Giants notes: Williamson's strong debut; Span the game-changer

Giants notes: Williamson's strong debut; Span the game-changer

SAN FRANCISCO — The five-song victory soundtrack came with a bonus track Monday: “Return of the Mack” by Mark Morrison. 

It was a nod to Mac Williamson, the outfielder who returned to AT&T Park in a big way. Williamson had a hard single to right in his first at-bat and an RBI single in the sixth that pushed the lead to five. The Giants would hold on for an 8-4 win. 

“It feels great any time you can help the team win, especially against the Dodgers.” Williamson said in a post-game interview on NBC Sports Bay Area. “Obviously Buster (Posey) is swinging it really well and we’re just trying to — (Christian) Arroyo and I at bottom of lineup — we’re just trying to do our job. I’m hitting eighth so I’m in front of the pitcher and trying to see some pitches and work counts. Arroyo did a great job in a few of his at-bats getting on. 

“He did a heck of a job on the sac fly. I was just trying to see some pitches and put one out there. He stole second and got in scoring position and I was able to push him over.” 

The two former River Cats teammates combined for a two-out run in the sixth. Arroyo walked and stole second for his first big league steal. Williamson hit one 106 mph the other way for the RBI. His previous single was hit 110, also the other way. 

“Mac had a nice debut, didn’t he?” Bochy said. “He looked comfortable, solid hits to right field. He was starting to come around in spring training. He got enough at-bats down there in Triple-A to get his timing.”

--- Hunter Pence expects to be back right around the 10-day mark, and both player and manager said the new 10-day DL made this a much easier decision. Pence might have fought it a bit more if it was a full 15.

“It’s a great move by Major League Baseball,” Bochy said. “It was probably a little overdue. That 15-day DL put you in a hard spot.”

The team across the way last night uses it better than anyone. The Dodgers are basically rotating veterans in and out, and Monday night’s starter — Brandon McCarthy — was put on the 10-day a week prior to this start even though he was only going to miss another day or two with a left shoulder issue. 

The Giants thought they might be able to do some similar things, but they don’t have as much pitching depth. They recently took a blow at Triple-A; hard-throwing right-hander Chase Johnson had Tommy John surgery on May 8. The Giants put him in the bullpen last summer because they thought that would help keep him healthy, but there are no correct answers when it comes to the elbow. 

--- Denard Span has been a game-changer since returning, but Bochy said he’ll probably get a day off during this series. The Giants face left-handers the next two days — Rich Hill and Clayton Kershaw. Bochy wants to keep Span fresh.

“Really, we’ve been trying to rest these guys a little bit more,” he said. “I wouldn’t call it quite a rotation but every six or seven days we’ll try to get them off the field. It’s going to be important to find a way to keep these guys fresh and rested. I think they’ll be better players.”

It’ll be a key once the weather heats up. For all the minor strains and tweaks the Giants have had, they haven’t had to deal with any hot or humid weather yet. That’s usually when guys start to wear down.

--- Some rehab updates: Aaron Hill will DH a couple of games for the San Jose Giants, who are in Visalia this week. That’s convenient for Hill. He’s from Visalia. 

Jarrett Parker played catch for the second time. He’s making slow but steady progress after clavicle surgery. 

--- A note for the “Let Belt Pitch” crowd, of which Brandon Belt is the president: Bochy said Belt would have been the next man up on Friday after Matt Cain. Now, this would’ve taken a while, because Cain could have thrown several innings if he actually got into that game. But still, baby steps. It’s usually a backup catcher or fifth infielder who has that job, so I couldn’t believe that Bochy never did it.

“They usually put guys out there that they don’t mind getting hurt,” Bochy said, “So I was surprised that I didn’t pitch.”

Bay Bridge Series between Giants, A's recently has been neck-and-neck

Bay Bridge Series between Giants, A's recently has been neck-and-neck

No matter how you feel about interleague play, it's hard to find much fault with the yearly home-and-home series between the Giants and A's. 

Fans from both sides pack the ballparks, particularly in Oakland. For years, when Oracle Park sold out every night, that was the best chance that Giants fans in the East Bay had of seeing their team up close, and it remains a much closer trip. There's a lot more media for those games, and I can say from personal experience that I've always loved having the opportunity to watch someone like Matt Chapman in person for three days. 

The games are generally good, too. Two of last year's four games were decided by a run, and a third game saw the Giants score five runs in the eighth to claw back, only to watch the A's pull away with two more in the top of the ninth. A year earlier, three of the six meetings were one-run games, including a pair of walk-offs. 

The Bay Bridge Series now includes an art show and a trophy, and it even gave us one of the best GIFs in franchise history:

The 2020 season was halted a couple of weeks before the Giants and A's were to return home for their yearly exhibition series that gets both sides ready for the season, and it's hard to tell what the plan will be when the sport returns. The original proposal from MLB called for the Giants to play just the NL West and AL West this season, so they expected to see a lot of the A's. If MLB decides to play just 50 games or so, that would drastically change the schedule, and perhaps the Giants would just play games within their division.

We don't know when the Bay Bridge Series will resume, but on NBC Sports Bay Area, a version will air tonight. We've been simulating the whole season and tonight's matchup is the Giants and the A's, with Kruk and Kuip on the call at 5 p.m. 

[RELATED: How 2019 Giants would've looked in shortened MLB season]

Hopefully it's a close game, and history tells us it will be. If you extend the sample beyond the two seasons mentioned above, you find a remarkably close back-and-forth. Since the A's swept the 1989 World Series, the two Bay Area franchises have squared off 124 times in the regular season, with Oakland holding a 64-60 edge. The A's have outscored the Giants by 14 total runs over the last 30 years. 

You might think the last decade would be different given the three titles and all the success the Giants have had, but it's been even closer in recent years. They've played 50 times since the start of 2010 and won 25 games each. The Giants have outscored the A's 225-224 in their interleague matchups over the past decade. It's a matchup that's as close as it gets, and hopefully it's one we're watching again soon. 

[GIANTS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Justin Viele explains what Giants hitting coaches are focused on

Justin Viele explains what Giants hitting coaches are focused on

Justin Viele was a shortstop at Santa Clara University as the Giants were taking over the even years, and he took advantage of his school's location. Viele and friends would hop on Caltrain a few times every year and head straight to Oracle Park, the home of his future employer. 

The ballpark will look different when Viele finally walks through as the co-hitting coach. The fences are coming in, a boost not just to the hitters but to the men -- Viele, Donnie Ecker and Dustin Lind -- tasked with getting the most out of them. That's not their focus, though. 

On this week's Giants Insider Podcast, Viele said the focus remains on what hitters can control. The ballpark is still going to heavily favor pitchers, and the new staff will continue to preach having a proper swing and controlling the strike zone. 

[GIANTS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

"If the ball doesn't carry but we hit it really hard, in the expected numbers that really looks good," he said. "It doesn't look good in the batting average, but the expected numbers look good because you're hitting the ball hard. That's really what we can control. Swing at the right pitches and hit the ball hard."

The hope is that a solid approach leads to more success over time, and even if the Giants get Oracle'd, they still hope to hammer teams offensively on the road. They were much improved last season, but over this three-year dip, they rank 23rd in runs scored away from home, 27th in road homers, and 28th in road wRC+. The new staff is trying to teach a better approach, and Viele summed it up neatly. 

"We like to break it up into three different bullet points," he said. "It's (first), how well are you moving. That's so many things. Some people say it's dancing with the pitcher, it's the timing, how you pick up your leg, how you move forward, all these different things. Do you have a big swipe act? Do you have a big jump forward? Are you controlled? All these different things, but ultimately it's how well are you moving. Can we make you move better?"

The second focus is on the bat and what it's doing as it comes through the zone. 

[RELATED: Justin Viele recalls Yaz calling his shot]

"How adjustable is your path, are you able to get on plane with multiple pitches," Viele said. 

Finally, what are you swinging at?

"How prepared are you to face that certain pitcher, how is he going to attack you and how are you going to beat him. How is he going to win," Viele said. "It's understanding those three things: How well you're moving, the bat path, and then the game-planning portion of it."