Giants notes: New lefty Smith ready for big spots


Giants notes: New lefty Smith ready for big spots

PHILADELPHIA -- Will Smith will not be impressed by your Will Smith joke.

"I've heard all the jokes," he said, smiling. "Here and in Miami, I catch it bad ...  'Bienvenido a Miami.'"

Smith joined the Giants in Philadelphia, the original TV home of the other Will Smith, and this road trip ends in Miami, the inspiration for a Smith song. The lefty reliever has a good sense of humor about it, and he said he learned to embrace it early. In Milwaukee, the Brewers did a tribute video. Smith said the social media people there loved the fact that he was named Will Smith.

When the trade became official Monday, a Giants official got a text from a Royals official saying that Smith was one of the best guys to ever come through the Kansas City clubhouse. He's been pretty good on the field, too, and Bruce Bochy is counting on having a new Jeremy Affeldt-style weapon. Smith will face lefties and righties and pitch multiple innings. He has the equipment to close if needed, and he seems to like the tight spots.

"I enjoy big situations," he said. "That's why you play the game."

Smith gave up two hits in his Giants debut but he's been one of the better relievers in the NL the past three seasons. He had a 3.28 ERA for the Brewers and pitched in 78 and 76 games in back-to-back years. Smith has been slowed this year by a torn knee ligament suffered when he was pulling his spikes on. He said it took him a couple days to find humor in the situation, and teammate Tyler Thornburg helped him get over the initial disappointment by throwing one of his shoes in the garbage and taking a picture with the caption, "We've got your back, Will."

Smith wears a knee brace, but he's 100 percent healthy. Bochy was impressed with his stuff Tuesday and Smith struck out the first batter he faced as a Giant. He didn't throw any of Affeldt's famous "scuds" but said he'll play in the dirt when he can (sorry, Buster). 

"I call it back-footing guys," Smith said. "But I love 'scuds.' I might start using that."

--- Conor Gillaspie gets the start at third tonight. Even before Eduardo Nunez made a big error yesterday, Bochy hinted that this would be the case. "I'll mix and match," he said today. "Conor has been swinging the bat well and he's earned this playing time. Nunez will still get playing time at third and he's going to give Panik and Crawford days off. He can play the outfield. He's a pretty nice weapon coming off the bench, a right-handed bat with speed."

--- Cory Gearrin needed just eight pitches to get through an inning for the River Cats on Monday, but it doesn't sound like he'll be back soon. Bochy said Gearrin will go through the rehab process for now. He's healthy, but the Giants don't have an obvious move to make.

--- Derek Law and Hunter Strickland might be off tonight after working quite a bit over the past week. Bochy said Jake Peavy will be available in the sixth-seventh range.

--- Here's my story closing the door on the homegrown infield. Brandon Belt's message to Matt Duffy was pretty funny. And if you can handle it, here's Duffy in his new uniform.

Should Giants be finding more starts for slugging Pablo Sandoval?

Should Giants be finding more starts for slugging Pablo Sandoval?

SAN FRANCISCO -- Pablo Sandoval took fly balls in left field during the spring. He caught a bullpen session. A year after starting at second base, he tried to keep that option open, too. 

The Giants' switch-hitter has embraced versatility over the last year, or tried to, in order to get extra time on the field, but thus far his role has been as traditional as it gets. He has made two starts at third base and one at first, and in both games of this series, he was the designated hitter. Otherwise, Sandoval has 17 appearances off the bench. 

That's the role that was expected as the Giants broke camp, but Sandoval has put his own twist on things: He has been more dangerous than any Giants hitter through a month, making a strong case that he should be more of a fixture for one of the worst lineups in the majors. 

"There's no real good way to do it except give Longo the occasional day off," manager Bruce Bochy said before Wednesday's 4-0 win over the Blue Jays. "The thing that I like about Pablo is he's able to sit and maintain his swing and go up there and give you a good at-bat, so whether it's Belt or Longo taking a day, Pablo will start occasionally. If you're talking on a daily basis, it's just hard to do."

Perhaps the Giants need to find a way, though. 

Sandoval's homer Wednesday, his second in two games in Toronto, left the bat at 112 mph (he later had an out at 111 mph). It was the hardest-hit ball of the season by a Giant, and by the end of the day Sandoval had a .333 average and 1.027 OPS. He would easily lead the team in OPS if he qualified, and he currently leads the Giants in doubles (7) despite starting just five games. 

The problem is that Sandoval can't really be anything but an emergency option at any position but first and third. First baseman Brandon Belt is the team's best hitter overall and locked into the lineup, although perhaps the Giants will give him more time in left to clear some playing time. The staff has shown no inclination to give Sandoval more time at third, where Evan Longoria has a .655 OPS and three homers. 

Sandoval enjoyed two days as a starter in Toronto, picking up four hits. But it'll be back to the pinch-hitting role when the Giants return home Friday, and it's a role nobody is doing better right now. Sandoval leads the National League with six pinch-hits, five of which have been doubles. He has scored three runs and driven in two as a pinch-hitter, repeatedly kickstarting late-game rallies. 

[RELATED: Belt not a fan of robot umpires despite frustrations]

"A lot of Pablo's hits are coming off the bench, too, so that works," Bochy said. "It's nice to have a batter sitting on the bench and when you need a big hit, he's ready to go. A lot of those at-bats come with men on base and later in the game, and I've got a pretty nice weapon there."

Giants prospect Heliot Ramos reflects on recent hot streak with San Jose

Giants prospect Heliot Ramos reflects on recent hot streak with San Jose

Everything felt right. There wasn’t anything off with his swing, he wasn’t pressing mentally and yet, he only had one hit in his first 17 at-bats. 

All it took was a home run on April 9 to get Heliot Ramos, the Giants’ No. 2 prospect, back on track. Since then, he's hitting .349 (15-for-43) with five home runs.

“I knew that I was doing everything right,” Ramos said on Tuesday’s Inside The San Jose Giants Podcast. “In my mind, everything was right. My confidence was good. My swing was good. I just needed the ball to get down. I just keep on swinging.” 

As he kept swinging, hits started to show up in the scorebook. What has been just as important, however, has been him not swinging. 

Ramos registered just 35 walks last season as a member of the Augusta GreenJackets and finished his first full season in the minor leagues with a lowly .313 on-base percentage. He worked all offseason tracking pitches longer and laying off breaking balls in the dirt while playing Winter Ball, and it has paid off big time. 

Through 18 games in High-A with the San Jose Giants, Ramos already has 14 walks and his on-base percentage is over 100 points higher than last season at .418.

“I can see the ball well right now,” Ramos said. “I feel good. I’ve been feeling good. I learned a lot from last year. I hope this is something that can keep going good for me.” 

Not only has Ramos shown improved patience at the plate, the center fielder is driving the ball all over the yard. He’s batting .262 with a .991 OPS, and 11 of his 16 hits have gone for extra bases. Despite being the fifth-youngest player in the California League at 19 years old, he’s second in home runs (5), fifth in slugging percentage (.574), fifth in on-base percentage, fourth in walks, and third in OPS. 

San Jose was supposed to be a preview of what’s to come for years in San Francisco this season with the duo of Ramos and top prospect Joey Bart. A fractured hand for Bart has derailed those plans, but it hasn’t slowed down the younger of the two. 

Ramos no longer has the protection of Bart hitting right behind him. The teenager is seeing more off-speed pitches and is now the primary threat offensively to opposing teams. And yet, he’s flourished at the plate. 

[RELATED: Heliot Ramos' advancement 'really encouraging to see']

Since Bart broke his hand on April 15, Ramos has gone 8-for-26 (.308) with two home runs, two doubles, three RBI, and four runs scored. He’s growing every game as a player, both mentally and in the box score, and it could all be thanks to a disappointing season where he hit .245 with 136 strikeouts in 124 games last year. 

“Stay positive,” Ramos said when asked what he learned from last season. “That was the main thing I learned. Stay positive and never give up. Keep working hard and everything’s going to be okay.”