What Gabe Kapler is seeking as he begins first Giants spring training

What Gabe Kapler is seeking as he begins first Giants spring training

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- As the Giants gathered at Oracle Park over the weekend for the first FanFest under Gabe Kapler, their rivals were busy putting the finishing touches on a delayed blockbuster that ultimately brought Mookie Betts to the NL West. Kapler was asked about his former employer when he sat down to face the media on Friday, and he said he had recently had a conversation with one of his Giants about the move the Los Angeles Dodgers were making. 

Kapler didn't name the player, but said their conversation was based around simply playing hard and having fun. He said the Giants can't worry about the improvements the Dodgers or Arizona Diamondbacks have made.

And then Kapler took an interesting detour. If he were to stand on a debate stage at some point this year, this is what his final argument to voters would look like:

"What is within our control is how hard we grind, how much effort we put into our preparation and our planning," Kapler said. "We're going to be really good at those things. We know that we may not win two out of three in a three-game series, but we know that we're going to exhaust our opponents. 

"We're going to do that by making good swing decisions, by dominating the strike zone offensively. And as pitchers we're going to fill it up with strikes and then we're going to take every last inch on the bases, and we're going to play with a high level of energy and enthusiasm, and those are the things within our control. We believe those processes will help us win as many games as possible."

They probably won't be selling t-shirts at Oracle Park that say "we're going to exhaust you," but for the Giants, this is where they're starting. There has been a clear mission statement, one that Kapler repeated often to coaches and players before he arrived at FanFest. The Giants have far less talent than the teams they're chasing in the NL West, but as Kapler prepares to get in front of the room for the first time, he is focusing on what he can control.

He wants this to be the most competitive camp Giants players have been part of.

Over the next six weeks, specific changes will become clear. Kapler provided a brief hint of what's to come when he said the Giants might bring in umpires for bullpen sessions, as he did in Philadelphia. He doesn't just want relievers out there throwing at a glove; an umpire would call balls and strikes to add a little intensity. 

"We're trying to create something at stake even though there's nothing at stake in the bullpen," Kapler said. "I think that focuses attention. I think it heightens attention and brings some adrenaline, because you're trying to execute your pitches."

Those first bullpens will take place this week, with pitchers and catchers reporting Tuesday for physicals. The position players report Sunday, although the vast majority of them are expected in camp well before Monday's first full-squad workout. That has been the case in recent years, but this year seems a bit different.

With so many roster spots -- including starting spots -- up for grabs, you certainly don't want to be the last one to walk into the room.

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Kapler will get his first chance to deliver his mottos to the full group next Monday, but he already has done so in smaller settings. He spent a chunk of the offseason traveling the country to meet individually with players, and their feedback was positive. Now, Kapler will get a chance to put his plan into action, and fans may finally get some answers.

Thus far, they have been hard to come by.

Who will be the closer? The Giants aren't saying, and they won't even commit to having a set closer. Is the rotation 80 percent set? It seems that way, but maybe there's a surprise coming. Is Mauricio Dubon the starting second baseman, or a platoon shortstop, or the center fielder, or a backup at five different spots? He might be all of the above.

Is Hunter Pence primarily a left fielder or a pinch-hitter? That's unclear. Are the Brandons headed for platoons? It seems that's the case, but nobody will say it out loud. Is Wilmer Flores a Giant? Well, not yet, but probably?

There are a lot of questions to be answered over the next six weeks, more than in any camp in recent Giants history. The work starts Tuesday. For now, the only thing that's clear is that this camp will have a very defined vibe. 

"We're trying to create an environment of competition and we want to get to spring training and see the environment with our own eyes, allow guys to compete for playing time," Kapler said. "It's going to be a merit-based environment in Scottsdale and guys will earn playing time."

Pregame decision, sloppy defense cost Gabe Kapler, Giants in 7-6 loss

Pregame decision, sloppy defense cost Gabe Kapler, Giants in 7-6 loss

It almost seemed like a mistake when the Giants' lineup card was posted.

Steven Duggar, the best defensive outfielder on the roster, was listed in left field. Alex Dickerson was the right fielder for just the second time in his big league career. 

It seemed like a mixup, but Gabe Kapler explained before Monday's game why it made sense. Left field at Coors Field has significantly more real estate than right, and the gap is much harder to play on that side of the field. Kapler said the staff had gone over the spray charts for Rockies hitters and decided it made more sense to put Duggar, who had two previous professional innings in left, there Monday. 

"It's a little bit unpredictable," Kapler said in the afternoon. "Sometimes you get that right and sometimes you don't."

A few hours later, it felt like the decision ended up being costly. Dickerson, who previously had only played right when Brandon Belt was the left fielder, had two misplays in the five-run sixth inning of a 7-6 loss to the Rockies. 

[BALK TALK: Listen to the latest episode]

With the Giants up by a run, Ryan McMahon hit a one-out shot to right that Dickerson got a glove on as his feet hit the warning track. But he bobbled the ball and dropped it as McMahon raced into third. The Rockies took the lead later in the inning on a single to right that turned into a two-run play when Dickerson's throw back to the infield overshot the cutoff man. Pitcher Wandy Peralta and catcher Chadwick Tromp ended up converging on the ball near the dugout as the trail runner easily took a vacated plate. 

Kapler said a night like that does lead to second-guessing, but he added that "sometimes you set them up and you set them up the right way and it doesn't work out."

"In hindsight, you question was that the right call. Honestly I bet Dick makes that (catch) 19 out of 20 times," Kapler said. "The throw, I bet he makes almost every time. There's no question."

The Giants were confident in their process, but at this point it might be hard to be too confident in how those decisions will play out on the field. The defense has been a mess through 11 games, a bit of a surprise given the intensity of both camps. They lead the NL with 13 errors. Evan Longoria booted a grounder in the first inning that led to the first run off Johnny Cueto, who was later charged with two more on a Nolan Arenado homer. 

That blast, Arenado's first of the year, started the five-run outburst. The Rockies kept tacking on thanks to the defensive mistakes, and perhaps the pre-game decision. 

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Dickerson said the switch might have factored in "a little bit" on the angles he took and said something caught his eye on the throw, perhaps because he was in an unfamiliar spot. But Dickerson said there were no excuses, and those were plays that should have been made regardless of his lack of experience in right. 

"At the end of the day you're still an athlete," he said. "You've got to be able to go catch a ball like that. I just kind of had one of those innings where there were two big flukes that really cost us."

Giants takeaways: What you might have missed in 7-6 loss to Rockies

Giants takeaways: What you might have missed in 7-6 loss to Rockies


Through their good times and bad early on this season, there's been one consistent theme for the Giants. They've been sloppy defensively, and on Monday that was a killer.

The Rockies scored five runs in the sixth, pushed along by a couple of defensive misplays from right fielder Alex Dickerson, and held on for a 7-6 victory. The Giants fell back a game under .500.

Here are three things you have to know from the first night of a 10-game road trip:

Step in the Right Direction

Johnny Cueto entered with a 5-2 record and 3.26 ERA in eight career starts at Coors Field, which is rare, obviously. He had his longest start of the young season, going five innings for the first time and allowing three runs, two of which were earned.

Cueto was cruising along until Nolan Arenado did what he has always done, crushing an elevated fastball into the empty seats for a two-run homer. 

[BALK TALK: Listen to the latest episode]

Same Old Nolan

Arenado entered the game with a .226 average and no homers, but he took Cueto halfway up the bleachers in left in the sixth inning. That was the last batter Cueto faced. 

The homer was the 228th of Arenado's career, which moved him past Carlos Gonzalez and into fourth place on the franchise list. He has hit 227 of those against the Giants.

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Still Powerful

The Giants hit some long homers on the 3-3 homestand and kept crushing on their first night in the best hitter's park around.

Chadwick Tromp homered for the second straight day and red-hot Mike Yastrzemski hit his third in 11 games. The most impressive shot came from Dickerson, who one-handed a low slider over the right field wall. It was his second career homer off a lefty. Coors!