Giants closer Melancon to join Team USA for WBC semifinal

Giants closer Melancon to join Team USA for WBC semifinal

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The Giants waited too long to add closer Mark Melancon. Team USA isn't making the same mistake.

Melancon will join teammates Buster Posey and Brandon Crawford at Dodger Stadium this week for the final two games of the World Baseball Classic. The first-year Giant was added to the roster after the first round, and he said that was done with the understanding he would join for the semifinals if Team USA reached that point.

"I've watched a lot. I've enjoyed it. Knowing most of the guys in the games, it's been fun to watch the country pride that they have," Melancon said. "To me, some of it is ridiculous, but when you know them and understand their background and how big a deal culturally it is, you end up starting to get on board with the way they go about things." 

Melancon was asked to be part of the original roster, but he wanted to get comfortable with his new team. In eight spring innings, he hasn't allowed a run. He said he has started to think about how exciting it might be to close out a title run for his country, joking that he'll unbutton his shirt and flash the bow-and-arrow celebration. 

Either way, the Giants were losing a star pitcher after Saturday's game, a 6-3 win for the United States. If the Dominican Republic had won, Johnny Cueto would have pitched the semifinal game Tuesday night. Cueto was watching video of Japan earlier in the week and was excited to use his quick-pitches and shimmies to disrupt high leg kicks. When he walked into the clubhouse Sunday morning, Cueto was greeted with a "USA! USA!" chant. He smiled and laughed. 

"This is a game, and you have to know how to win and lose," he said. "I know some fans and players felt I didn't want to go but they know why I couldn't."

Cueto was supposed to be part of the Dominican team throughout the tournament, but he was three weeks late to camp while taking care of his ill father. He said he took some heat back home, and he had to block a few people on Twitter and Instagram because he was being called a traitor. 

"There was a lot of talk back home that I didn't want to play because I'm making too much money," he said. "They're saying that when other players like (Robinson) Cano who are making more than that are participating. Everyone should know that I didn't go because I wasn't ready. My arm wasn't ready. I truly wanted to represent my country."


Giants Review: Sandoval embraces utility role before getting hurt


Giants Review: Sandoval embraces utility role before getting hurt

SAN FRANCISCO — On a Friday afternoon in mid-September, Pablo Sandoval walked into Bruce Bochy’s office, a bat resting on his shoulder. The Giants had lost 11 straight.

“Bochy!” Sandoval yelled. “We’re going to win tonight.”

With that, the injured utility man turned and headed towards the field, his voice bouncing off the walls as he pushed through the double doors of the clubhouse. Bochy smiled. 

“We miss him,” he said, sighing. 

Sandoval is apparently a pretty good prognosticator. The Giants did win that night, beating the Rockies 2-0. But what Bochy really needed was the energy he showed in that moment. For two and a half seasons, this has been a somewhat lifeless group, but Sandoval remains a boisterous bundle of energy. The Giants are happy to have him back, and while his 2018 season ended prematurely, the Panda once again provided some highlights. 

What Went Right: Sandoval does not look the part of a super-utility player, but when he showed up in camp, he worked hard to break in a small army of gloves. He ended up starting 29 games at third base, 20 at first, and two at second, where he saw real action for the first time in his career. Sandoval did well enough at second that the Giants may continue to consider that option given how much shifting they do. He caught bullpen sessions to prepare for life as the emergency catcher, and, of course, he ended up getting on the mound. 

On April 28, with the Giants getting blasted during the first game of a doubleheader against the Dodgers, Sandoval became the first Giants position player to take the mound since Greg Litton in 1991. He needed just 11 pitches to complete a tidy 1-2-3 inning, showing a clean delivery, 88 mph fastball, and shockingly tight curve. 

At the plate, Sandoval had a .248/.310/.417 slash line, hit nine homers and drove in 40 runs in 230 at-bats,. He was a good situational hitter, batting .286 as a pinch-hitter and .323 with runners in scoring position. 

What Went Wrong: Sandoval is much better at the plate than he was in Boston, but he still is not really the kind of hitter you would throw out there every day. He had an OPS+ of 99, which was his highest in four years, but still made him roughly a league-average hitter. Against left-handed pitching, he batted .145 with three extra-base hits. 

Defensively, while he handled multiple spots, Sandoval wasn't all that good at third, according to the metrics. He was worth negative-four Defensive Runs Saved. 

Sandoval has struggled to stay healthy in recent years, and he was shocked when a hamstring strain ended up being so severe that he needed season-ending surgery, missing the season’s final two months. That cost Sandoval a shot at a pretty cool moment. Bochy was planning to let him play all nine positions in one game, and given how bad the Giants were in September, that surely would have ended up happening. 

Contract Status: Sandoval is entering the final year of a five-year, $95 million deal he signed after the 2014 World Series. The Red Sox are on the hook for nearly all of it, so the Giants will pay Sandoval just the MLB minimum ($545,000) next season. 

The Future: Sandoval burned a lot of bridges when he left in 2014, but he appeared to take the final step back towards “fan favorite” status when he pitched his inning. Assuming he’s healthy, he’s a lock for the Opening Day roster. The only intrigue may be his role. Will Bochy continue using him at second base? Could he regularly give the bullpen a breather? Stay tuned. 

Giants Review: After similar second season, will Hundley be back?


Giants Review: After similar second season, will Hundley be back?

SAN FRANCISCO — It was a bit of a surprise when Nick Hundley ended up with more than 300 plate appearances in 2017. That wasn’t the plan coming in, but Brandon Belt got hurt in August and Buster Posey played a lot of first base down the stretch, opening time for his backup. 

A year later, Posey’s injury led to another season of heavy action for Hundley, who basically repeated his first year with the Giants. 

2017: .244 average, .691 OPS, 9 HR, 35 RBI, 303 plate appearances
2018: .241 average, .706 OPS, 10 HR, 31 RBI, 305 plate appearances

Hundley gave the Giants what they expected as their backup catcher, and again, he was a valuable member of the clubhouse, providing leadership and backbone, and doing enough behind the scenes to get plenty of Willie Mac Award votes a season after winning it. Here are the highs and the lows from Year 2:

What Went Right: Hundley matched the power numbers of many of the league’s starting catchers and doubled the home run output of Posey, who dealt with a hip injury. He was particularly lethal against lefties, slugging .508 with an OPS+ of 127. Only Evan Longoria had more homers against lefties (8) than Hundley (7). 

Managers don’t like to burn their backup catcher, but Bruce Bochy often sent Hundley up late in games because he was one of the lineup’s best options. Hundley was 5-for-14 (.357) as a pinch-hitter and had a walk-off single on April 30. 

What Went Wrong: The flip side of the success against lefties was Hundley’s issues with right-handed pitchers. He had a .213/.283/.335 slash line against righties and struck out in 32 percent of his at-bats. 

The bigger problem going forward may be defense. Pitchers like throwing to Hundley, and Dereck Rodriguez and Andrew Suarez gave him a lot of credit, but the opposition sure liked running on him, too. Hundley allowed 48 stolen bases in 58 attempts, ranking near the bottom of the NL. 

A lot of Giants fans might put the incident with Yasiel Puig in the "what went right" category, but that wasn’t a good moment for the Giants and it put Rodriguez on the DL with a hamstring injury. 

Contract Status: After making $2 million in 2017, Hundley re-signed with the Giants last December for $2.5 million. He is once again a free agent. 

The Future: A few minutes after the final game of the season, Hundley said he would like to be back for a third year. “If we’re healthy, this team is capable of winning a World Series,” he said. “If I’m able to add to that, I would definitely take the opportunity.”

Hundley is one of the most popular players in the clubhouse and some in the organization think he’ll one day be a strong candidate to manage the Giants, so up until September, it was just about a lock that he would return. Aramis Garcia’s strong debut changed some minds, though, and the Giants believe the rookie is potentially ready to be Posey’s backup for a quarter of the price. Posey’s hip surgery could ultimately lead to another reunion with Hundley.

The Giants hope their franchise catcher is 100 percent by Opening Day, but there are no guarantees, and the safe plan would be to have Hundley ready as the backup, with Garcia set to play every day in Triple-A, or serve as Hundley's backup early in the season. Long term, the Giants have Garcia ready and Joey Bart looking like he might be up as soon as next September, but for 2019, it seems a pretty good bet that Hundley is back on another one-year deal.