Giants

Giants position battles: Examining key races before MLB Opening Day

Giants position battles: Examining key races before MLB Opening Day

SAN FRANCISCO -- Nearly six weeks ago, at the start of camp, I took a look at position battles and included this line when discussing the open outfield spots: "Bryce Harper certainly could take one of them ..."

Oh, how things could have been different. 

Instead, it was a stream of veterans on identical deals -- usually $1.75 million if they make the team -- with the idea that a trade could be made at any point. 

The Giants still have not swung that deal, and in a week they'll board a short flight to San Diego with 25 players. The Opening Day roster could look different by the end of that first series, but for now, let's take a look back at those spring battles and make some predictions ... 

Outfield

Barring a rehab setback, center field was Steven Duggar's job. It's been smooth sailing, and he'll start there on Opening Day and possibly lead off.

Mac Williamson and Gerardo Parra are currently in line to start in the other corners, with Cameron Maybin the favorite to be the fourth guy. The Giants were excited to get a long look at Drew Ferguson, but the Rule 5 pick has hit just .111 with no extra-base hits. It appears he'll be headed back to the Astros. 

Backup catcher

Signed the day before FanFest, René Rivera has emerged as the frontrunner to back up Buster Posey. There is still some gap power in the 35-year-old's bat and he quickly built a rapport with the pitching staff.

The Giants could go with a third catcher, Aramis Garcia, as Posey eases into the season, but with a 1:10 p.m. opener followed by two night games, that doesn't seem a necessity. 

Fifth starter

It turns out there was never much of a battle here. Jeff Samardzija is healthy and earned his spot. Dereck Rodriguez had the upper hand on Andrew Suarez from the start, and he'll be in the rotation.

Suarez seems destined to start in Triple-A, although there could be plenty of movement here. Rodriguez, Suarez and the resurgent Tyler Beede all have options and could be shuttled back and forth a bit as needed. 

Last spots in the bullpen

I went deep on this group yesterday and came up with this bullpen if the Giants go with eight relievers: Smith, Watson, Dyson, Moronta, Melancon, Bergen, Gott, Stratton. This is the one place, though, where Farhan Zaidi may get the most creative to store inventory.

Will someone be traded, or discover a sore muscle 48 hours before the opener? 

The infield

The original article did not touch on the infielders, because Pablo Sandoval and Alen Hanson seemed set. But then the Giants signed Yangervis Solarte, and he has passed both on the depth chart.

Would Zaidi really start his first season by releasing Sandoval, a fan favorite as well as one of Bruce Bochy's all-time favorites? Hanson brings value, too, but he is out of options and it's hard to see him getting through waivers.

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 The Giants could carry three backup infielders and use Solarte and Hanson as their fifth outfielder, but that would require going a man short in the bullpen. 

Johnny Cueto dazzles again for Giants, stymies Marlins despite limits

Johnny Cueto dazzles again for Giants, stymies Marlins despite limits

SAN FRANCISCO -- If you're at all surprised by Johnny Cueto's first two starts back from Tommy John surgery, you probably shouldn't be. 

After all, this is a pitcher who had a 0.84 ERA through the end of April last season when he felt constant pain in his elbow and knew that surgery could be in his near future. Cueto found a way to fool hitters back then, and the Giants were always optimistic that he would find his form once he returned. Even by that standard, though, the first two starts have been impressive. 

Cueto threw five more shutout innings Sunday, giving him 10 scoreless frames in his return. He has allowed just four hits, walked three and struck out six. He would have picked up a second win Sunday, but the bullpen temporarily coughed up the lead. The Giants would go on to beat the Marlins 2-1 when Mike Yastrzemski dashed home on a wild pitch in the eighth. 

"I don't know if anybody expected him to get off to a start like this, but you look at how he's throwing the ball and it's Johnny before his surgery," manager Bruce Bochy said. "It's four pitches with command. He commands the ball, cuts it, mixes up his delivery -- and that works."

The Giants needed every scoreless inning, because right now they're out there with a lineup that's providing absolutely no punch. Cueto did his best to make an early Mauricio Dubon homer hold up, and he showed a sense of the moment as his day was coming to a close. 

Cueto had a long fourth inning and was 10 pitches from his predetermined count when he went out for the fifth. The bullpen was humming, but Cueto got through the inning on just six pitches. Then he popped into the dugout and asked Bochy for the sixth. 

"It was like Johnny knew it," Bochy said. "He got some quick outs."

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Bochy joked that he would let Cueto go 120 pitches if possible, but the restraints are still on and will be for the rest of this season. Cueto could get to 80-85 pitches in his next start and said he hopes to be cleared for 100 in his season finale. With the way he's throwing right now, that might be enough to take a shot at a shutout. 

Giants vs. Marlins lineups: Mike Yastrzemski's first start in center field

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Giants vs. Marlins lineups: Mike Yastrzemski's first start in center field

Before embarking on their final road trip of the 2019 season, the Giants will host the Miami Marlins in a matinee to close out a three-game series at Oracle Park.

Getting the start for San Francisco is Johnny Cueto, who wowed the crowd at China Basin in his season debut last week, allowing only one hit in five innings with four strikeouts in a Giants win over the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Cueto is 4-2 in 10 career starts against Miami but owns a 5.09 ERA in those outings.

Opposite the Giants ace will be 24-year-old Elieser Hernandez. The right-hander has a 3-5 record in 14 starts this season, with a 5.24 ERA. 

Coverage begins at noon PT with Giants Pregame Live on NBC Sports Bay Area and streaming live in the MyTeams app.

[RELATED: MadBum not thinking about possible final days with Giants]

Here are the lineups for Marlins-Giants:

Miami Marlins (52-96)
SS Miguel Rojas
2B Isan Diaz
3B Starlin Castro
1B Neil Walker
C Jorge Alfaro
RF Lewis Brinson
CF Magneuris Sierra
LF Jon Berti
RHP Elieser Hernandez (3-5, 5.24 ERA)
 
San Francisco Giants (71-78)
CF Mike Yastrzemski
1B Brandon Belt
3B Evan Longoria
LF Stephen Vogt
SS Brandon Crawford
RF Mike Gerber
LF Joey Rickard
2B Mauricio Dubon
RHP Johnny Cueto (1-0, 0.00 ERA)