Johnny Cueto slowed Hunter Pence down, but the Rockies couldn't

Johnny Cueto slowed Hunter Pence down, but the Rockies couldn't

SAN FRANCISCO — Hunter Pence walked into the dugout 30 minutes before Tuesday’s game, slid his bat into the rack, and smiled. 

“I’m hitting leadoff tonight,” he said, noting that it’s a spot for speedsters. 

On this night, it was a spot that was slowed down. Pence kept the bat steady on a couple of big swings that led the Giants to a 4-3 win. He accompanied that with a home run jog that was one of the comedic highlights in a season sorely lacking them. 

Pence’s fifth-inning blast to dead center was the go-ahead shot at the time, and Pence made his usual quick trip around first and second. When he approached third, he was confronted by a strange sight. Johnny Cueto, who had singled, turned and held his hand up. The two hit the bag a few feet apart, and Cueto practically walked home. He took 13 seconds to go the final 90 feet, and Pence — once nicknamed Full Throttle by his manager — had no choice but to follow in a power-walk of his own. 

“I was like, ‘I’m not the starting pitcher.’ They expend a lot of energy — every pitch is like a sprint,” Pence said. “You’ve got to take it easy if they tell you to take it easy.”

Pence has 218 career homers. He said this was the slowest jog of his career, and that’s exactly what Cueto wanted. 

“Obviously I was very happy when he hit the home run, and I just kept telling him to go ahead and slow down and enjoy the homer, because you're always running so fast,” Cueto said through interpreter Erwin Higueros. 

The home run power-walk was a funny moment, but it was also instructive. Pence brings the same energy and enjoyable attitude every day. In Cueto, his neighbor in the clubhouse, he has found a similar player. He said he’s hopeful that Cueto returns next season — as is expected — and noted that it’s a positive trait to have fun in this kind of season. 

“That’s imperative and it’s extremely important to keep that passion,” Pence said. “It’s not just about the standings. We love competing.”

Cueto showed his own fire by getting a lead into the seventh despite a soaring early pitch count. When Hunter Strickland coughed it up in the eighth, the Giants bounced right back. Pence ended the night with a sacrifice fly to center with the bases loaded. That capped a big night for him, one that left him smiling from start to finish. 

“It’s always a good time when you’re hitting a homer,” he said. 

Perhaps that’s why Cueto forced him to soak it all in.

Tim Federowicz's scouting report on the Giants' young pitchers

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AP

Tim Federowicz's scouting report on the Giants' young pitchers

SAN FRANCISCO -- Tim Federowicz has spent nearly a decade in professional ball and he entered this year with nearly 700 innings behind the plate in the big leagues. That made Federowicz a nice depth piece this spring, and when Buster Posey and Nick Hundley stayed healthy most of the first five months, the profile made the 30-year-old a valuable addition for Triple-A Sacramento. 

Federowicz played 77 games for the River Cats and spent most of the season serving as their starting catcher. He helped develop some of the organization's most advanced pitching prospects, so recently I asked him for scouting reports on a few guys we may see next year and one we have seen plenty of in recent weeks ... 

Chris Stratton (5.11 ERA in Triple-A, 4.07 ERA in the big leagues): "He had quite a few outings like this down there where he was (going deep into games) and you see that with guys that have good out pitches. Those types of guys don't have to end up throwing a lot of pitches to get guys out. With him, it's kind of strike one, strike two, curveball for strike three, so it's a little bit easier to go deeper into games with that out pitch ... He definitely has a sneaky fastball with good cut on it. He has a good sinker to go with it, too. It's just a good mix and you don't really know which way (the fastball) is going to go. When he's really throwing it well, the ball really planes out well. A lot of guys' fastballs will sort of drop towards the end but his kind of planes out."

Right-hander Tyler Beede (4.79 ERA, 1.47 WHIP, 83 strikeouts in 109 innings, 3.57 ERA in his final month): "He has great stuff. He started strong and had a little bit of a rough stretch in the middle, but he was actually pitching really well when he had that unfortunate (groin) injury. He's got good movement on the fastball and he'll four-seam, two-seam, with a curveball and a changeup that was coming along nicely. We made a point to use (the changeup) more and there's also a cutter. He's pretty unique. Sometimes you see righties with a really good slider but he's got the pretty good curveball. He's definitely got the stuff to get guys out here. It's just a matter of getting more experience. Guys like him, they've just got to pitch and experience stuff, and he did that a little bit with a rough patch where he was walking batters. His fastball was moving a little too much and he had to make the adjustment and get back to throwing strikes. He did, and he was able to put it all together towards the end." 

Left-hander Andrew Suarez (3.55 ERA in Triple-A, 3.30 ERA across two levels, 80 strikeouts in 88 2/3 Triple-A innings): “He’s got a good fastball and real sharp slider that’s short and has good depth. He’s got a good feel for pitching, too. He has the stuff to definitely get guys out here. He could get guys out right now with what I’ve seen down there, but it’s all about timing with some of the young guys.” 

Asked for a sleeper prospect, Federowicz picked Tyler Rogers, a submarine-style right-hander who had a 2.37 ERA: “I really like him. He just gets guys out. He doesn’t throw very hard — about 85 (mph), but his 85 plays a lot harder than that and he’s got good command of his fastball. I’ve faced plenty of submarine guys but his ball moves different than any I’ve ever seen. It’s just real sharp and downward, nothing side to side. It’s just straight down and sometimes it’ll cut a little bit to the lefties. It’s pretty impressive and he’s able to get it to the corners.”

'It's just not fun': Basic mistakes haunt Giants in loss to Dodgers

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USATSI

'It's just not fun': Basic mistakes haunt Giants in loss to Dodgers

SAN FRANCISCO — The defining moment of Wednesday’s loss, No. 91 on the season, was not provided by a player, or by the manager, or by any of the coaches who have active field roles. It was bullpen catcher Eli Whiteside, with fire in his eyes, stalking up and down the dugout and yelling at a lifeless team. Even the best of lip readers would only pick up a few unprintable words and little else, but the overall message was clear. 

“Right now he’s letting everybody know that this is unacceptable and this is not how the Giants play and this is not how this organization won three world championships,” Duane Kuiper said on the broadcast. “So let’s go.”

As Whiteside, a former Giant, continued to try and bring something out of the worst team in Major League Baseball, Kuiper added, “And by the way, you don’t want to fight him.”

Right now, the Giants look like they don’t want to fight anybody. 

Wednesday’s result was familiar, but the loss was jarring nonetheless. The Giants are somehow hitting new lows, and a night after three misplays led to a loss, there were a handful of basic mistakes. Hunter Pence let a pop-up drop at his feet for a second straight night. That was followed by a Pablo Sandoval error and a dropped throw. Denard Span ran into a 1-6-5-4 double play in the first and Jarrett Parker was doubled off of first on a shallow fly ball to left in the seventh. Throw in some poor pitches and at-bats, too. It all added up to a 4-1 loss to the Dodgers, who came in with a 10-game losing streak and left feeling quite healthy. That’s what the 2017 Giants do for you. 

“It is frustrating,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “We need to clean it up and communicate better. It’s happened too often. These are things that shouldn’t happen on a Major League field.”

Bochy’s post-game response was muted, perhaps because he’s used to this at this point. All of the Giants seem to be, and that’s probably what had Whiteside so fired up. The Giants have the worst record in baseball and they might lose 100 games. That has been their reality for months, and they haven’t done anything to change their situation. 

“It’s just not fun,” said Matt Moore, who gave up four runs in a short start. “Winning games is fun … winning cures everything and we haven’t done a whole lot of that this year.”

The Giants have 14 games left, and on Wednesday night, they looked very much like a team that is aching for the end to come. The dugout was still and the clubhouse even quieter. Bochy, sitting on the podium, talked of mistakes that need to be fixed for next year, but truthfully, these are mistakes that shouldn’t be made regardless of the date. 

Pence’s play was the most glaring, if only because it was a doppelgänger of a similar play Tuesday night. The only difference was this time the ball dropped between Pence and Kelby Tomlinson, not Pence and Joe Panik. Pence said the mistakes were his, that he needs to “scream bloody murder” until an infielder backs off. 

“I made the mistakes and I’ve got to make an adjustment,” he said. 

It’s never a lack of effort with Pence, who beat out two infield singles and scored the lone Giants run. Bochy said it’s not a lack of effort team-wide, either. But something is missing. 

“Regardless of what’s going on in the season,” Moore said, “We’ve got to be better than that.”