Giants Insider notebook: Runzler's role change


Giants Insider notebook: Runzler's role change

March 12, 2011

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Giants left-hander Jonathan Sanchez was scratched from his scheduled start against the rival Dodgers, but there's no cause for concern.The key word here is "rival." Add "division" in front of it, and you've got your answer as to why Sanchez didn't take the hill in front of the biggest crowd in the history of Scottsdale Stadium (12,081).Most big-league teams simply aren't into giving a team they'll be facing over and over during the regular season much of a sneak peek at what they'll be facing if there are other alternatives, and the Giants had a perfectly passable alternative Saturday.Sanchez, in line to face the Dodgers in the second game of the regular season, April 1 in Los Angeles, was sent to the Giants' minor-league camp to pitch in a simulated game with Eli Whiteside as his catcher.Battling fits of wildness with his fastball, Sanchez walked four batters during a four-inning outing and gave up two hits and two earned runs while striking out four.A minor-league coach who watched the outing said Sanchez frequently missed high with his heater, particularly early in the outing, but the Giants were pleased to see him make the proper adjustment with his arm angle to get the ball down thereafter.RUNZLER ON THE SPOT
The decision to "hide" Sanchez from the split-squad of Dodgers created an opportunity for lefty Dan Runzler to make his first Cactus League start.After his club sent the raucous, capacity crowd home thrilled with a two-run rally in the bottom of the ninth inning, Giants manager Bruce Bochy noted that he didn't see Runzler's three-inning outing as a start, per se. The Giants are auditioning for a sixth, or emergency, starter this spring, and the team has toyed with the idea of converting Runzler, who has worked exclusively out of the bullpen during his brief big-league career, but Bochy said Runzler is being stretched out because he's a candidate for a long-relief role at this point.Runzler, who brought a 1.50 ERA in three relief appearances (one run, six innings) this spring into Saturday's game, was touched for one earned run (two total) on five hits while striking out three over three innings. He also made a fielding error that led to the unearned run. NEAL SPARKS COMEBACK
Lefty Javier Lopez gave up four runs (three earned) on three hits and a walk during a seventh-inning outburst that gave the Dodgers a 7-6 lead, but outfield prospect Thomas Neal led a parade of youngsters who starred during the comeback by singling to start the bottom of the ninth and coming around to score on a wild pitch.RECAP: Giants mount ninth inning rally to beat Dodgers
Neal has become a popular player with Giants fans who follow him on Twitter (@tdaddyneal), in part because he offers up a "Question of the Day" every night. A recent query asked fans to weight in on whom they'd most like to be stuck with in a broken-down elevator.Neal rarely answers his own questions, however. Asked why before Saturday's game, he smiled and said, "I don't know. They're just so random. Thinking out loud."One of the responses to Neal's elevator question, by the way, was fairly predictable: "I would wanna be stuck with you!PLENTY OF TIME
Right-hander Matt Cain remains scheduled to return to Cactus League action Monday, having come out of his 47-pitch simulated game Thursday with none of the elbow discomfort that sidelined him in the first place. Now the question is whether he'll have time to build up his pitch count before his first scheduled start of the regular season, April 2 vs. the Dodgers.The Giants don't think it'll be a problem. The natural progression from a 45-pitch outing is to throw 60 the next time out, then 75, 90, etc.If Cain doesn't suffer any setbacks, he'll make four exhibition starts, ostensibly taking him to 90 in his final spring turn. That turn, as of now, would come March 29 -- three days before his scheduled start in L.A.The Giants obviously aren't going to let him work on three days rest after a 90-pitch effort that early in the season, but most teams dial their starters back a bit in their final exhibition outing, anyway, so they'll probably do a little juggling in the next week or two so they don't have to follow Sanchez's first regular-season start with another lefty in No. 4 starter Barry Zito.

A's rookie Olson stays humble during record-breaking power surge


A's rookie Olson stays humble during record-breaking power surge

OAKLAND — Matt Olson is aware of the company he’s keeping in the A’s record books.

His reaction is a mix of reverence and a shrug-of-the-shoulders type humbleness.

That’s the personality of the A’s rookie first baseman. Even as the conversation about him and his awe-inspiring home run pace grows louder, he remains the same steady, grounded presence.

“I’m happy for him,” A’s hitting coach Darren Bush said. “The guy’s worked his butt off. He’s the same today as was when he first got called up.”

Olson cleared the fences once again Friday night, his two-run homer off Nick Martinez in the second inning helping the A’s to a 4-1 victory over the Texas Rangers. At this point, it’s much more newsworthy when Olson doesn’t homer than when he does.

He’s crammed 24 homers into just 57 games this season. Taking into account his first call-up last September, and Olson’s 24 homers over the first 68 games of his career are the second-most in the history of major league baseball over that span to open a career. The Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger also hit 24 and only the White Sox’s Jose Abreu, with 25, hit more over his first 68.

Olson’s 13 homers in September are the most by any rookie in major league history for the month, and there’s still eight games left in it. But Olson’s hot streak dates back to Aug. 27. He’s hit a major league-best 16 homers in 23 games since then.

Among rookies in A’s history, only Mark McGwire (49) in 1987 and Jose Canseco (33) in 1986 have hit more than Olson’s 24. But neither Bash Brother, nor any other player in Oakland history, ever hit 15 homers in a 21-game span as Olson recently did.

“It’s definitely an honor,” Olson said before Friday’s game. “I grew up with a Mark McGwire poster on my wall. It’s a little surreal.”

Who saw this coming?

Olson went 2-for-21 without a single RBI in his first taste of the bigs last September. Then he shuttled five times between Triple-A and the majors this season before getting called up once again Aug. 8 and being told he’d get a shot as the A’s regular first baseman with Yonder Alonso having been traded. The constant shuttling took its toll, though Olson never let on about that publicly to reporters.

“You could see (the frustration),” said Ryan Christenson, his manager at Triple-A. “When he walks in and you tell him ‘You’re getting sent up,’ and he’s like, ‘Well, how many days is it for this time?’ He wouldn’t voice it necessarily, but you could sense it.”

Olson, with help from Bush and others, made an adjustment coming into this season. He began holding his hands out farther away from his body to begin his swing. With his 6-foot-5 frame, Olson had found himself getting jammed inside. Then in trying to adjust to that, he couldn’t square up pitches on the outer half.

“Now, his hands are firing from where he wants them to,” Bush said. “He doesn’t have to fight. You want your hands to have a clean path. Now he can stay in there, stay behind the ball, let his hands work for him.”

Olson, a 23-year-old from Lilburn, Ga., takes this sudden burst of success — and attention — in stride.

“I’ve been hit with so many stats here in the past week, I can’t even keep track of who’s done what, and honestly what I’ve done,” he said. “I kind of try to ignore all that.”

That’s OK. Others are taking plenty of notice.


As Dodgers celebrate, Bochy turns eyes to franchise-altering talent


As Dodgers celebrate, Bochy turns eyes to franchise-altering talent

LOS ANGELES — The Giants left their dugout quickly after Friday’s loss, escaping a celebration on the mound and a fireworks show in the sky. As Dodger Stadium shook with cheers, Bruce Bochy sat in the visiting clubhouse and smiled. He nodded at his laptop, which earlier had been used to pull up highlights of Japanese two-way star Shohei Otani. 

“He’s good,” Bochy said, laughing. “I absolutely would play him every day.”

Earlier in the week, when it became known that Bobby Evans and Jeremy Shelley were headed to Japan to scout Otani, Bochy said he couldn’t imagine a player pitching and then moving to the outfield between starts. What changed? 

Perhaps it was the tape Bochy saw. Otani throws 100 mph and hits homers with ease. Or perhaps it was the game he watched Friday. The Giants lost for the 94th time, with the big blow coming from a 22-year-old Dodgers star. Cody Bellinger’s blast was the difference in a 4-2 win, and the Giants don’t have a Bellinger, or anything close. Otani, 23, is a long shot for a team that very well could finish with the worst record in baseball. Still, he’s the kind of talent that could help pull the Giants closer in a hurry. He’s the  kind of talent they haven’t developed in years, and Bochy certainly sounded a bit wistful as he talked of the power Bellinger has put on display. 

“You call up a guy and he does that — that just doesn’t happen,” he said. “It’s a rare deal.”

The ninth inning of the Dodgers’ clincher reinforced that point for the Giants. They got a homer from Pablo Sandoval, but he’s playing only because Christian Arroyo — the Giants’ best prospect bet this year — is hurt. Ryder Jones, their 23-year-old prospect, struck out to end the night, dropping his average to .180. 

That set off a celebration for Bellinger and the Dodgers. They have won five straight NL West titles, with three of the last four clinched against the Giants. 

“Congrats to them,” Bochy said. “They’ve had a tremendous year across the board, and they’ve played great baseball. They brought some guys up that really did a great job for them. It’s well deserved.”

Bochy said it was not difficult to watch this one. The division has been wrapped up for months, with only a September slide keeping the Dodgers from clinching earlier. 

“We knew what we were facing here,” Bochy said. 

The Giants have two more against the Dodgers and then six more before a long winter. The Dodgers, on the other hand, will host an NLDS series here at Dodger Stadium. Both Bochy and starter Jeff Samardzija made the same observation, that the Dodgers will have a hard time cutting their deep roster down to 25 postseason players. 

That’s a nice problem to have. It’s a foreign one right now for the Giants, who have a serious talent gap and no clear solutions internally. It’s no wonder, then, that Bochy has all of a sudden become so intrigued by a wondrous talent overseas.