' camp competitions as games begin]

Crawford hopes to make the tournament a spring fixture and add more friends from other teams. Mike Trout and Nolan Arenado are among those he has talked to about participating in the tournament, a Crawford family tradition that became an important day for the Piscotty family. 

"When I found out that they were going to donate the money to my dad's foundation, I was at a bit of a loss for words," Stephen Piscotty said. "It means a tremendous amount."