Instant Analysis: Five takeaways from Blach's first career shutout

Instant Analysis: Five takeaways from Blach's first career shutout


PHILADELPHIA — On and off the field, the Giants did not enjoy three games with the Nationals, who have the best record in the National League. The NL East’s last-place team proved to be far more hospitable. 

The Phillies showed exactly why they’re the only team still seeking that 20th win, issuing 10 walks and making several defensive misplays amid a barrage of hard-hit balls from the Giants. The offensive explosion was backed by a career-best night from Ty Blach, who threw his first complete game and first shutout in the 10-0 win. Blach has won four consecutive starts. 

Here are five things to know from the night we discovered where Daniel Nava has been playing …

--- Austin Slater’s first MLB hit was a two-strike RBI single up the middle in the sixth. His parents cheered from the first row behind the visiting dugout. Slater was 1-for-5 with a walk in his debut. 

--- Blach's last five starts: 37 2/3 innings, eight runs. It's hard to imagine the Giants moving him back to the bullpen when Madison Bumgarner returns. Perhaps a trade of a veteran starter will make it a moot point. 

--- Jerad Eickhoff walked Blach in his first two plate appearances and Mark Leiter Jr. gave him a free pass in the fourth inning. Blach tied a franchise record for walks by a pitcher. Ray Sadecki did it twice in 1969 and Larry Jansen did it in 1952. Blach was the first MLB pitcher in eight years to walk three times, and he nearly tied the MLB record. On a 3-2 count in the sixth, Blach was called out on a pitch right at the very bottom of the zone. 

--- Welcome to Pad Your Stats Weekend. The Giants will face Ben Lively in his MLB debut Saturday and then Jeremy Hellickson (4.45 ERA) on Sunday. The lineup took full advantage of Eickhoff’s lack of command, putting up five runs on six hits and five walks in the first three innings alone. Denard Span did much of the work, finishing with five hits in six at-bats. 

--- Leiter Jr. took over with the bases loaded in the third, giving us all a reminder that we’re hurtling towards death. The son of Mark Leiter (obviously) and nephew of Al was making his 12th career appearance. He gave up one hit and walked three in 2 1/3 innings.

Why Giants brought in umpires for second round of bullpen sessions

Why Giants brought in umpires for second round of bullpen sessions

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- When Andrew Suarez kicked at the dirt on the bullpen mound Saturday and looked in at his catcher, most of what he saw was similar to every other bullpen session of his life. There was one key difference, though: An umpire in full uniform crouched behind the catcher.

Suarez fired a fastball, and the umpire emphatically pointed a finger to his left, signaling a strike. 

"It was different, but I liked it," Suarez said. "You get a good feel for the plate."

The Giants have made a lot of subtle changes to drills under manager Gabe Kapler and a 13-person coaching staff. Pitchers fielded pop-ups Sunday, an extreme rarity in a sport where the default move for a pitcher is to get out of the way and let an infielder take over. The outfield drills more closely resemble the NFL combine, with cones meticulously set up and coaches focusing on change-of-direction. But the biggest difference through a week of camp has been the addition of three real professional umpires to bullpen sessions.

The Giants brought the umpires, who live locally, in for their second round of bullpen sessions. They have four mounds going at a time and pitchers could opt out if they preferred to just throw to a catcher, but they seemed to enjoy the extra touch of intensity. Kapler said it was something he did in Philadelphia. 

"The concept obviously is to try to create heightened awareness and add a little competition to it," Kapler said.

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When Andrew Bailey met with coaches earlier this month, one thing the new pitching coach preached was making sure every pitch of every bullpen session had a purpose. The Giants record every session and pitchers can stop to watch video or get the spin rate or velocity on a previous pitch. The hope was that the addition of umpires would ramp up the intensity a bit, but Kapler said it wasn't just designed for pitchers. 

"The catchers are getting some feedback," Kapler said. "The bullpen sessions are as much for the catchers as they are for the pitchers, and you see how much attention and emphasis our catching coaches are putting on receiving. I think it's been good so far."

Why Austin Slater took grounders at shortstop during Giants' workout

Why Austin Slater took grounders at shortstop during Giants' workout

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Brandon Crawford took his turn, showing off his usual defensive skills while taking a set of grounders at shortstop on a back field at Scottsdale Stadium. Then came Maurico Dubon, and then Kean Wong and Austin Slater. 

Wait, Austin Slater? 

This is Camp Versatility, but even by that standard, it was a bit surprising to see Slater getting work in as a shortstop Friday morning. He then moved on to work at second base, and manager Gabe Kapler said Slater wasn't just having fun. He'll get reps at all four infield spots this spring, along with his usual work in the outfield. 

Slater, getting ready for his fourth big league season, is into it. But what exactly is his position right now?

"I'm a Right Handed Batter's Box," he said, laughing. 

The Giants, as you might have heard a time or two, are going all-in on platoons, and Slater could be a big part of that. He had a .838 OPS against left-handed pitchers last season and could be a nice counter to Alex Dickerson and Mike Yastrzemski in the outfield and Brandon Belt at first base. 

But platoon life isn't just about the other day's starting pitcher. The Giants know they have a talent deficit. They hope to gain an edge by literally exploiting every platoon advantage they can over nine innings.

There could be times when Slater pinch-hits for Belt, or for Crawford, with a more natural shortstop like Mauricio Dubon sliding over to short and Slater getting a few innings at second base. 

"The mentality is let us over-prepare right now and see how the roster stacks up," Slater said. "I enjoy doing it."

Slater has 23 big league starts at first base but just a handful of innings at second and third. But he has nearly 900 minor league innings at second base and last year the Giants had him try third 11 times in Triple-A. He has always done extra infield work during batting practice, so this is just a natural extension for the 27-year-old. It could also be his best way onto the roster. 

It'll be an interesting spring for Slater defensively, but the real work will be done in the cages. He has more raw power than most on the roster but just nine homers in 544 plate appearances. 

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Slater made swing changes last offseason to try to increase his launch angle and is continuing to work on that this spring. He lit up when talking about the three new hitting coaches, saying they already have a good understanding of what he's trying to do.

The Giants can do all they want with defensive positioning to get Slater on the field more often, but they do need to see that pay off with more power production for the lineup. 

"I think we want to create the best possible path for Austin, so when he drives the ball he drives it in the air," Kapler said. "He definitely has raw power, dating back to his time at Stanford. We know about the pedigree and we just want to see that come out frequently in games."