EXTRA BAGGS: Vogelsong to start Monday, offense hits wall

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EXTRA BAGGS: Vogelsong to start Monday, offense hits wall

GLENDALE, Ariz. For all the swatting they did early thisspring, the Giants have completely lost their buzz at the plate.

They look worn down, their bats look leaden and they aretrending the wrong way. All of those things are distressing for a team thatranked last in the NL in runs scored a year ago.

But Giants manager Bruce Bochy isnt terribly alarmed. Hesees a bunch of players who have reached the point of the spring where theyjust want to get out of Dodge. And many of them are banged up, too.

Several received the day off to rest and recuperate andwerent part of the ugliness of a 5-2 loss at Camelback Ranch, when White Soxright-hander Philip Humber one-hit them through seven innings.

Pablo Sandoval was among those who got a breather. Hes beendoing extra conditioning work every morning and Bochy theorized that hes beenworn out by the time games start. He hasnt reached the Giants target weight,but hes close and Bochy said its time to let the Panda focus on getting hisswing locked in. His right-handed at-bats, in particular, havent been pretty.He is way out in front of everything.

Brandon Belt also has been grinding hard. He slid on gravela few weeks ago and has remained playable, but sliding hasnt been too muchfun. He aggravated his hip and thigh on another slide Saturday.

Ryan Theriot (ankle) and Emmanuel Burriss (hamstring) alsoremain day-to-day, but both should be OK to play Monday.

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There was a very interesting end to what otherwise was anuneventful exhibition.

The Giants got the tying run to the plate with one out inthe ninth inning, so Bochy called back Conor Gillaspie and sent up catcherHector Sanchez as a pinch hitter. The White Sox had a lefty on the mound andBochy wanted to do more than get a right-handed matchup to try to win the game.

BAGGARLY: StewartWhiteside competition will go down to the wire

He wanted Sanchez to hit right-handed in a clutch spot. Are you readingthose tea leaves? It sure seems like the Giants are warming to the possibilityof carrying the scorching-hot Sanchez as a bat off the bench at least tostart the season.

We wanted to take a look at it with a lefty out there,Bochy said. Its something he hasnt done a lot, Im sure. So its a goodexperience to get him an at-bat there.

The White Sox left-hander was a kid named Hector Santiago, and he wasbringing it. Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune (and a former Giants beatwriter for the Mercury News, by the way) told me that Santiago has been thetalk of camp.

The Hector-Hector matchup didnt go the Giants way. Sanchezgrounded into a double play to end the game.

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A reminder: Ryan Vogelsong will start Monday and throw 40pitches against the Kansas City Royals at Scottsdale Stadium. Brian Wilson ison the schedule to throw an inning, too.

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Giants GM Brian Sabean made a two-inning guest appearance onKNBR with Dave Flemming the other day. During that stint, Sabean mentioned thatthe club might need another starting pitcher not Vogelsong to take the ballwhen the Giants need a No.5 guy on April 15. So perhaps they are not confidentthat Vogelsong could be sufficiently stretched out in time.

Eric Surkamp would be the logical choice, Id imagine. Butitll depend on how Vogelsong looks as he builds his pitch count.

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I've mentioned right-hander Dan Otero's fabulous, strike-filled spring and how he might be one of the first call-ups when the Giants need another relief arm. Well, Bochy said today that hard-throwing prospect Heath Hembree would begin the season at Triple-A Fresno and serve as the Grizzlies' closer. Otero closed for Fresno last season and would be one heck of a setup man.

That Grizzlies bullpen is going to be darn good.

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Nate Schierholtz needs to catch a hot streak to getmanagement to buy into the idea of committing to him as an everyday player. Hedid not help himself Sunday, when he was 0 for 3 with two strikeouts.

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In case Barry Zitos rough outing has you wondering Jonathan Sanchez is not having a good spring, either. In three starts for theRoyals, he has a 9.72 ERA. Here are the rest of his numbers: 8.1 innings, 13hits, 11 runs, nine earned runs, five walks, eight strikeouts, a .351opponents average and a 2.16 WHIP.

BAGGARLY: ChiSox hammer Zito, but rotation spot is safe

Given how Melky Cabrera looks this spring, the Giants' trade could turn out to be baseball's best deal of the offseason.

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Right-hander Scott Munter, who is up from minor league camp, replacedZito in the third inning and was charged with cleaning up the mess. But the big Nebraskan with the bowling ball sinkeronly faced one batter. He strained his calf while jumping off the mound tocover first base. Its been a long road back for Munter, who established himself as a bullpenmainstay in 2005 but had an elbow scope after that season and hasn't been the same. He hasnt pitched in the big leagues since 07. Hopefully forhim this calf injury isnt a major setback.

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I didnt follow enough college basketball to feel good aboutfilling out an informed bracket. The only games I watched involved my almamater, Northwestern. So I decided my only chance in the NCAA pool would be to go rogue. I had Baylor winning it all, using the RBTSOON method (really beatthe snot out of Northwestern).

Now Im wishing Northwestern had played Kentucky thisseason.

Reliable on the mound, Melancon seeks thrills off of it

Reliable on the mound, Melancon seeks thrills off of it

SAN FRANCISCO — At his introductory press conference Friday, new Giant Mark Melancon was asked about the fearlessness it takes to be a big league closer. He looked down at the first row of seats, where his wife Mary Catherine was sitting in a brand new No. 41 jersey, smiling. 

“You should probably ask my wife that,” Melancon joked.

When the Melancons got married, Mary Catherine had a calligrapher write up an actual bucket list of things the two could do together and presented it to Mark as a wedding gift. 

“It’s framed and it’s in our bathroom,” Mark said during an interview with CSN Bay Area on Friday. “It’s literally in our bathroom and we look at it all the time and try to plan out what we’re going to get done. Because it is on paper and it’s a goal and all that, we’ve checked off probably 40 or 50 percent of it in six years.”

The check marks include biking down the world’s “most dangerous road” in Bolivia and diving with great white sharks near New Zealand. The Melancons have visited Dubai and gone on a safari and stayed in countless cities off the beaten path. They have gone underwater with manta rays and high in the air in a blimp. Some of the items are simple ones, like attending a Nascar race. 

“There are a few items we’ll have to wait for until after baseball,” Melancon said. “We try to keep it safe of course, but it’s just a lot of fun. It’s a way to kind of bring creativity and allow ourselves to do things you could easily say no to.”

The standard MLB contract prohibits quite a few “dangerous” activities, and with a four-year, $62 million deal that is currently the second-biggest ever for a reliever, Melancon will hold off on certain trips, like skiing the Swiss Alps. “Attend the Kentucky Derby” is on the bucket list, but because the Derby is in May, that one is saved for retirement. In his first year with the Giants, Melancon hopes to put a check mark next to “sit backstage at a concert.”

Melancon said the thrill-seeking has slowed down a bit because the couple now has three young children, two daughters and a son. The Giants are hoping the more relaxed vibe carries over into their ninth innings. Team officials have been told by past Melancon employers that they signed a closer who is “boring” on the mound, in a good way. With a cutter-heavy approach, Melancon tends to get his ninth-inning work done quickly and without drama. That’s a welcome change of pace for an organization that has grown accustomed to “torture” late in games. 

“He was our target and we’ve gotten to know him, and the more we’ve gotten to know him the better we’ve felt about the fact that he was really meant to be a Giant,” team president and CEO Larry Baer said. 

The Giants had Melancon as their top offseason choice — and only big offseason expenditure — all along. Team officials feel even better about that approach after watching Melancon tour the ballpark Friday morning and meet with season-ticket holders and team employees. The fit was an easy one, with one member of the front office saying Melancon is “practically straight out of Giants central casting.”

Melancon’s new teammates feel the same way. He said eight to 10 of them have reached out since the deal was announced Monday. The group includes the types of players who are on any free agent’s bucket list of potential teammates. A ground ball pitcher, Melancon is looking forward to working with a Gold Glove infield. 

“That’s kind of an attractive thing to have a couple of Gold Glovers (up the middle) and then being able to throw to Buster is icing on the cake,” he said. “When you put things together on paper and go ‘who do you want to throw to and back you up,’ this team stands out.”

Dexter Fowler leaves Cubs, signs $82.5 million deal with Cardinals

Dexter Fowler leaves Cubs, signs $82.5 million deal with Cardinals

ST. LOUIS -- Dexter Fowler is headed from the World Series champions to their biggest rival.

After helping the Chicago Cubs end their long championship drought, he finalized an $82.5 million, five-year contract with the St. Louis Cardinals on Friday. Fowler fills the last big hole left in the Cardinals lineup after moves made earlier in the offseason to shore up the bullpen.

"It was an honor just to be considered to be in the Cardinals organization," said Fowler, who will wear No. 25 in honor of his mentor, Barry Bonds, because his usual 24 is retired by the Cardinals.

"You play against the Cardinals, I've been playing against them for eight years now," Fowler said, "and they always come out fighting. Always fighting. And then being with a rival, being the Cubs however many times we play them a year, you see them and - it's always good a winning team wants you."

Fowler was also a free agent a year ago, when he spurned a $33 million, three-year offer from Baltimore, who refused to offer an opt out after one year, and signed a $13 million, one-year deal with the Chicago Cubs. He hit .276 with 13 homers and a career-best .393 on-base percentage that landed him in his first All-Star Game, then had a pair of home runs in helping the Cubs win their first World Series title in 108 years.

"Playing over there, and playing against the Cardinals, you see them and you saw that they weren't far away," Fowler said. "Obviously they beat up on us, we beat up on them. It was almost even. It was one day or another. I can't put my finger on one thing or another, but we're definitely close."

His new deal calls for a $10 million signing bonus, payable in $1 million installments each July 1 and Oct. 1 for the next five years, and annual salaries of $14.5 million.

He gets a full no-trade provision, $50,000 bonuses for making the All-Star Game and winning a Gold Glove, a $25,000 bonus for a Silver Slugger, $100,000 for League Championship Series MVP and $150,000 for World Series MVP. He would get $250,000 for NL MVP, $150,000 for finishing second in voting and $100,000 for third through fifth. He would get $50,000 for Division Series MVP if the award is created.

One of the goals this offseason for St. Louis was to get more athletic, both defensively and on the base paths. Fowler was identified early in the process as someone who filled that role.

"He was always someone we were hoping to sign," Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said, "but after this past week at winter meetings ... we certainly wanted to get this done. And we're excited we got this done."

The lanky 30-year-old from Atlanta is a .268 career hitter over nine seasons with Colorado, Houston and the Cubs. He's expected to slot into the Cardinals' leadoff spot, giving St. Louis a switch-hitter in front of lefty-hitting Matt Carpenter and righties Aledmys Diaz, Stephen Piscotty and Yadier Molina.

"You obviously have great presence at the top of the lineup," manager Mike Matheny said. "The athleticism, the excitement of bringing in a player that has all those physical attributes, I think it's been well-said, this is the guy we were hoping to be sitting up here with."

Fowler said negotiations with the Cardinals were easy with one notable exception.

"We were on a 2-hour time difference, and I guess he wanted to get in touch with me," Fowler said, "but I was in the dentist chair, so he couldn't get in touch."

So, Fowler sent his agent Casey Close a photo of him to pass along to Mozeliak - "That was a first for me, that kind of photo," the GM said - and everything proceeded smoothly after that.

The news of his signing started breaking while Fowler was on a plane to St. Louis, and that also created some problems: namely, with his sleep. People started coming up to him while he was trying to take a nap and asking him whether the news was true.

"I was like, 'Uh, you know, I don't know,'" Fowler said with a grin. "It was definitely funny."

Fowler is eager to help the Cardinals add their 12th World Series championship.

"This is a baseball city," said Fowler. "The fans, every time you come here, you see red everywhere. That's awesome to see. Even going through our parade (in Chicago), you saw Cardinals fans out there. They've won World Series (and) they're poised to be back in the World Series and win again. That was a big part of my decision."

The Cardinals were investigating the trade market for an outfielder during the winter meetings, but decided Fowler was their best option. Because Fowler did not accept Chicago's $17.2 million qualifying offer, St. Louis forfeits its top draft pick next June, No. 18 overall, and the Cubs get an extra selection after the first round as compensation

It was a sacrifice the Cardinals were willing to make to not only improve their lineup, but snag a piece away from their biggest rival in the NL Central.

"There's always the baseball angle in all decisions, but there's also the human element," Mozeliak said. "We think about him as a leader. He wants to have a voice in that clubhouse. When you think back to wanting to change the culture of what we have going on - we like what we have, but now it's even better."