Giants

Rewind: Bochy chooses Casilla, gets booed as game unravels

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Rewind: Bochy chooses Casilla, gets booed as game unravels

SAN FRANCISCO — Santiago Casilla has had a nightmare season, but it took a new and ugly turn Saturday night. As manager Bruce Bochy walked out to the mound to replace Sergio Romo with Casilla, the crowd at AT&T Park started booing. It increased after a seeing-eye single up the middle tied the game, and again when Casilla walked off the mound after his ninth blown save of the season. 

It’s rare that a Giant gets booed at AT&T Park — the only other recent time was good-natured booing when Bochy tried to pull his own son in the ninth inning — but Casilla said he understands the frustration. 

“I’m doing my best,” he said. “I’ve never had that moment before (where I’m getting booed). I had it now. I’m working to pitch better. It’s a game and you keep working and you put it in the past. I feel bad because I’ve never had that moment before. I tried to do my best.”

[PAVLOVIC: Instant Replay: Giants bullpen coughs up game to Cardinals]

The Giants have never questioned Casilla’s commitment. He is known as one of the hardest workers in the clubhouse, but it’s just not working this year. It appeared he had permanently lost a ninth-inning role last week, but now it’s got to be a certainty. 

After a 3-2 loss to the Cardinals, Bochy said he thought this was the right matchup, and he pointed out that alternatives haven’t worked since Casilla lost the closer tag. But ... there’s one the Giants haven’t tried (in large part because of an injury), and Derek Law is long overdue for a shot at the ninth. 

Bochy made a different call tonight and he knew he was going to take heat for it if it played out poorly. It did during a messy inning that included Romo laughing in an apparent sign of disrespect as his manager took the ball away. A few minutes later the Giants had their 28th blown save, matching their franchise record. This one came on a night when Jeff Samardzija was dominant and Brandon Crawford showed every bit of his Gold Glove form. 

The Giants have blown two saves this month in part because of shallow fly balls to left and Crawford wasn’t going to let that happen again. He went deep into the outfield for the first out of the ninth, but it wasn’t enough. The Giants dropped five games behind the Dodgers. They were two outs away from a four-game lead over the Cardinals in the Wild Card race. Instead, they’re now tied with the Mets and they’re just two up on St. Louis. 

It was a crushing night at the ballpark. There’s no getting around it. 

Instead of highlights and lowlights or some form of a game story, here’s how Bochy explained the decision making in the ninth: 

Question: Why did Casilla come in for Romo?
Bruce Bochy: “We huddled up and said if it got to Molina there — he’s had success off of Romo (4-for-9 with a HR) and Casilla would be a better matchup. That’s kind of what the plan was. It didn’t work out. If the ground ball is a foot to the left we wouldn’t be talking about it. He ended up walking him, that’s what hurt. We went with what we thought was the better matchup, or I thought. That’s a tough one. Samardzija threw great and we played well. It’s just tough luck there on that ground ball and once he hit it I thought it was a double play. It just got through.”

Q: Did the single off Romo play into it?
BB: “For some reason Molina has seen the ball pretty well off of Sergio. You go with the history and that’s why the change was made there. (Casilla) got ahead 1-2, he was just a little slow to home plate with the stolen base there and then he ended up walking him. That’s what hurt.”

Q: Strickland started warming up when Casilla ran into trouble. Why did Casilla come in before him? 
BB: “(Casilla) has closed over 30 games and he threw the ball well last night. We had Strick once Casilla went into the game to give us some coverage there. We’ve tried some different things and it hasn’t quite worked out. We’re going with what we think is our best matchup and it didn’t play out tonight. Sure that hurts, but like I said, it’s all hands on deck and we’re going with what we think is our best matchup there.”

Q: Did you consider using Law in the ninth after he got two outs in the eighth?
BB
: “Yeah. He just hasn’t been out there a lot. Sure it’s a consideration. He didn’t get a chance to throw a lot and go a couple innings. But I was fine with Sergio and then like I said, the plan was he would start the inning and if somebody got on, Casilla would have Molina there. It didn’t play out.”

Giants return to Oracle Park, embrace 'new norm' on first day of camp

Giants return to Oracle Park, embrace 'new norm' on first day of camp

The first nerve-wracking moment came at home, soon after I had finished my coffee. For the first time this season, reporters were allowed at Oracle Park, and that meant wearing a real outfit. 

No more writing from the couch in Lululemon sweats or basketball shorts. The ballpark requires real pants, a test that thankfully was passed.

As for the rest of the day? Well, it was weird. Good, but weird.

The general consensus among reporters was that it was great to be back at the ballpark, watching players and discussing actual baseball, not labor wars or health possibilities. But there's no getting around how different everything is right now. 

A team official was driving into the Oracle Park lot Friday morning when he suddenly hit the brakes. He reached down and grabbed a mask, putting it on before being around other team employees. There were masks everywhere Friday, and that was a huge positive. The Giants are taking this extremely seriously, as they must. They worked out in three different groups, with an equal split of pitchers and position players in each. They used both clubhouses to dress. Players elbow-bumped manager Gabe Kapler as they walked in, keeping their distance. 

In the three hours I was there, I didn't see anything that looked at all reckless. The Giants are trying to embrace their new normal.

"I think we need to stop kind of holding onto the past and understand what the new norm is and adjust to that new norm," pitcher Jeff Samardzija said. "Until we're told differently that's the way it's going to be. I think you have to put all the excuses aside and do what you need to do."

Everyone involved did that Friday, from players, coaches and staffers, to the media and the PR employees running the show, to the security guards stationed all over the yard. It was a weird day, but a positive start. Here's a running diary of it all from a beat writer's perspective (there's a picture version on my Instagram, which is linked above):

10:45 a.m. -- While waiting in line on the Embarcadero, I scan a QR code held up by a team employee and my phone loads a health questionnaire. This is the first step toward getting into the park every day. Later, as I walk through the gate, a security guard checks to make sure there were no red flags in my answers.  

11:03 -- A Giants employee drives past reporters on a golf cart, the back full of packages. He's trying to figure out where to go because his usual gate is closed. There were a few team employees who got lost because so many traditional walkways and doors are now blocked off to limit how many areas have to be cleaned. (By the way, this probably is not the season to send cards and balls to the ballpark hoping for a signature.)

11:07 -- I sign a waiver and get my daily credential. A hand sanitizer station is a couple of feet away from all of that. I've been covering the Giants full-time since 2012 and for the first time, I enter through the Second Street Gate. This is the media entrance this year, and my temperature is taken as my bag is checked. That's part of the daily routine for everyone entering the park. 

11:10 -- After walking up a few ramps I see the field for the first time and immediately hear Flo Rida's "My House." It's somewhat comforting to know that even in a year where the whole world has changed, baseball players still go back to their staples for workout music. 

11:24 -- As we all walk to the press box -- which now has seats that are more than six feet apart from others and an auxiliary area in the stands -- I stop to take a picture of a group heading from the cages to the clubhouse. You can see the Brandons, Evan Longoria, Donovan Solano ... uhh, I think also Joey Rickard and a couple other guys? It becomes apparent that it's going to be harder than ever to identify players doing drills far from the press box. 

12:00 p.m. -- Reporters are taken out to Triples Alley to get a better view -- and some sun! We get a good look at the scoreboard, where Kai Correa's daily schedule has moved from clubhouse TVs to a $10 million screen. There are cages in the left-field corner and also Triples Alley. The Giants might run drills in all three corners of the park at some point to maximize space. 

12:05 -- A group of relievers comes out to play catch. They're all wearing masks while walking, although they are taken off as they throw and run sprints. 

12:34 -- Ron Wotus meets with some coaches in center field, which answers one question that reporters have had. Some older coaches in other camps have been told they can't work on the field because of health concerns, but the 59-year-old Wotus looked to have no restrictions. Kapler said Wotus and Correa briefed the team during a Zoom call Thursday to go over how they're going to handle drills in a new environment. 

12:45 -- Pablo Sandoval arrives and brings his trademark energy as he crosses the field. The Giants will have to figure out a new way to celebrate with high-fives and hugs banned. Brandon Crawford said he's confident Sandoval and Hunter Pence will come up with creative solutions. 

12:55 -- In the concourse behind the press box, a security officer starts chasing after two guys walking up a ramp. They're not allowed to be there, he yells. Turns out the two are high-ranking members of the front office who are headed back from the field. I'm telling you, security is TIGHT. 

1:05 -- Samardzija becomes the first Giant to hold a Zoom press conference. He sits in front of a black tarp with an amused look on his face as reporters try to unmute themselves to ask questions. One asks him which habit is going to be the hardest to break.

"The spitting is going to be tough," he said. "When you're working and you're athletic, everyone knows there's a film that builds up in your mouth. That'll be tough, but again it's nothing that's hard. For some guys, it will be tough to not lick your fingers."

MLB is allowing pitchers to carry a wet rag to the mound to help with moisture.

"Water doesn't really help anyway," Samardzija said, smiling. 

Later, he drops a hell of a quote when asked about playing in front of fans. 

1:35 -- Crawford follows Samardzija on the call. 

"It definitely didn't feel like a normal day at the ballpark," he said. "I guess I'm used to this because I've been working out down at Scottsdale Stadium. This is kind of the schedule we had been working with down there in small groups, down there it was groups of four players at a time, throwing, hitting, running and taking groundballs. Basically what we did today other than groundballs."

Crawford confirms that the ban on spitting is going to take some getting used to.

"After we were running, that's something me and Longo and Belt were all talking about," he said. "We all kind of wanted to but we had to hold it back."

1:57 -- As I walk out of the park, I see some players from the second group heading down the street back to their hotel. They look like they've had a normal day, although there were other adjustments behind the scenes. Some found out Friday that while showering is allowed, you have to bring your own soap to the ballpark. Wall dispensers that were shared by multiple people are all a thing of the past. 

4:05 -- Kapler does his usual press conference by getting on Zoom from his office. He's wearing a mask still because other players and coaches are around the clubhouse. 

Kapler informs the media that Luis Madero has tested positive for COVID-19 and that Buster Posey missed the day for personal reasons. He says Tony Watson, who was said to be a little behind others because of spring shoulder tightness, "looked great."

[RELATED: MLB virus test results show importance of Giants' measures]

The day was unlike anything Kapler has gone through in his career, but he was happy with how it went. 

"One of the things that we asked of our players is to be flexible and understand that this camp is not going to be perfect because we don't really have any precedent for what we're all experiencing," he said. "It was much different than anything I've ever experienced, and at the same time, there was a lot of excitement about stepping on the field. It was a beautiful day at the ballpark. I think everybody was really genuinely happy to be there. We got a lot of good work done."

Giants' Buster Posey misses first workout, but could join team shortly

Giants' Buster Posey misses first workout, but could join team shortly

The Giants' new normal requires transparency, because otherwise the media and fans will all assume the same thing. When Gabe Kapler, giving a Zoom press conference for the first time during Spring Training 2.0, confirmed to reporters that Buster Posey had not been at the park Friday, he immediately added a clarification. 

"He has tested negative," Kapler said. "Just don't want that to be a concern at all."

The ongoing tracking of players who have COVID-19 might be a daily story this season, and teams are aware that any player who is not seen -- such as Posey, who was a notable absence from Friday's media availability -- might unfortunately end up in the rumor mill. The Giants cannot reveal that a player has tested positive without his permission, and thus far both who have gotten that result have let it be known publicly.

Right-hander Luis Madero tested positive during his intake screening, joining Hunter Bishop, who tested positive before the Giants arrived in San Francisco and was not put in the player pool. Madero, a January waiver claim, will now have to quarantine. Kapler said no other players in the pool tested positive, although the Giants still are awaiting several results. 

There were no other notable absences on the first day, and Kapler confirmed that the Giants will not have any players opt out of the season. He's hopeful that the full squad will be together soon -- in three socially-distancing groups -- but the Giants aren't worried if Posey needs a few more days away. 

[RELATED: Giants return to Oracle Park, prepare for 'unknown' in camp]

"If there's anybody in our camp that knows how to prepare for a regular season, that knows how to be built up for that workload, has an arm stroke and a body that can prepare quickly, it's Buster," Kapler said. "That being said, when it comes to personal matters, we believe -- and I personally believe -- that players can come back when the time is right for them.

"We prioritize their families over all else, and in this particular case I don't have concerns about Buster being significantly behind."

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