Giants Insider notes: Cain on his game


Giants Insider notes: Cain on his game

May 18, 2011

Our MLB Insider takes a look at the Giants' 8-5 victory over the host Dodgers on Wednesday night in the opener of a two-game series at Chavez Ravine.Cain on his game: San Francisco right-hander Matt Cain extended his streak of consecutive scoreless innings against the Dodgers to 20 by starting the game with four perfect innings before Matt Kemp led off the fifth with a solo homer. It appeared to rattle Cain's cage a bit; he walked Juan Uribe, hit James Loney with a pitch and walked Jay Gibbons to load the bases with nobody out. What followed, though, was Cain's most impressive pitching of the night. After retiring Rod Barajas on an infield popup, he got pinch hitter Juan Castro on a fly ball that wasn't deep enough to tempt Uribe into testing center fielder Aaron Rowand's arm, and the threat of a big inning died when Cain coaxed a groundout to second from Jamey Carroll.
RECAP: Ross' blast lifts Giants to 8-5 win over Dodgers
Slaying the dragon: Los Angeles lefty Clayton Kershaw brought an even longer streak of consecutive scoreless innings against his team's top rival into the contest, having shut out the Giants over 23 23. He extended the streak by retiring the first eight batters of the game, but Cain singled with two out in the third, moved to third base on a single by Rowand and scored on a single by Freddy Sanchez. The Giants continued to pepper the Dodgers' ace in the fourth, getting consecutive singles from Pat Burrell, Cody Ross, Aubrey Huff and Miguel Tejada to open the inning before pinch hitter Mike Fontenot, stepping in for injured Mark DeRosa, drew a bases-loaded walk. A sacrifice fly by Rowand capped the rally, and Kershaw was gone after five innings.The daily shuffle: A night after going 0-for-5, Andres Torres took a seat in favor of Rowand despite Rowand's career .091 (1-for-11) batting average against Kershaw, and Sanchez was back at second base after spending Tuesday night in Colorado resting his swollen left knee. Rowand contributed to both rallies and Sanchez's single opened the scoring, once again making manager Bruce Bochy look like he has some sort of crystal ball hidden inside that massive lid of his.Nice approach: The prudent approach for right-handed hitters against a tough lefty such as Kershaw is to look to hit the ball up the middle or to the opposite field. While helping to put together a stretch of seven singles in eight at-bats bridging the third and fourth inning, Cain, Rowand, Sanchez and Burrell went to right field, and Ross went up the middle.DeRosa done?: Still hoping to help DeRosa snap out of his deep offensive funk, Bochy gave him his third consecutive start at third base. It's now unclear if DeRosa will ever again make a start in a Giants uniform, because he left the game in the fourth inning with what the team called a left wrist strain. The wrist has been an issue for DeRosa ever since he signed a two-year, 12 million deal as a free agent before the 2010 season. Before leaving the game in obvious pain after a barely perceptible checked swing, DeRosa saw his streak of hitless at-bats reach 19 since coming off the DL earlier this month -- he was on it with wrist inflammation -- and he's 0-for-23 overall since going 2-for-3 at Arizona on April 16.
NEWS: Giants' DeRosa headed for DL with wrist strain
Tejada tacks on: The Dodgers cut into the Giants' lead with a run in the bottom of the seventh, but Tejada, who was nothing short of brutal for much of the season's first five week but has been showing signs of life of late both at the plate and on defense, got the run back with a two-out single in the top of the eighth. It was the team's 10th hit of the night, all of them singles, and the first nine of them came from nine different players.Right back to him: Bochy is beloved by his players in part because he shows a ton of faith in them after they've had a particularly tough game. That was in evidence -- and paid off -- Wednesday when he turned to Javier Lopez, who had struggled during an ugly 16-pitch outing in relief of Jonathan Sanchez at Colorado on Tuesday. With dangerous Andre Ethier at the plate and a runner on with one out in the eighth, Lopez came on for the lefty-on-lefty situation in which he typically excels and froze Ethier with a called third strike on a 2-2 pitch for what, at the time, appeared to be one of the biggest outs of the game.Cain's pain: Sergio Romo took over for Lopez after Ethier struck out and was greeted with a single by Kemp, prompting Bochy to bring on closer Brian Wilson for what would have been his first four-out save of the season. Wilson, however, gave up a two-run double to Uribe before Loney bounced an RBI single between second baseman Sanchez and first baseman Huff, who looked like he could have flagged it down but instead opted to head for first base, perhaps thinking Sanchez had a bead on the ball. Thus, Cain was charged with three runs for his 7 13 innings of three-hit work with three walks and seven strikeouts, and what should have been his fourth victory ended up being his fourth no-decision.Torture: Cody Ross. Three-run homer with two out in the ninth. Got heeeeeem!

Bullied by Bucks, Kings unable to match playoff intensity

Bullied by Bucks, Kings unable to match playoff intensity

SACRAMENTO -- The NBA learning curve is steep. On Wednesday night in Sacramento, the young Kings faced one of the league’s up and coming players and a team fighting for a playoff spot. The atmosphere was foreign and the Kings didn’t respond well in the 116-98 loss to the Bucks.

Milwaukee came out of the gate and bullied the Kings. They threw a young Sacramento team all over the court on their way to a 69 point half. To add to the insult, some of the Bucks veterans even taunted the Sacramento crowd as they shot a stunning 61.4 percent from the field before the intermission.

“I think we got pushed around a little bit in the first half,” rookie Skal Labissiere said. “But they’re trying to make the playoffs still. They’re trying to make the eighth spot. So we have to be a little bit more physical with them and not let them punk us around.”

What the Kings saw from the Bucks is the mindset of a team fighting for a playoff spot. Wednesday night’s contest is what you see in the tail end of a season when one team has something to play for and the other has gone with a youth movement.

“They’re playing physical, they’re not backing down from nobody,” Buddy Hield said. “They have something they’re playing for. Obviously we don’t right now because our season is out of reach.”

Sacramento’s veterans looked at the game as a learning experience for the younger players. They need exposure to this type of game late in the season. They need to see what the expectations will be in a year or two when the Kings hope to be in a similar situation.

“These guys have to go through it, they have to learn it and then hopefully when we make the playoffs in the coming years, they’ll be able to understand that it jumps to another level,” Garrett Temple said. “The first 50 games is one level, the the next 30 is another and that playoff is different animal.”

Building a winner usually comes in stages in the NBA. By the time you sneak into the playoffs, you have already come close once or twice and the first round matchups are usually against seasoned winning clubs.

That is something the Bucks will learn soon enough. With the win, they are now tied for the sixth spot in the Eastern Conference playoff chase, but nothing is certain. They currently sit a game out of the eight spot and just 2.5 from falling to ninth and missing the playoffs entirely.

If they squeak in, they will play either the Cleveland Cavaliers, Boston Celtics or Washington Wizards in Round 1.

Every game is magnified when you have something at stake late in a season and the Kings were never able to match the intensity of their opponent.

All-Star Giannis Antetokounmpo put on a show. The star forward dominated every player the Kings threw at him on his way to a 32-point, 13-rebounds, six-assist performance.

“People think I’m crazy to say that - if he gets a 3-point shot, he’ll be the best player in the league,” Temple said of Antetokounmpo. “He can penetrate, he has great court vision, can handle the ball, not to mention he’s 6-11 and a wiry strength that you don’t understand unless you’re play against him. He can literally play 1-5 in this NBA and he has a mismatch at every position.”

Labissiere drew the first look on Antetokounmpo and it didn’t take long to see that the rookie was overmatched by his opponent’s versatility. Willie Cauley-Stein had some success early in the second half, using his length and getting physical with the star forward, but the game was already decided.

It’s a process. With a youth movement comes games like the one against Milwaukee. All you can ask for is effort, which Sacramento has shown. Despite the team’s 3-11 record since the All-Star break, there is progress, especially from the core of first and second year players.

“They’re getting better and better,” Tyreke Evans said. “They’re still learning the game, but as they’re playing, they’re working hard. They’re working hard in practice, getting reps up. It’s going to take time, it’s not going to happen overnight. They’re going to have good games, they’re going to have bad games. You’ve got learn from it.”

Sacramento is in the middle of a seven game stretch against teams tuning up for the playoffs. The schedule doesn’t get any easier Friday when the Kings travel to Oracle Arena to face the Golden State Warriors. It’s another chance to learn on the fly.

Now the bullpen's veteran, Kontos picking up where Core Four left off


Now the bullpen's veteran, Kontos picking up where Core Four left off

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — On a rainy morning early in camp, George Kontos walked through the clubhouse at Scottsdale Stadium with an oversized envelope in his hand. Often times that’s bad news, the sign of a player who has been handed MRI results. For Kontos, it was a sign of his standing in the bullpen.

With the Core Four era officially over, Kontos has picked up where his longtime teammates left off. He has taken over for Javier Lopez as the Giant who organizes spread pools, squares, team golf tournaments and bullpen dinners. He has at times taken on Jeremy Affeldt’s role as a target of clubhouse jokes. When the Giants return home, it will be Kontos who takes Sergio Romo’s spot as the catcher for the first pitch.

“I wouldn’t mind doing that, so I’m sure that’s something I’ll do as well,” he said, noting that he caught Draymond Green and Metallica last season. “Whenever Sergio wasn’t available for some events they would ask me to do it.”

For the rest of the responsibilities, Kontos won’t have to be asked. With Lopez and Affeldt retired and Romo and Santiago Casilla pitching elsewhere, Kontos is all of a sudden the longest-tenured member of the bullpen, and it’s not particularly close.

Mark Melancon and Will Smith are in camp for the first time. Derek Law and Steven Okert are coming off rookie seasons. Josh Osich and Cory Gearrin have two seasons with the Giants and Hunter Strickland has three. Kontos is entering his sixth season in San Francisco. Not bad for a pitcher who shuttled repeatedly between San Francisco and Triple-A Fresno from 2012-2014. 

“I think it goes to show that hard work and doing your job and following the example of the guys who were here actually works,” Kontos said. “If you keep your head down and work hard and do your job, good things tend to happen.”

When Kontos first showed up in 2012, he was put between Lopez and Affeldt in the clubhouse. Every spring thereafter, Kontos was asked if he wanted to move to a different locker. He never did, and as Affeldt neared retirement, he saw in Kontos a player who could one day pick up the leadership baton for the bullpen.

“Most guys don’t really want that role, even if they have time. A lot of guys just want to pitch, but there’s so much more to a team than just pitching,” Affeldt said. “George has kind of always shown leadership in different ways. He was the guy that ran the hardest or worked out more than anyone else, and we always ripped on him for it, but that’s also a part of his drive to be the best and it shows the discipline that leaders have.”

At a recent event for sponsors, Kontos found that the ribbing isn’t limited to the clubhouse. “I guess I’m the new Affeldt,” he said, laughing, after taking a series of jabs during speeches from other members of the organization. That’s not a bad thing, not after a second-half slide during which Giants coaches and executives privately lamented the lack of energy and joy in the clubhouse. The original Affeldt believes the role is a key one.

“The reason you want to be able to be ripped on is that you want to show that to the younger guys,” Affeldt said. “If I don’t talk to you, I don’t like you. If I’m making fun of you, we’re just having fun. We’re ribbing like brothers.”

The back-and-forth can help a team get through the 162-game grind. While Kontos has grown comfortable in that respect, he has found new ways to grow on the field. 

“When he first got here he was predominantly a four-seam guy, and he two-seamed it a little and threw a lot of sliders,” pitching coach Dave Righetti said. “He can cut it now. He can still use his slider. He’s got a changeup and he threw a nice curveball last year. He’s adapted. He can keep pitching, and if he stays in shape, for quite a while. A lot of hitters are one-way type of guys now and George is able to do different things now to different guys. He’s done a hell of a job doing that.”

Kontos threw his four-seam fastball 44 percent of the time when he broke into the big leagues, but that dropped to 12 percent last season, per He threw his two-seamer a career-high 22 percent of the time last season, and his cutter — a pitch he didn’t prominently feature until 2014 — 33 percent. In his first full season with the Giants, 51 percent of Kontos’ pitches were sliders; last season it was 22 percent. Throw in the curveball and changeup and you’ve got a starter’s repertoire coming out of the bullpen. 

Kontos came into professional baseball as a starting pitcher, but he has quietly been one of the more effective relievers in the National League over the past three seasons, ranking 15th among NL relief pitchers with a 2.49 ERA. Over the past two years, he ranks in the top 20 in the league in relief outings (130) and innings (126 2/3).

That durability has put Kontos in an odd spot. The pitchers he learned from were late-innings guys, but Kontos has been viewed as a better fit for the sixth and seventh. He often comes on with a starter’s runners on base, and Bruce Bochy knows he can ask Kontos to warm up multiple times without worrying about him being down for the count. 

“He’s been a staff-saver,” said Righetti. 

That has led to a long career in orange and black. With tenure comes added responsibility, and in a rebuilding bullpen, Kontos is ready to fill in for role models who have since departed.

“With Javi gone now, it’s one of those things that whether you want it or not, you’re going to be one of the guys,” Affeldt said. “And he has the background to step up and do that leadership stuff.”