Cain looking to avoid a sweep in Pittsburgh
Buster Posey hasn't drawn a walk in 51 plate appearances heading into Thursday's series finale in Pittsburgh. (USA TODAY IMAGES)
PITTSBURGH – With all the roster changes the Giants have made in three days at PNC Park, they’re going to fool the airline computers into offering a Fresno-to-Pittsburgh nonstop.
The Giants juggled personnel again prior to Thursday’s game, recalling catcher Hector Sanchez and also calling up right-hander Jake Dunning from the Triple-A club. Seldom-used first baseman Brett Pill was optioned to Fresno and right-hander Ramon Ramirez was designated for assignment.
[RELATED: Giants shuffle roster]
Dunning and Sanchez were scheduled to land a half-hour before the first pitch. They’ll arrive at the ballpark during the game, if all goes well.
The takeaway: The Giants now have greater flexibility to start Buster Posey at first base on occasion, or at least take him out of blowout games early with a third catcher on the roster. Given all the long games they’ve been playing, that’s a considerable advantage.
Giants manager Bruce Bochy met behind closed doors with Posey to get a gauge on how the reigning NL MVP was holding up. Posey is getting his hits, but he hasn’t drawn a walk in 51 plate appearances over his last 13 games.
Given the injuries to Angel Pagan, Marco Scutaro and Pablo Sandoval, it’s not like Bochy can afford to give Posey a day off now. And the Giants just began a stretch in which they’ll play 33 games in 34 days; they have just one more day off before the All-Star break.
Keeping Posey fresh will become a bigger concern.
“He’s feeling fine now,” Bochy said. “Could he (play more first base)? Yeah, and I did talk to him about where he’s at. We’ll see. Maybe he’ll play first base one game in Atlanta.”
Pill already wasn’t getting starts at first base. With Posey going there on occasion, it would make it even tougher to find him at-bats.
Sanchez, meanwhile, is healthy by all accounts after dealing with a shoulder injury that forced him to miss most of the spring and quite obviously lingered into the season as he struggled at the plate. He also jammed his thumb shortly after being optioned to Fresno. But he was starting to come around at the plate. The switch hitter had three hits Monday including a long home run that Nick Noonan described as “an absolute bomb.”
“We think this better serves us,” Bochy said.
The bullpen move was more obvious. Ramirez got smacked around yet again in Wednesday night’s 12-8 loss. The Giants are still trying to find a productive long reliever following Chad Gaudin’s move to the rotation.
And Dunning, 24, had a 1.75 ERA while throwing 36 innings over 23 appearances for Fresno. He had given up just more than a hit per inning, but he also had a respectable 31 strikeouts against 10 walks.
Dunning already was on the 40-man roster; that, along with his ability to pitch multiple innings, made him the choice over right-hander Heath Hembree.
A converted shortstop from Indiana University, the Giants pointed Dunning to the mound after taking him in the 33rd round of the 2009 draft. He’s tall and skinny and reminds some scouts of former Angels setup man Scot Shields with his power sinker and slider.
Hunter Pence said Dunning made an impression on him in the spring, and not only because of the right-hander’s stuff. Pence watched from the outfield when Dunning issued a walk in a Cactus League game, then signaled to the infielders to be ready to turn two. Then he induced the ground ball he wanted.
“He’d already turned the page mentally,” Pence said. “That’s what you want to see.”
Dunning is a terrific athlete – no surprise, he fields his position extremely well – and he was once recruited to take part in a dunk contest with the Hoosiers basketball team. He even briefly considered walking on to the hoops squad.
But he stuck with baseball. And then, asked which direction he’d rather go as a pro, Dunning took pitching. Why?
“I saw Brandon Crawford,” Dunning told me this spring, “and realized he was in front of me.”
Dunning watched Crawford in the Arizona Fall League, and …
“I saw how he fielded,” Dunning said. “I thought I fielded pretty good, but I’m like, `I’ve got nothing on him.’”
Dunning gets as much run and sink on his fastball as anyone in the system. The Giants added him to the 40-man roster last December to protect him from the Rule 5 draft.
“I just try to attack the zone,” Dunning said. “If I can get three ground balls on three pitches, that’s what I’m going for.”
He knows his shortstop will appreciate that.
Marco Scutaro grabbed a left-handed glove and went out to shag during batting practice, but he was just goofing off. His left pinky finger remains swollen and sore. The chances are dimming that he’ll try to play any time during the Atlanta series this weekend. The Giants aren’t going to put him on the DL, though.
Angel Pagan (on the DL with a hamstring strain) also remains highly doubtful for the Atlanta series, but at least he’s wearing spikes again. He finally graduated to baseball work and did some light running while also taking batting practice on the field.
Bochy casually mentioned weeks ago that his NL All-Star coaches would be the Mets’ Terry Collins and the Nationals’ Davey Johnson – two appropriate choices with the game in Flushing Meadows. The league made it official.
Johnson was a rover in the Mets system when Bochy was a minor leaguer, and of course, he won a World Series with the Mets in 1986. It was a no-brainer.
This selection will work out better than the last time Bochy put a Nationals manager on his coaching staff. Two years ago, he named Jim Riggleman – only to have the Washington skipper step down from his position prior to the All-Star Game.
I reminded Gregor Blanco and Joaquin Arias that Thursday is the one-year anniversary of Matt Cain’s perfect game. Neither of them realized it. The defensive contributions they made won’t be easily forgotten, though.
Arias, who got an assist on the final out, is starting at third base. And Blanco, whose diving catch remains just as astounding a year later, is in center field.
Of course, Blanco was the right fielder that day against the Houston Astros. I told Pence that he and Blanco should change positions.
“No, we’re fine,” Pence said. “Because he was pretty much in center field when he made that catch.”
Pence and Scutaro have become so ingrained around here that it’s easy to forget that they weren’t Giants a year ago for Cain’s big day.
“If I’m playing right field,” Pence said, “I’m pretty sure it’s not a perfect game.”
Late change for the Pirates. Alex Presley is leading off and Starling Marte was scratched with a sore rib cage. I suppose getting four hits, scoring four runs and stealing two bases takes a lot out of a fella.