Baggs' Instant Replay: Giants 7, Rockies 1

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Baggs' Instant Replay: Giants 7, Rockies 1

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SAN FRANCISCO -- Matt Cain does just fine in the pre-Autumn chill. He has a 0.00 postseason ERA to prove it.And theres nothing like a Panda hat to keep those ears warm.Cain and Pablo Sandoval combined to edge the Giants ever closer to their second NL West title in three years and the right to labor into those crisp nights of the postseason. Cain, looking every bit like a Game 1 starter, held the Rockies to a run on four hits in eight innings to claim his career-best 15th victory. And the Kung Fu Panda was jubilant after rediscovering his chop, ending a home run drought of more than two months with a three-run shot in the first inning.The Giants reduced their magic number to five with a 7-1 victory over the Colorado Rockies at AT&T Park.Starting pitching reportA Giants starting pitcher has completed seven innings just three times in the teams last 24 games. Those outings belong to Cain, Cain and Cain.There remains internal consternation about the shape and performance of the Giants rotation, but Cain (15-5) is the least of anyones concerns. He scattered four walks and struck out eight while becoming the sixth NL pitcher to reach 15 victories.Already the author of a perfect game and the NLs starting pitcher in the All-Star Game, Cain appears primed for the postseason. He didnt allow a runner into scoring position until the fifth inning, when the Rockies reached on a pair of soft singles and scored a run on a sacrifice fly.Cain began to miss locations while walking Rockies leadoff man Dexter Fowler for the third time, and Josh Rutledge drew another free pass to load the bases. But Cain did not give in when Carlos Gonzalez fouled off a pair of two-strike pitches. The right-hander came back with another 2-2 change-up and Gonzalez rolled it over to second base to end the threat.Cain retired nine of his last 10 hitters to get through eight innings on 116 pitches.Bullpen reportIt was a rare night indeed. Giants manager Bruce Bochy used just one of his 14 relievers, as Jose Mijares pitched a 1-2-3 ninth inning. George Kontos got warm. Everyone else had the night off, courtesy of Cain.The Giants played in two hours, 57 minutes.At the plateSandoval had gone 161 at-bats over more than two months since his last home run July 8. He broke the streak by hitting a pitch that nobody else couldve driven out of the park.Tyler Chatwood threw a 1-2 slider and yanked it further inside than catcher Wilin Rosario wanted it. But it wasnt in a safe place for Sandoval, who got his bat out in front on the ankle-high pitch and clanked it off the pole above the right field arcade.Sandoval gave a jolly flip of his bat as he rounded the bases, then descended the dugout to a smattering of high fives -- and a mirthful, mosh-pit style celebration with injured closer Brian Wilson.The three-run shot came after Angel Pagan singled and Marco Scutaro doubled for his 174th hit of the season, matching his career high.It was just the 23rd home run for the Giants in 74 games at AT&T Park and just the third in which more than one runner was on base. Buster Posey and Hunter Pence own the other two three-run shots this seasonChatwood had to be ready to throw his glove in the dirt and quit after Sandoval reached out while hitting a single on an outside change-up in the third. He singled again on a first-pitch slider from Adam Ottavino in the fifth. And then Sandoval, on a busted hit and run, stole his first base of the season. He took third when Rosarios throw went wide and bounded into center field.His third hit started another three-run rally. Hunter Pence singled on a spinning chopper that was as effective as a drop shot at the net, Brandon Belt hit an RBI double and Gregor Blanco served a two-strike, two-run single to right field.It was Blancos third hit of the game, too. He and Sandoval were 6-for-6 at that stage.In fieldCain did well at the plate while executing a sacrifice bunt. He reached on an infield single, too. But his hardest hit ball of the night was a rocket down the line that Rockies first baseman Tyler Colvin somehow snagged with a terrific diving effort.AttendanceThe Giants announced 41,292 paid on Polynesian Heritage Night. Who knew you could pull together a look with fleece and hula skirts?Up nextThe Giants complete a very profitable season series with the Colorado Rockies with the finale of a four-game set Thursday afternoon. Barry Zito (12-8, 4.21), who threw a shutout at Coors Field in his 2012 debut, will look to provide a solid bookend start against Colorado. Hell oppose left-hander Jorge De La Rosa, who is making his season debut after undergoing Tommy John surgery last year.

Giants spring training Day 7: Rule change should help Bochy

Giants spring training Day 7: Rule change should help Bochy

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — On one of the many nights last season when his bullpen imploded, Bruce Bochy nearly put a catcher on the mound. Trevor Brown ended up playing an inning of third base on June 28 as the Giants gave up eight runs over the final two innings in a brutal loss to the A’s, and he said this week that he was told he was the next man up on the mound. 

That night was an odd one, as a tired bullpen was waiting for Sergio Romo to get activated off a rehab assignment and trying to get by without long reliever Chris Stratton, who had thrown 57 pitches out of the ‘pen the night before. The bench was also short because Joe Panik was about to be put on the concussion DL.

Bochy hopes he doesn’t have to deal with such a situation this season, and not just because the bullpen should be much improved. The disabled list lasts 10 days now, not 15, and Bochy is thrilled with the new rule.

“The DL thing, I really like it,” he said. “You get caught in that gray area so often.” 

Bochy met with league officials on Saturday to go over some of the rule changes. DL stints can now be made retroactive just three days, but it’s still a vast improvement overall. 

“With (position) players and pitchers it’s going to make it easier to DL guys,” Bochy said. “If you’re looking at (starting) pitchers, they could miss just one start.”

The Giants have often played a man or more short, trying to get by day-by-day to give a position player or starter time to heal. Around camp, this could be called the Angel Pagan Rule, as the former Giants outfielder often missed a week or so before officially going on the DL. At times, Bochy has been patient with players like Buster Posey and Hunter Pence, knowing that even if they missed a week, keeping them off the DL could still earn the Giants seven or eight games with a big bat back in the lineup. If a future diagnosis is that a player will miss a week, it’ll be much easier to swallow putting him on the 10-day DL than it was for the 15-day. Likewise, the Giants will take advantage of the change if a pitcher will have to miss a start. 

Bochy has said often that he would like every reliever to go on the DL during the season to freshen up. That’ll make more sense now, and it should keep the Giants from having to play as many games where the bullpen is gassed and a backup catcher is preparing to pitch. For guys like Stratton — a versatile pitcher on the 40-man roster — it should also lead to increased trips up to the big leagues to fill gaps. 

INJURY UPDATE: Pence (side muscle) took 25 swings during a live BP session in the cage and Bochy said he’s doing much better. That was about the only significant activity Sunday. Once again, the workout was rained out. Bochy said the Giants have enough time to get guys ready for the Cactus League opener on Feb. 24, but they’ll likely hold some big-name pitchers out of the early games. Brandon Crawford and Posey will get plenty of early starts to prepare for the WBC. 

PROSPECT WATCH: If the early games are turned over to prospects, Dan Slania will be an interesting guy to watch. Slania is listed at 6-foot-5 and 275 pounds, so he always had the look of an imposing reliever. But his greatest success last season came after a surprise move to the rotation. 

Slania, a 2013 fifth-round pick out of Notre Dame, got a call on his 24th birthday telling him to prepare to start because of an injury in Richmond’s rotation. He had not started a game since high school, but his four-pitch mix worked. He had a 5.32 ERA out of the bullpen but it dropped to 1.48 in 10 starts for the Flying Squirrels. In two Triple-A starts, he struck out 14 over 13 innings while allowing just eight hits and two runs. The Giants put him on their 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft. 

“He had a great year last year,” Bochy said. “He’s in camp for a reason. He’s got great stuff and a good makeup.”

RULE CHANGE: One more thing that came out of that rules meeting: Managers who are out of challenges now have to wait until the eighth inning to ask an umpire to look at a play.

QUOTABLE: “We know he’s better off taking some days. We talked about it (with him). He agrees that it’ll help him.” Bochy on Pence’s workload. The right fielder is coming off two injury-marred seasons, and the Giants have no intention of even trying to get him back to his Iron Man days. 

Tomlinson still a fit as Giants put bench together

Tomlinson still a fit as Giants put bench together

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The “options game” can be a cruel one. It can also be one of the most important parts of spring training. 

If two players are relatively even at the end of camp but only one can be optioned to the minors, he’s usually the man left out. Giants officials have already made reference to this several times in discussing left field, where Jarrett Parker — who is out of options — would surely be claimed off waivers if the Giants try to sneak him back to the minors before Opening Day. Mac Williamson, on the other hand, can be shuttled back and forth. 

The same holds true for Kelby Tomlinson, and while it was easy during the first week of camp to see him as the odd man out, manager Bruce Bochy said that’s not the case. What do all the veteran infielders mean for the young one already in-house?

“It hasn’t affected anything for Kelby, really,” Bochy said. “It’s all about competition for spots on this team.”

Tomlinson played 54 games in 2015 and 52 a year ago, but the Giants put a clear emphasis this offseason on finding backup infielders. Jimmy Rollins, Jae-gyun Hwang, Orlando Calixte and Gordon Beckham were among those brought in before camp, and Aaron Hill arrived on the fourth day. Sure, Ehire Adrianza — who was seemingly perpetually out of options — is no longer around, but if the Giants carry just two backup infielders, one of them will almost certainly be Conor Gillaspie. 

Tomlinson isn’t bothered by the offseason of additions. He said he can take knowledge away from six weeks spent with guys he grew up watching.

“Rollins’ prime was right in my later high school years,” he said, smiling. “I’ve got a lot of guys to learn from and watch. It’s a little of both (a competition and learning experience). We’re all fighting for the same job, but we’re still on the same team and we’re all trying to learn from each other and help each other.”

Tomlinson is the incumbent, and the Giants certainly know all about his speed and ability to play all over the field (he continued to take fly balls this winter, just in case). They also now know that Tomlinson adds something that’s needed on any bench. Last season, he emerged as one of Bochy’s most reliable pinch-hitters. 

Tomlinson’s seven pinch-hits were tied for second on the team after Gillaspie’s 11. He was 7-for-17 in a pinch, adding three walks. Tomlinson’s simple swing and up-the-middle approach have proven perfect for important spots. He’s a .315 career hitter with runners in scoring position, a .373 hitter in situations baseball-reference deems “late and close,” and a .367 hitter in “high leverage” spots.

“I’m just trying to compete up there every at-bat, especially in that pinch-hitting role,” Tomlinson said. “It’s a grind, but that makes it fun when you give the team a quality at-bat. Even if it’s not a hit, you go up there and try to see five pitches and have a good at-bat.”

Tomlinson has given the Giants plenty of them over parts of two seasons. With Brandon Crawford headed for the World Baseball Classic, he is sure to see increased time this spring, and while the options game or non-roster list might catch up to him, the Giants haven’t forgotten what they already have. 

“He gives us versatility,” Bochy said, “So he’s in the mix, too.”