Ballparks a factor for Giants' rotation in NLDS

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Ballparks a factor for Giants' rotation in NLDS

The As situation is so day-to-day-to-hour that analyzing their chances almost seems a pointless exercise. Tell us how they get through the fourth inning today, and well have a different answer for you thats how uncertain it is.But well give it a try. They need not to get their hats blocked on this road trip, or theyre in deep and abiding puppy leavings.For the Giants, on the other hand, the choices are down to a precious couple: Washington, or Cincinnati. And frankly, they should prefer Washington.
This, despite the fact that the Nationals have beaten them five of six times (as opposed to the Reds far more pedestrian four of six). And this, despite the fact that Washington has slightly better pitching and hitting than Cincinnati.No, we suspect that the real difference between the two teams is in the geography of the ballparks. Nationals Park is a slightly better than average hitters park this year, while The Great American Ball Park is the bandboxiest bandbox in the history of modern American bandboxes.It is in keeping with the proud tradition of Cincinnati ballparks. Crosley Field was a tiny little slip of a thing, and when it was replaced by Riverfront Stadium, one of those immense circular carbuncles, it still played as a hitters park.But the new Cincy digs are exceedingly friendly to fly-ball hitters, and cruel to fly-ball pitchers.Now guess what the Giants have in abundance.Of the 49 National League starting pitchers by innings, no Giant gives up more ground ball outs than fly ball outs; the closest to neutral is Madison Bumgarner, at a pretty damned neutralesque 0.99 ground-ball-to-fly-ball ratio.It drops significantly after that. Tim Lincecum ranks 23rd at 0.92, the slumping Ryan Vogelsong 34th at 0.82, Barry Zito 40th at 0.77, and Matt Cain is 47th at 0.66.In other words, if all the games of the first-round series were in Cincinnati, the Giants might well be screwed.But they arent, and Cain will almost certainly pitch in the opener at home whether it is against Washington or Cincinnati, which means he wont be affected by the cruelties of the dimensions, the hitting background, or the Ohio Rivers meteorological quirks until a fifth game. He pitches in the San Francisco International Airport, so hell be fine, at least to start.But now comes the harder part for Bruce Bochy whether to pitch Zito second so he can avoid Cincinnati entirely, and leave the heavier lifting to Lincecum and Bumgarner, who are better than average on the GBFB ratio board, or to go in order of second-half effectiveness, pitching Lincecum second and let Bumgarner go third and Zito for a potentially decisive fourth game in the miniaturized ballpark.These all end up being decisions based on logic and matchups and rational thought, which leaves out most of us, but if the ballpark preys heavily on Bruce Bochys mind, Zito should spend his time in Cincinnati as a loyal cheerleader, available only if a game goes, say, 20 innings or so.Which is why Washington may turn out to be the more clement match. The Nationals and Reds have almost equivalent numbers, and there is no way of effectively quantifying the icing of Stephen Strasburg on the rest of the rotation, let alone the team. The sample size is simply too small to draw conclusions.So maybe your rooting interest hinges on something as simply as fly balls in the Ohio sky. Maybe youll have to defer that dream series with Dusty Baker and the ghosts of Ought-Two for an extra series. Either that, or you are so confident in your teams pitching that you think location doesnt matter.Well, in that case, youre probably wrong. Location is everything, and in so many ways.Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.com

Giants spring training Day 11: Could Ty Blach open season in bullpen?

Giants spring training Day 11: Could Ty Blach open season in bullpen?

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Bruce Bochy announced a slight tweak to the spring schedule on Thursday: Matt Cain won't follow Madison Bumgarner on the mound in the opener; he'll likely start the second game, with Ty Blach backing him up.

The Giants have made no secret of the fact that Cain is the perfect-world pick to be the fifth starter this season. Is there a world where Blach could still be in the big leagues?

"Sure, I could see that," manager Bruce Bochy said.

Bochy called Blach a potentially good "swing guy." If he can't crack the rotation this season, Blach may see time as a long reliever or even a short-stint lefty. With Will Smith (elbow) on a tight timeline to get ready for opening day, the lefty help could be needed.

"He's confident, he's a strike-thrower, he has really good command and he's a good athlete," Bochy said, noting the traits that allow Blach to be versatile.

The 26-year-old had already proven to be flexible. A week after he threw eight shutout innings against the Dodgers, Blach came out of the bullpen at Wrigley Field and threw 1 1/3 hitless innings. Two days later he threw two more scorleless innings out of the bullpen. 

Blach said he was at first a little worried about the transition, but he talked to Cain, Jake Peavy, Chris Heston and Chris Stratton about the best ways to adjust to a switch to the bullpen. He ultimately didn't have any problems warming up quickly as a reliever.

"It was pretty similar, you just try to go out there the same way and execute pitches," Blach said.

Blach made the quick transition look easy, and that might have opened up a second path to a roster spot. 

Elsewhere on the final day before the games start ...

STOCK WATCH: Tyler Beede will pitch Sunday, and there are going to be a lot of eyes on him. Beede is probably the No. 7 starter at this point, and when you're in that spot, you're just about guaranteed a decent chunk of starts. Injuries will open doors.

"He's looked real sharp this spring," Bochy said. "He's coming off a great year. He's got great stuff, great makeup. He’s a smart pitcher along with having good command of all of his pitches. He knows what he’s doing out there. He’s one of those guys on a fast pace.”

ICYMI: Speaking of guys on a fast pace, here’s my feature on Christian Arroyo

SPRING OPENER: Buster Posey won’t catch Bumgarner on Friday, but Brandon Crawford will be behind him. Crawford is going to get plenty of time early on to prepare for the WBC. Posey makes his spring debut Saturday.

LIGHTER SIDE: Just about every day, a rookie has to get up in front of the team and do something embarrassing. Thursday’s entertainment: Jae-gyun Hwang, the Korean third baseman, dancing to “Gangnam Style.”

QUOTABLE: I think Mike Morse was the best podcast guest so far. We talked about his wedding negotiations with Bobby Evans, his friendship with Hunter Pence, the photo he took with a trophy right after the World Series, why it’s SF-or-bust, and much more. You can stream it here or download it on iTunes here. 

The last question for Morse: Will he use “Take on Me” this year?

“If this is going to be the last time I play baseball, I’m going to have that song every at-bat,” he said. 

Giants keep Christian Arroyo on fast track to big leagues

Giants keep Christian Arroyo on fast track to big leagues

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Christian Arroyo’s fingers flew across the face of his iPhone in a scene that would not be out of place in any dorm room across the country. For a moment, he was simply a young man facing an online opponent on an app, but Arroyo is far from your average 21-year-old.

Arroyo was sitting in front of a locker where a No. 22 Giants jersey hangs as a sign of what the organization thinks of the infielder. A former MVP, Jimmy Rollins, dressed a few feet away. On a flatscreen TV hanging from the ceiling, a feed showed Brandon Belt, Joe Panik and Brandon Crawford practice bunting. That group is one Arroyo hopes to soon join.

“When you get drafted by a team, your goal is to be a guy that stays around for a while,” he said. “I love it here, and to be one of those guys down the road would be awesome. There’s a lot of work to be done to get to that point, and I understand it is a business and some things work out and some things don’t, but I would definitely love to be one of those guys.”

The Giants believe strongly that he will be. It’s why they ultimately felt they had coverage when Matt Duffy — once the fourth member of that group — was traded away in the seconds before the 2016 deadline. It’s why Arroyo is wearing Will Clark’s old number. It’s why Bruce Bochy broke into a wide smile when asked about Arroyo’s month in camp last spring, when he had 10 hits — including two homers — in 18 at-bats.

“Wow — I mean, he had an impressive spring, to the point where guys are going, ‘Maybe he can help us (now),’” Bochy said. “But he needed to go to (Double-A) Richmond and play. He’s not on our radar to make the club (this spring), but what he did last spring opened a lot of eyes.”

The Giants would like Arroyo to get a full season at Triple-A and general manager Bobby Evans said they don’t feel pressure to have their top hitting prospect in the opening day lineup in 2018. Eduardo Nuñez is in the final year of his contract, but Conor Gillaspie is under team control through next season. Still, Arroyo could be a fit as soon as this summer. 

“We’ll let his development dictate the pace of his rise to the big league level,” Evans said. 

The front office will continue to move Arroyo around the diamond in Triple-A, but his future is at third base and that’s where he’ll get most of his time this season. To make the transition, Arroyo — who was drafted as a shortstop — has at times turned to a player who was once blocking him. When bench coach Ron Wotus started working him in at third last spring, Arroyo started following the lead of the incumbent. 

“I was with Duffy on the back field and we were doing our infield work,” he said. “I started turning double plays and he said, ‘Hey, man, you’ve got to slow it down over here. When you’re here, you have time. If you get a double-play ball just deliver a good throw to Joe. It’s not really the speed, it’s the area that you throw it, and let Joe turn two.’

“He’s a Gold Glove second baseman,” Arroyo continued. “He’s going to turn it every time. Once I started to realize that and started to slow everything down over there, my feet were under me and my angles on the throws were right.”

Arroyo continued to work on slowing the game down during his season in Richmond, where he played 48 games at third base, 48 at shortstop, and 19 at second. He is learning the nuances of positioning, and another spring in big league camp — where Wotus regularly helps veterans grow by leaps and bounds — will only help.

At the plate, the focus is on consistently having the right approach. Arroyo showed it last spring, when he fell behind 0-2 during a televised night game and then calmly worked a full count. When he got a cutter he could handle, Arroyo pulled a two-run homer over the bullpen. Several Giants compared the approach that night to Buster Posey’s, and during the season it was continually reinforced.

“When (team executives) would come into (Richmond) and you talk to them, they tell you very specifically the exact plan for the big league level,” Arroyo said. “'Hey, get on base, keep it moving, and make stuff happen.' I understand that when I’m making stuff happen I’m not hitting home runs, I’m hitting doubles and taking walks and taking the extra base. 

“Eventually, hopefully, when I grow into my body and get a little bit stronger down the road, doubles turn into home runs and I can make things happen that way. But for now I understand what kind of player I am at this age and I’m just going to try to stay consistent at what I do and let the other things fall into place.” 

That's the attitude the Giants want Arroyo to continue to take. It’s easy for a young player to get caught up in prospect rankings or homers and RBI, but the numbers that mean the most to the Giants are the ones on Arroyo’s driver’s license. Arroyo hit .274 with a .316 on-base percentage and .373 slugging last season, but he did so in a league where the average player was more than three years older.

“When you’re playing Double-A at the age of 21 and you have 36 doubles and good defense, it stands out,” Evans said. “We challenged him by moving him around, that’s a lot to take, and he had a good year. He has a good head on his shoulders and a good approach at the plate, and he’s only going to get stronger as he grows into a man’s body. Now he’s looking at Triple-A at the age of 22 — and he’ll still be the youngest player.”

Arroyo won’t mind that. The jump to Double-A last season was a challenge, and he was happy the Giants gave it to him. He’s ready for another jump, another season of trying to stay consistent against older and more experienced players. As Arroyo sat in the clubhouse Tuesday waiting for the on-field workout to start, one veteran infielder after another walked through the door. Nuñez, Gillaspie, Rollins, Aaron Hill and others will get most of the time at third base this spring. There are limited at-bats for the prospects, but Bochy doesn’t need to see much more from Arroyo — who is 14-for-26 in two springs — to know what’s on the way. 

“He showed he can handle the bat, third base, or wherever we put him,” Bochy said. “It’s just a matter of time with him.”