Giants check off all the boxes, avoid sweep in San Diego

Giants check off all the boxes, avoid sweep in San Diego

SAN DIEGO — Mark Melancon was disappointed after blowing a save on Opening Day, but the veteran closer took it in stride. What happened next was a bit harder to comprehend. 

Melancon, given $62 million in the offseason to fix the ninth, didn’t throw another pitch for a week. As the Giants dealt with a slumping left field, imploding bullpen, and inconsistent starting staff, they never managed to get another lead into Melancon’s hands. He sat and watched through a four-game losing streak.

“It was tough because we were losing,” he said of his break. “You just don’t want to be losing. Today was about getting that win at all costs. I think we can build off today.”

Melancon was going to get back on the mound Sunday one way or another, whether it was as the closer or just to get his work in. After some tense moments, the Giants handed him a 5-3 lead. He picked up his first save in orange and black, getting dangerous Wil Myers to bounce into a game-ending double play with the tying run on base. 

It was a day of firsts for a team that had just one win through seven days. Chris Marrero opened the scoring with his first hit as a Giant, which doubled as the first hit for a Giants left fielder. Hunter Pence and Buster Posey padded the lead with back-to-back homers in the third, the first of 2017 for each player. 

The most important contribution, however, was nothing new. Last season, the Giants learned that Johnny Cueto always keeps something in the tank. When Cueto gave up two runs of a five-run lead in the sixth and loaded the bases, manager Bruce Bochy thought he was done. 

“I told him to give me one more,” Cueto said. 

Cueto was at 95 pitches and due up first in the top of the seventh, but Bochy sent him back out to the plate. It was a nod of respect to his best right-handed pitcher. It was also an acknowledgement of concern about the bullpen from a manager who has watched his team blow eight leads already. 

“He’s your guy,” Bochy said. “Of course, he walked the first guy to make me question it, but he settled down.”

Cueto got through the seventh, and in the top of the eighth Bochy delivered another vote of confidence. He let Marrero face a right-handed reliever with two on and one out, foregoing matchup plays even with Joe Panik and Jarrett Parker on the bench. 

“I really believe in this guy,” Bochy said of Marrero. “He’s a good hitter. He had a big spring. He’s got lift in his swing and he hit the ball deep enough. It just got up there and the wind knocked it back down.”

Marrero’s high fly ended up drifting back into shallow left, not deep enough for Posey to score. Aaron Hill flied out to end the inning and Derek Law immediately sent Bochy’s heart back into his throat as the bottom of the eighth started. Yangervis Solarte banged a leadoff homer and Ryan Schimpf followed with a walk, but Law got out of the inning. 

Melancon came on for the ninth and put two on with one out. Posey walked out to the mound for a meeting, and Myers was buzzed on the next pitch. He hit a cutter the other way and Hill and Brandon Crawford teamed up for the final two outs. The rough opening week ended without a sweep, but with the realization that the Giants will need to be better against the NL West. 

The division is supposed to come down to the Giants and Dodgers again, with the Rockies a popular dark horse pick. But the first week showed that Arizona remains talented enough to cause trouble, and while the rebuilding Padres have no hope of competing for a playoff spot, they can play care-free spoiler for 162 games. 

“What I take away from this trip is these two teams we played are full of good young athletes,” Bochy said. “They’re fast. Both of them are very athletic, with speed, and they’ve got some good arms. This team doesn’t have the experience of Arizona, but they have athleticism.”

The Diamondbacks will bring a 6-1 record into AT&T Park on Monday. The homestand finishes with a Rockies club that’s 5-2 through a week. You cannot win a division in April, but you can certainly dig yourself a big hole, so the Giants were thrilled to board their private Delta jet with a second win and a couple of souvenir baseballs tucked into travel duffels.

“It’s funny,” Posey said. “No matter how long you play, it’s always nice to get the first hit, the first save, and to get a win when you haven’t in a while.”

Giants' new catcher Erik Kratz leaves a presence everywhere he goes


Giants' new catcher Erik Kratz leaves a presence everywhere he goes

Death, taxes, and Giants transactions.

That appears to be the theme of the week.

A few transactions were made on Saturday and on Sunday morning, the Giants acquired veteran Erik Kratz in a trade for minor league infielder, C.J. Hinojosa.

But this isn't an article about moves being made, or trades being implemented. This is about the 38-year-old catcher who leaves a presence behind with anyone he meets -- and he's met a lot of people.

Kratz coming to the Giants means this will be the eighth big-league team he will roster for and, in total, 11 organizations -- er, 12 now. 

Last season, during his time with the Brewers, he became the oldest position player to make his first postseason start since Lave Cross did in 1905.  

And how did he do during that debut? Well:

During Game 2 of the National League Division Series, he hit a two-run, eighth-inning single that gave the Brewers a 2-0 advantage in the eventual 4-0 win over the Rockies. And he was beyond thankful for the opportunity as he told's Adam McCalvy last year.

"If you told me 16 years ago that I'd be here today I wouldn't have changed the path that I took," Kratz said. "I never gave up. I've been blessed every day to be in this situation."

His friends had surprised him during the postseason -- and each one of them sported one of his jerseys from each of the teams he played on. And when he was asked about what they would think about seeing him on the big stage, they would probably ask about his "nasty facial hair" and say he "looks fat on TV."

I spoke to Robert Murray who is the Brewers' beat writer for The Athletic. Through the phone, you could hear his excitement at the opportunity to talk all things Kratz.

"This is right up my alley," he told NBC Sports Bay Area. "I love Kratz."

Then Murray told me a story about him. One that made Murray a little sad Kratz would no longer sport a Milwaukee uniform.

"I had asked Josh Fields if he knew anyone in the Brewers' clubhouse besides Yasmani Grandal when I heard Kratz say in the background, 'Robert, that's a stupid question." After the interview, I asked him what made the question stupid when he replied, 'You should know by now that basically everybody in baseball has played baseball with Erik Kratz." Even in the toughest of situations, knowing on Feb. 1, that he wouldn't make the Brewers, he was a true professional and kept a strong sense of humor."

Murray said that is what he will remember about Kratz.

Don't worry, I didn't rub it in his face too much the Giants had gained a great human, but I will say it got me excited to see what he can add to that team, to that clubhouse, to that organization.

For those of you who say, "I don't care, give me his stats." This isn't one of those articles.

You know where to find his numbers. 

Giants acquire veteran catcher Erik Kratz in trade with Brewers


Giants acquire veteran catcher Erik Kratz in trade with Brewers

SAN FRANCISCO -- A day after they made a seemingly endless series of transactions, the Giants got going with an early morning trade. 

Catcher Erik Kratz was acquired from the Milwaukee Brewers, with minor league infielder C.J. Hinojosa headed the other way. The deal was made a day after the Giants released Rene Rivera, a similar veteran who appeared in line for an Opening Day job. 

When Rivera was let go, Aramis Garcia looked to be in line for the backup job. But Kratz is a right-handed-hitting veteran who is out of options, so the Giants may keep him instead. Kratz, 38, will be playing for his eighth big league team. He hit .236 for the Brewers last year with six homers and six doubles in 203 at-bats. 

Kratz was a surprise contributor in the postseason, hitting .292 in 26 plate appearances. He is known for doing good work defensively and is a strong clubhouse presence. 

It's unclear why the Giants elected to go with Kratz over Rivera, who worked with their pitchers all camp. Or why they may be shying away from sticking with Garcia, who had a good spring and also knows the pitching staff well. Those questions will be answered in the next four days, and the Giants figure to make many more moves before the dust settles. 

[RELATED: Giants trade Matt Joyce after three days with team]

Hinojosa was once viewed as a future utility man at the big league level, but he was suspended 50 games last season for a positive test for a drug of abuse. When he returned, he posted a .689 OPS. 

To clear a 40-man spot for Kratz, the Giants DFA'd pitcher Jose Lopez, acquired at the start of the spring from the Reds.