Instant Replay: Cueto, Giants corral Cardinals to open series


Instant Replay: Cueto, Giants corral Cardinals to open series


ST. LOUIS — A start after Johnny Cueto complained of some minor back discomfort, he hardly looked like his normal self on the mound. But an uncomfortable Cueto was still plenty good enough for a solid win in St. Louis.

Cueto got through six with a lead and a struggling bullpen did quality work. The Giants shut the Cardinals out after the third inning and tacked on late, winning 5-1 in the first of three games at the new Busch Stadium.

A stretch early in the game could have been disastrous, but instead helped the Giants grab the lead. Cueto walked two and put another on when a throw clanged off his glove, and the Cardinals took the lead on Stephen Piscotty’s single. With two outs and the bases loaded Cueto went 3-2 on Randal Grichuk before getting a tapper back in front of the mound. Cueto made a strong throw to first, beating Grichuk by a half-step and ending the inning. 

The Giants rewarded Cueto, opening the fourth with four singles in five at-bats against Adam Wainwright, who didn’t allow a hit through three. 

Joe Panik and Matt Duffy both singled to lead off the eighth, giving the Giants a prime opportunity to add on. But Buster Posey, Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford struck out against tough Cardinals righty Seung-hwan Oh.

Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal helped the Giants along in the ninth, entering in a non-save spot and walking the bases loaded. Denard Span’s seeing-eye single scored two and Duffy’s safety squeeze made it 5-1.

Starting pitching report: Cueto’s season-high for walks coming into Friday’s game was two, done six times. He walked two in the third and two more in the fourth, ending up with five in six innings. Cueto also struck out a season-low one batter, but the lack of his usual stuff and command led to just one unearned run. He currently has a 2.16 ERA. 

Bullpen report: There might not be a more trustworthy arm in the ‘pen right now than Cory Gearrin. He entered with a runner on and one out in the seventh and struck out red-hot rookie Aledmys Diaz before getting No. 3 hitter Matt Holliday to ground out.

At the plate: Posey tried to put a bunt down in the eighth. He did not succeed. It was an odd sight. (On a serious note, guys often do that when they feel their bat speed is down, so maybe he's a bit tired.)

In the field: Jarrett Parker will get plenty of time in right with Hunter Pence down for eight weeks and he made a good impression in the sixth. Yadi Molina hit a liner to deep right and Parker made a leaping catch at the wall, and he made it look easy. 

Attendance: The Cardinals announced a crowd of 43,560 human beings who know what it’s like to be a Thunder fan.

Up next: Former Cub Jeff Samardzija returns to the home of a good Central rivalry. He’ll face Michael Wacha, the man who threw the most famous pitch of Travis Ishikawa’s life.

Why Giants mentioned Bryce Harper, Gerrit Cole in explaining new staff


Why Giants mentioned Bryce Harper, Gerrit Cole in explaining new staff

SAN DIEGO -- When you hear the words "player development," you think of 19-year-olds learning on back fields at the minor league facility in Scottsdale, or a roving hitting instructor spending time making swing changes with prospects Joey Bart or Heliot Ramos, or a coach teaching a Logan Webb or Sean Hjelle a new pitch. 

But when Giants manager Gabe Kapler talks about player development -- and he does so often -- he's also thinking about guys like Buster Posey, Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford. Kapler said this week that there's "not much I feel more strongly about" than players continuing to develop at the big league level, and that played a huge role as he hired a young staff that will ideally bring an innovative approach.

"There's evidence all over the place in Major League Baseball about players who reinvent themselves or take major steps forward and reestablish their value at the Major League level," Kapler said this week at the MLB Winter Meetings. 

The Giants are building for the future, but they also believe they can squeeze much more out of the existing core. And when Bart and Ramos are veterans one day, they want those guys to continue to find new levels, too. As he talked about player development at the big league level, Kapler pivoted and told a story about Bryce Harper, who already had more than 900 games under his belt when he joined Kapler's Phillies last season. 

"Bryce Harper, I think, was influenced heavily by Paco Figueroa, our first base and outfield coach, mostly just because Paco was not concerned about approaching Bryce," Kapler said. "He recognized that Bryce Harper wanted to be coached and wanted to develop, and he was willing to approach. Bryce recognized that so much so that at the end of the year when we were doing our exit meetings, Bryce recognized that Paco had been influential in his career and helped him become a better outfielder and baserunner."

Harper was worth negative-26 Defensive Runs Saved in 2018 according to Fangraphs -- just about the only blemish on his résumé as a free agent -- but was plus-9 in his first season in Philadelphia, a massive improvement. The Giants were actually intent on going that path long before Kapler arrived. When they offered Harper $310 million last year, their existing analytics and coaching staffs had ideas about how they could get more out of Harper defensively with positioning changes. 

Harper's not the only example the Giants will use to sell their vision to veteran players. General manager Scott Harris mentioned Gerrit Cole as another who found new ways to add to his game. 

"Look at the strides he made the last two seasons and now he signed the largest free-agent contract (for a pitcher) in the history of the game," Harris said. "You look at the strides he made when he first burst onto the scene for the Pirates and what he did in Houston. Their coaching staff was largely responsible for the development he saw at the Major League level."

The Astros' staff has gotten a lot of credit for turning Cole into the pitcher the Pirates were expecting when they took him first overall in 2011. Cole had a 3.50 ERA in Pittsburgh and a 2.68 ERA in Houston, where his strikeout rate jumped from 8.4 per nine innings to 13.1. He was worth 15.4 WAR in five seasons with the Pirates and then skyrocketed to 13.4 in two seasons in Houston. 

[RELATED: Kershaw believes Dodgers signing MadBum would be 'great']

Kapler and Harris are not walking into an organization that has a Harper or Cole, but they believe their new coaching staff and player-development methods can get the most out of existing talent. That'll be a focus in spring training, and the conversations have already begun with some veterans. Kapler, who mentioned J.D. Martinez as another example of late-career adjustments, said he has spoken to Posey multiple times since getting hired. 

"I think that a lot of established successful Major Leaguers want to get better and sometimes they don't know how," Kapler said. "In some cases, it's because coaches haven't approached them because they don't want to break something that's working well, but I think those days are gone and I think players crave having coaches approach them and ask them to make changes."

Dodgers signing Madison Bumgarner would be 'great,' Clayton Kershaw says

Dodgers signing Madison Bumgarner would be 'great,' Clayton Kershaw says

Despite what Giants fans want to believe, Madison Bumgarner and Clayton Kershaw are friends.

Before many Giants-Dodgers games over the years, they could be seen talking on the field, in plain sight of everyone.

So it should come as any surprise that Kershaw would love to have Bumgarner on the Dodgers.

"I love Bum," Kershaw said Friday at a Dodgers holiday event according to Dodgers Nation. "If we signed him, that’d be great."

NBC Sports Bay Area's Alex Pavlovic reported Thursday, citing sources, that the Dodgers and Bumgarner have a mutual interest in a deal.

Bumgarner in Dodger blue is the worst nightmare for Giants fans. But it's a real possibility with Los Angeles missing out on top free agent Gerrit Cole.

[RELATED: Padres reportedly looking at Bumgarner]

Kershaw hasn't been able to bring a World Series to Los Angeles on his own, so of course, he would love for a postseason hero to come help him end the Dodgers' title drought.