Baggs' Instant Replay: Pirates 3, Giants 1

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Baggs' Instant Replay: Pirates 3, Giants 1

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PITTSBURGH Back in April, when James McDonalds single was the only thing that separated Matt Cain from a perfect game, the Pirates pitcher expressed surprising remorse.

Wonder what hes feeling now?

McDonald injured the Giants in a much different way on a brutally hot Saturday afternoon at PNC Park. He pitched masterfully over seven innings, mixing a boring fastball with breaking pitches on the black while striking out 10. Ryan Vogelsong could not match him as the Giants lost 3-1 to even the series.
Starting pitching report

A Giant has not entered the All-Star break as the NL ERA leader since Atlee Hammaker (1.70) in 1993. Vogelsong (7-4) entered the day with the best mark in the league, at 2.26.

By the end of Saturdays proceedings, Vogelsong stood at 2.36 one point behind the Reds Johnny Cueto, who will start on Sunday. McDonald is right behind them both, at 2.37.

What else do Cueto, Vogelsong and McDonald have in common, other than ranking 1-2-3 in the NL in ERA? All three were snubbed for the NL All-Star team.

The Pirates scratched Vogelsong for a run in the third inning, when McDonald led off with a walk and scored from first base on Neil Walkers double. Michael McKenry, the Pirates backup catcher, hit his seventh homer of the season a solo shot in the fourth.

The Pirates plated a third run in the sixth when Andrew McCutchen singled and scored on Pedro Alvarezs opposite-field double. The drive missed being a home run by a foot or two, as it struck high off the wall in the left field corner.

Vogelsong still fought through the heat and a 27-minute rain delay to provide a quality start for the 15th time in 16 assignments. He has completed at least six innings every time hes taken the mound this season.

Bullpen report

Santiago Casilla was unavailable because of his blister, but the Giants didnt need him. At least they were able to get a day of rest for interim-interim closer Sergio Romo.

At the plate

The Giants were sunk the moment the Pirates put a run on the board. McDonald entered with an 8-3 record, and the Pirates were shut out in all three of his losses including that April game at AT&T Park against Cain.

McDonald faced one more than the minimum in the first five innings. They broke through for a run in the sixth when Gregor Blanco hit a two-out single, advanced on a wild pitch and Ryan Theriot came through with an RBI single in a terrific at-bat. He was down 0-2 before working the count full, then grounded his hit through the middle.
In field

Third baseman Pablo Sandoval ranged to make a nice play that saved a run in the sixth inning and Blanco made a sliding catch in the third, but the Pirates flashed the leather when it most mattered.

After Blanco reached on a bunt single in the ninth, shortstop Clint Barmes turned into a vacuum cleaner on a pair of grounders. Buster Posey flung his helmet after right fielder Garrett Jones ran down a deep drive in the right field corner.

Attendance

The Pirates announced 34,545 paid on Sauna Day at the ballpark.

Up next

The Giants finish their road trip and the unofficial first half with an afternoon game under sweltering skies at PNC Park. Tim Lincecum (3-9, 6.08) will try to keep from melting down against right-hander A.J. Burnett (9-2. 3.74). First pitch is at 1:35 p.m. EDT.

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.”