Giants

Rewind: Bumgarner enjoys 'pretty special' night at the plate

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Rewind: Bumgarner enjoys 'pretty special' night at the plate

OAKLAND — Brandon Belt has a plan. His dream, stated often, is to pitch in a big league game, so he can show off the arm that made him a top left-handed starter in Texas prep leagues. The Giants have never been all that keen on the idea, especially after Belt signed a lucrative long-term deal. But late Thursday, Belt smiled as he hatched a plan and talked of an opening. 

If the Giants let a pitcher hit in the designated hitter spot, why not let a first baseman take the mound?

After all, the first unorthodox move worked out pretty well.

The game has seen plenty of position players on the mound. Belt himself faced a catcher earlier this month in Pittsburgh. But what Madison Bumgarner did Thursday is virtually unprecedented. He hit for himself in an American League park, becoming the first in 40 years to do it without a lineup card mistake necessitating the move, and it helped the Giants to a 12-6 win over the A’s. 

Bumgarner’s lined-shot double in the third ignited a six-run rally for the Giants. He pitched into the seventh on the mound, as the Giants salvaged a game in this Bay Area series. Afterward, Bumgarner said he was happy that manager Bruce Bochy approached him with the idea a few days back. He gladly accepted the challenge.

“That was definitely pretty special that we got a chance to do that,” Bumgarner said. “I’m glad I didn’t make him look stupid.”

Bumgarner got to break the mold for a number of reasons, including the growing disabled list. The Giants didn’t feel like they had better options, and Bochy appreciates the way Bumgarner has become a competitive at-bat, not just someone aiming to hit a ball 500 feet (although he likes to do that, too). He noted repeatedly that Bumgarner has a “presence” in the batter’s box, and rookie Dillon Overton felt it early.

Bumgarner smoked a shot to center in a scoreless game and Billy Burns couldn’t catch up to it. The next five Giants reached base. Belt hit a two-run double, Buster Posey hit a three-run homer, and Brandon Crawford added a solo shot.

“I guess hitting can be contagious. We figured if the pitcher can do it, the rest of us can do it," Belt cracked. "When someone leads off and hits a double, it builds momentum and that’s what you saw.”

The Giants needed it after three of their ugliest losses of the season. Bumgarner wasn’t his usual self on the mound, giving up a two-run shot to lefty Yonder Alonso and four runs overall. But he provided a jolt for a clubhouse that fed off the energy of Bochy’s decision. The reaction to Bumgarner hitting was mostly positive, but in the hours after the news trickled out late Wednesday night, there was some negativity.

A couple Giants noted that some national pundits slammed Bochy’s decision. Bochy repeatedly insisted Thursday that this was his call, and it was made for just one reason: To give the Giants the best chance to win.

“We needed something to ignite us,” early in the game, Bochy said, “And he did it. He’s got a presence in the lineup. He’s a pitcher, but he’s imposing and he’s dangerous.”

Bumgarner was 1-for-4, but the lone hit started an avalanche. He got a loud ovation from fans on both sides as he walked to the plate, the scoreboard showing an unusual combo. Because the Coliseum lists the starting pitcher under the rest of the lineup, Bumgarner, the No. 9 hitter, was listed twice in a row.

Bumgarner said he wasn’t surprised by all the talk surrounding the move. He also didn’t particularly care if anyone thought it was a bad idea.

“I’m not trying to prove anything to anybody,” he said. “We’re trying to win a ballgame.”

This was the 50th victory for the Giants, who maintain a steady lead in the division. They’ll try to get close to 60 by the All-Star break, and Bumgarner is surely headed to San Diego. While he got to hit Thursday night, in the afternoon Bochy revealed that Bumgarner will not participate in the Home Run Derby.

“That kind of got blown out of proportion,” Bumgarner said. “I got asked if I would do it if they asked, and I said of course I would. It kind of just took off. It would be fun to do, but at the same time, I wouldn’t want to take away from a guy who has hit 15 to 20 homers.”

Bumgarner will be a spectator during the Derby, and that’s fine to the Giants. They’re happy to let him take his cuts in games that count, and with road series in Boston and New York after the break, Bumgarner might get a shot at another American League park. 

His teammates hope it happens. There seemed to be no discontent with Bochy’s decision to put a backup on ice while a pitcher took four at-bats, with one yelling out “what a hitter!” as Bumgarner spoke to reporters and another calling his feats “legendary.”

As Bumgarner walked through the clubhouse, a couple pitchers watched and shook their heads, smiling. One was asked how he would pitch to Bumgarner. He thought about it for a while, and finally said he wasn’t quite sure.

“I’m just glad he’s on our team,” he said. 

MLB rumors: Former Giants GM Bobby Evans interviewed for Astros job

MLB rumors: Former Giants GM Bobby Evans interviewed for Astros job

A little over a year after he was fired, former Giants general manager Bobby Evans could land on his feet.

Evans interviewed for the open Astros general manager position, The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal reported Saturday, citing sources.

Evans spent four seasons as the general manager of the Giants before being reassigned within the organization at the end of the 2018 season. Including the 2019 season, Evans has spent the last 26 seasons in San Francisco.

The Astros are in need of a new GM and manager after Jeff Luhnow and AJ Hinch were fired in the fallout from the sign-stealing scandal that has rocked baseball in recent weeks.

The Astros are tainted at the moment, but Evans would be inheriting a roster that still possesses the talent to compete for a World Series, with or without trash cans.

While serving as assistant general manager for the Giants, Evans helped lead to the team to World Series titles in 2010, 2012 and 2014. But his tenure as GM wasn't as successful. A lot of the moves Evans made, including the signings of Mark Melancon, Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija and Denard Span, didn't lead to the desired results.

[RELATED: Evans' dismissal hard on Giants players]

With Farhan Zaidi and Scott Harris at the helm of the Giants, it makes sense for Evans to consider outside opportunities, even if the Astros are the blackeye of baseball.

Both Evans and the Astros need second chances, so this could be the perfect marriage if the two sides can come to an agreement.

Giants Mailbag: Could young starting pitchers be headed for bullpen?

Giants Mailbag: Could young starting pitchers be headed for bullpen?

While the Bay Area focused on the 49ers this week, the Giants had their eyes on a different patch of grass. They're currently holding their developmental camp in Scottsdale, giving prospects an early chance to impress before the real fun starts next month:

We're two weeks from FanFest, and a few days after that, the players will actually take the field under new manager Gabe Kapler for the first time. Baseball season is coming fast, so let's run through another round of Giants questions (from my Instagram followers) as we wait for pitchers and catchers to report ... 

"In all seriousness Alex -- why should I watch/spend money on the Giants in 2020?" -- erniepomin

Well, first of all, we have a new state-of-the-art set that'll allow us to do a lot of cool things on the pre-game show next season, so that's a start. Plus, Kruk and Kuip! Come on, that's all you need. 

As for the team, I've long said that I'll never tell people how to spend their money when it comes to the Giants. It can get expensive, so if you'd prefer to sit out a couple years, you have every right to do so. But, I do think this season is going to be more interesting than the past couple. 

I happen to think "youth breaking through" is an intriguing storyline, so shortstop Mauricio Dubon and pitchers Tyler Beede and Logan Webb could provide plenty of reasons to watch early on. Catcher Joey Bart will be up at some point this year, and there's a chance that somebody like outfielder Jaylin Davis or infielder Chris Shaw finally puts it together.

Every Johnny Cueto start has the chance to provide plenty of entertainment regardless of the team's record.

Regardless of your feelings about Gabe Kapler, I do think it'll be interesting watching a different manager pull the levers for the first time in over a decade. If you're tuning in expecting to watch a win, you'll be disappointed more often than not. But if you try and view this as the start of something, I think you'll have a lot more fun in 2020. 

Are the Giants one of the rumored teams to have made a multi-year offer to Ozuna?" -- mgmatter17

I never once heard of any interest in Marcell Ozuna this offseason, and the fit wasn't really there. He's a good player, but not a game-changer, the type you re-arrange all your (rebuild) plans for. And if he was looking to re-establish his value as a power hitter, Oracle Park is a terrible place to play. 

"Is Sean Hjelle going to be one of the main focuses for at least early spring training?" -- aedinbratton18

Hjelle, the organization's top pitching prospect, is always going to be a focus purely because of his height. You can bet that early in camp someone will tweet out a photo of him dwarfing his fellow pitchers. 

But seriously, he will get plenty of attention for what he's capable of. He spent limited time in San Jose so we haven't really seen much of him, and it's going to be fascinating to see what his mechanics look like in early bullpen sessions. Hopefully, he's able to get into a game or two before getting sent to minor league camp. 

"Who will be the Giants' ace now that Bum is gone?" -- dianebertocchinoonan

Cueto has done it before, but he is coming back from Tommy John and there's a decent chance he gets traded before the end of his deal. Long term, this is a hell of a question.

Beede and Webb have the stuff to get there eventually and Hjelle is their top pitching prospect, but the organization is pretty thin on high-end starting pitching. I don't think you can look at anyone the Giants have right now and think, "He's going to start on Opening Day in 2022."

"If Beede or Webb don't make the rotation, do you think they'd let them pitch out of the bullpen?" -- _juanvillaseno_

This is a question we'll legitimately be asking in a couple weeks, because Cueto, Jeff Samardzija, Drew Smyly and Kevin Gausman have the inside track on four spots. Either one of these young guys could be a good bullpen piece, but the Giants aren't ready to go there. 

They really made a commitment last year to giving Beede a shot in the rotation, even when he had some brutal starts, and he showed what he's capable of at times. The Giants are going to give him every opportunity to make the rotation his long-term home. As for Webb, there's been enough "innings limit" talk this offseason that it seems likely he starts the year in the minors, but he's definitely still a starter. 

[RELATED: Giants sign veteran Drew Smyly]

The caveat here is that I do think the Giants will try some new things this year, using semi-regular openers and potentially "piggybacking" guys, allowing them to go 3-4 innings at a time. That might lead to some "relief" appearances for young starters. 

"Why will Logan Webb have an innings limit this season?" -- tyler.j.burton

Webb threw 104 2/3 innings in 2018 but was limited to 103 across all levels last season because of the suspension. Ideally, he would have gotten around 130-140 last year, but that wasn't possible, so the Giants will hold him back a bit this season so he's not jumping from 103 to 160-170. 

Remember, he just turned 23. His health is a priority right now, even if that costs him some time in the Majors. 

"Will ticket prices drop this season with the current state of the team?" -- rioscristian15

I'm not sure of exact rates -- the Giants usually talk about that side of the business at their media day in March. I will say, it's pretty easy to find a cheap ticket to a game on the secondary market during the season. A lot of fans told me they were getting in for like $6 the last couple of seasons. Take advantage of the lack of interest while you can. 

"Which core veteran player is most likely to have a good bounce-back year?" -- shockmaan

I know the staff is really excited about working with Brandon Belt and there's a belief that Buster Posey will be much more productive after a normal offseason. I don't know which veteran is most likely to bounce back, but I will say I'm most curious to see what kind of season Brandon Crawford turns in. 

He's 33 now, but he's athletic enough that the age shouldn't be an issue yet, and he's not far removed from All-Star caliber play. Crawford hit .292./.363/.462 in the first half of 2018 and basically carried the lineup for weeks at a time. There are newcomers to the organization who have looked back at that stretch to see what the difference was, because it really wasn't that long ago. 

"Any way to find out if they are adding anything crazy to the menu like a 25-inch corndog?" -- takem84

The Giants traditionally unveil new menu items and giveaways at their media day. Last year, I asked my bosses if a cameraman could follow me around as I ate every single thing at the stadium and they somehow said yes. That ultimately led to me standing in the heat at SunTrust Park eating a burger covered in chicken tenders, nacho cheese and tater tots. Life comes at you fast. 

"Favorite restaurant to hit up during spring training?" -- uscgabe

The lock of the spring is that every Giants beat writer and a dozen team employees will be at ChopShop after the first team workout on February 12. That's the go-to for lunch, and The Mission is the place you have to hit up for dinner. I also try to visit Rudy's BBQ a couple of times because it's a Texas treasure that has somehow found its way to Arizona.

(Full disclosure: There's a Chick-fil-A outside half the Cactus League ballparks and a Shake Shack in the Scottsdale mall, so spring training is peak "This place doesn't exist in San Francisco so I might as well go here 17 times while I'm in Scottsdale" season.)