Giants

Five takeaways from Giants' 8-4 win over the Diamondbacks

Five takeaways from Giants' 8-4 win over the Diamondbacks

Programming note: Giants-D'backs coverage starts tonight at 5:30pm with Giants Pregame Live on NBC Sports Bay Area Plus, and streaming with the NBC Sports App.

PHOENIX — When George Kontos was a rookie, pitching coach Dave Righetti pulled him aside one day with a new role. “We’re going to use you like a lefty,” Righetti said. The staff had noticed that Kontos, a former starter, still had the repertoire to face hitters from both sides, and that hasn’t changed. 

Kontos’ splits over the past three seasons are just about even. Righties hit .213, lefties hit .216. Righties slug .324, lefties slug .333. In Tuesday’s win, the ability to face both sides allowed Kontos to get through one of the tougher left-right-left combinations in the National League. He came on for David Peralta in the seventh and got a fly ball to center. Paul Goldschmidt struck out on a sinker and Jake Lamb was frozen by a series of cutters. 

“I’ve always taken pride in being able to get lefties out,” Kontos said. “I knew that when we only carried (Ty Blach) as our lefty that some of that workload was going to fall on me and I’m more than up to coming in and facing whoever, right, lefty, whoever. I’m up for the challenge.”

With the two strikeouts, Kontos continued a run that started late in the spring. He has 10 strikeouts over his past four outings, and nine of his last 10 outs have been strikeouts. 

“With more time and being more comfortable comes more confidence,” he said. “My delivery has been feeling good and I’m going out there with the mindset to attack hitters and locate my pitches with good movement down in the zone. I’ve never thrown overly hard, so you’re going to see 91 to 93 out of me, but if I’m locating my cutter and slider, a 92 mph fastball looks pretty hard after that.” 

Bochy said after Tuesday’s game that Kontos will be used in the seventh inning. That’s a step up for a guy who has often come on with runners on in the fifth or sixth, but Kontos wants more. He noted that this is an unselfish bullpen, but ....

“I want to pitch as late in games as I can,” he said. “Selfishly, I think all of us want a chance to pitch the eighth inning, but I’ll pitch when I’m called on to pitch. Hopefully my outings speak for themselves and I’ll get deeper and deeper into games.”

His first outing of the season was a good start in that direction. Here are four more takeaways from Tuesday’s win …

--- Joe Panik looked ready for the season from the first week of live batting practice. There was a spring slump that dropped his numbers, but he’s off to a hot start now that the games count. Panik had three hits Tuesday and made a couple of outstanding plays at second. 

“He’s healthy,” Bochy said. “You can tell with the way he’s been moving around. He’s got a different look to him.”

Perhaps the most impressive play was a read Panik made on the Gorkys Hernandez flare to right early on. Panik was practically running up Eduardo Nuñez’s back when he reached the plate, which is hard to do.

“Sometimes you’ve got to play a hunch,” he said. “You could see from the swing he took. It was hop, hop (towards third) and then I just took off.”

--- Hunter Strickland has slightly altered his mechanics. You'll notice that the leg kick is a little bit different, with the purpose of adding deception. It’s just the latest step in Strickland’s evolution. He went entire outings this spring without throwing his four-seamer so he could work on getting quicker outs. 

--- Archie Bradley, a former top starting prospect, was phenomenal. He struck out seven in 3 1/3, and the Giants are surely happy they won’t see his 98 mph fastball and spike curve again in this series. If you’re a fantasy baseball person, you might want to stash him somewhere. And if you’re the Giants, and you don’t need Tyler Beede in the rotation later this season, you might want to remember this game. Beede’s stuff should play up out of the bullpen kind of the same way Bradley’s does, and he could be an intriguing multi-inning guy. 

--- A new year brought a new victory soundtrack, including “The Humpty Dance,” which was briefly Javier Lopez’s warm-up song. Some things never change, though. For, oh, at least the fourth or fifth straight year, DJ Crawford kicks things off with “Bounce It” by Juicy J. 

Farhan Zaidi already making subtle changes to Giants with 'modern approach'

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Farhan Zaidi already making subtle changes to Giants with 'modern approach'

SAN FRANCISCO — When longtime Giants employees sat down in a suite on the 62nd floor of the Delano hotel last Monday morning, they immediately noticed a difference. There were no scouts in the room. 

For the first time in years, the Giants did not bring any of their scouts to the annual Winter Meetings, instead relying on a smaller group in the suite that had slightly different kinds of conversations. Now, that’s not to say the Giants are going all in one direction. It was notable that one of the first things Zaidi did as a Giant was beef up the scouting department, hiring Zack Minasian as director of pro scouting and Michael Holmes as director of amateur scouting.

But there was certainly a different vibe in the room, members of the front office said. Conversations were not as structured. As one person described it, the Giants used to focus on a player and then go through the check list, asking coaches, scouts, trainers and analytics people about said player one-by-one. With Zaidi in charge of the room, the conversation was said to be more wide-open. If there were 15 people in a meeting, Zaidi tried to bounce around and check in with all of them. 

“He’s able to be very inclusionary in a meeting. Everybody had something to say that advanced the discussion,” said team president and CEO Larry Baer, who sat through several in-depth meetings while in Las Vegas. “He’s able to sort of moderate and curate that, and that’s a skill, because you’ve got to be thinking about it and synthesizing the information as it comes in. I had hoped that would be the case. I had heard that’s the case. But it really was the case, as we’re digging in now.”

The Giants have put their future in Zaidi’s hands, which made their latest Winter Meetings experience as much about their executives as any incoming players. Throughout, you saw hints at subtle changes behind the scenes. 

Asked what the Giants liked about Mike Gerber, an outfielder claimed from the Detroit Tigers on Monday, Zaidi gave the kind of defensive assessment you haven’t heard around AT&T Park, at least publicly. 

“We’ve got a really good analytics department that takes a look at Statcast data and really tries to understand what guys — from a statistical standpoint — what their range looks like, what their top speeds and sprint speeds are,” Zaidi said. “He registered well in those categories.”

For the Giants, being open about all of this is a departure. They always have done more in the analytics realm than is publicly known, but for some reason the front office spent years downplaying use of advanced methods. On the first day of Zaidi’s first Winter Meetings, team employees openly spoke about using Statcast and TrackMan, and talked of exit velocities and spin rates. 

This change will be seen in the clubhouse next season, too. The Giants do not plan to replace Chad Chop, who was a batting practice pitcher and teamed with Shawon Dunston on replays. Instead, that spot in the traveling party likely will go to a second member of the organization’s analytics department. Last season, the Giants hired Michael Schwartze as a baseball operations analyst and had him set up in the clubhouse before all games, distributing data to players. The plan this year is to have two analysts available to players. Two of those players may be Rule 5 draft selections, as the Giants made two picks in that draft for the first time. 

There will be plenty more changes over time. For now, Zaidi is making subtle tweaks, while also showing plenty of respect to the way the Giants built a dynasty. Baer hired Zaidi in part because he is equally comfortable sitting with analytics people and scouts, and while the Giants changed the nature of some discussions, Zaidi still honors both sides of the room. Brian Sabean, John Barr and Dick Tidrow remain integral parts of discussions, and all three will stay with the organization despite having their roles altered.

Time will tell if Zaidi can turn this around. For now, the staff he inherited seemed energized, and the man who hired him is pleased with the new direction of the franchise. 

“He’s just bringing a different approach,” Baer said. “It doesn’t mean the things we’ve done in the past were wrong, but I do think it’s a very modern approach, and it’s based on a lot of the learning that he’s accumulated in his work with analytics and his work also with scouts.”

Hunter Pence's Dominican Winter League team makes playoffs

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Hunter Pence's Dominican Winter League team makes playoffs

Hunter Pence is back in the playoffs, and that means one thing: epic dance party. 

The former Giants outfielder is playing for Toros del Este, who rode a four-game winning streak into the round-robin playoffs. The celebration was on after they beat Leones del Escogido. 

Pence is working on a new swing and running style in the Dominican Republic, as he looks to keep his career going. As always with Pence, it's only been positive vibes with his new team. 

Through six games, Pence is batting .250 (6-for-24) with one double, two RBI and two runs scored. With the veteran outfielder, though, his impact goes beyond the box score. After just his second game on the team, Pence already was giving a shirtless motivational speech

The Giants didn't have it this year, but maybe Pence can bring some old Even Year Magic to the DR in 2018.