Blanco setting himself up for prime role with Giants

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Blanco setting himself up for prime role with Giants

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. Giants manager Bruce Bochy cant begin announcing his opening-day roster. Not with 18 days between now and the National Anthem at Arizona's Chase Field.

But ask himabout non-roster outfielder Gregor Blanco, and Bochy has a hard time containinghis excitement.

I cant give you anything definite, but I will say hesplayed as good a ball as anybody here this spring, Bochy said. Gregor hasreally swung it well, run the bases well. Were very excited about having him.

Samuel Morse couldnt have telegraphed it better.

A late injury or two can change the calculus. An unexpectedtrade discussion, too. But as it stands, Blanco, the speedy little 28-year-oldoutfielder from Venezuela, has earned a place with the 2012 Giants.

And maybe not just a place on the bench, either.

He leads the Giants with a .444 average (which also ranksseventh in the majors) and his seven stolen bases (in eight attempts) paceseveryone under the Florida and Arizona sunshine. He also ranks second in themajors with 10 runs.

Spring stats are meaningless, of course. But the manner in which Blanco is compiling them is not. He's scoring his runs in exactly the manner the Giantshope to support their pitchers this season always pushing for that extra base, whetherits going first to third, second to home or turning any momentary bobble intoan extra 90 feet.

Blanco didnt lose any momentum from the Venezuelan winterleague, where he was named MVP after leading all players in on-base percentage(.478), stolen bases (18) and runs scored (47) for Tiburones de la Guaira.

This is great for us to have him here, said young catcherHector Sanchez, who had his own banner winter for Tiburones to win the leaguesrookie of the year award. Hes the best leadoff hitter Ive ever seen.Everything he does, he does with energy.

Back in November, though, it was Sanchez and fellowVenezuelan Pablo Sandoval who brought the energy. They both made their ownrecruiting pitches to Blanco, who also was offered minor league contracts and spring training invitations from the Miami Marlins,Cincinnati Reds and Philadelphia Phillies.

I knew the things he can do, Sandoval said. I see itevery year in winter ball. You know what? I told him, Youll get anopportunity with us. You can run, throw, hit and catch. We need a guy likethat. Hes getting an opportunity in spring training and hes working hard.

Hes a great guy, too. You need a guy like that on yourteam. Winning an MVP as a leadoff hitter thats tough to do, really tough. Im excited hes here.

How would Sanchez describe Blancos performance in winterball?

Oh, oh, extraordinary, the 22-year-old catcher said. I am sohappy hes here. I helped him make that decision. Its probably the bestdecision he could make.

Said Blanco: I knew they had a great group of guys. I knewId be playing for a good team. Hector, Pablo, they really supported me.Everybody told me Id like it here, Id like my teammates. And I always likedthis team. The Giants have a good history, especially as a winning team.

I think Im a winner. I wanted to be a part of it.

Given his huge winter, the Giants were lucky that Blancomade his decision in November. They didnt need to see him win an MVP award to knowhe could be an asset. Their Triple-A coverage scouts identified his athleticismand his ability to get on base, vice president Bobby Evans said.

It was easy to discount the .196 and .203 averages he postedlast year for the Triple-A affiliates of the Kansas City Royals and WashingtonNationals. For one, Blanco was playing with an injured left wrist that requiredsurgery in June. For another, even swinging one-handed, he still managedon-base percentages of .384 and .335.

Blanco recently examined a photo of himself in the battersbox for Omaha. He was choking up three inches on the bat.

Thats the only way I could hit, he said. Its very hardto play like that. I never realized how much it would affect me.

Triple-A pitchers knew he was hurt, too. Yet Blanco stillfound a way to get aboard. Now that hes healthy, its been hard to keep himoff the basepaths.

I really feel good about myself, Blanco said. I had theinjury and I came back. Thats the biggest improvement. I really work hard forwhat I try to do. Last year, I lost 20 pounds. Now I am the kind of player Iwant to be.

Blanco, a left-handed hitter, still swings and misses with alarming frequency. Itsone of the major reasons he didnt stick with the Atlanta Braves, who developedhim and gave him an opportunity in 2008, when center fielder Mark Kotsay wentdown with an injury. Blanco ended up playing in 144 games, hitting .251 with a.366 on-base percentage in just more than 500 plate appearances.

He feels he is a smarter, more aggressive player now.

Bochy is letting me play and I really appreciate it,Blanco said. I always wanted to have that with a manager or a team. InAtlanta, it was different. They gave me an opportunity to play in the bigleagues and I really, really appreciate that always. But I was always stopped.I always believe I could steal bases.

Although the Giants will face a roster crunch, as every teamdoes every spring, its become clear that they need a true fourth outfielderbehind Melky Cabrera, Angel Pagan and Nate Schierholtz especially given Paganand Schierholtzs reputations for coming down with nagging injuries.

Pagan hasnt exactly dazzled this spring, either. And youdont have to delve too far into Giants history to find a non-roster invitee(Andres Torres) eventually taking a starting job from an established,higher-salaried player (Aaron Rowand).

Theres still 18 days go. For Blanco, thats just 18 more opportunities to put his game on full display.

The way Im playing now, I think this is me, he said. Itfeels great.

Latest round of bullpen auditions go poorly in Giants' 50th loss

Latest round of bullpen auditions go poorly in Giants' 50th loss

SAN FRANCISCO -- Practically speaking, the 50th loss is no different than the one before or the one after, but this sport is built on milestones, and this one came quickly.

The Giants lost their 50th game on August 12 last year. This season, it was clinched when Ryder Jones grounded out in his fourth career at-bat, handing the Mets a 5-2 win on June 24. 

Bruce Bochy called losing 50 of your first 77 games "hard to believe" and "embarrassing." Johnny Cueto, who went seven strong, said the reality was "hard and sad." Brandon Belt, who got Cueto off the hook for a loss, agreed with his manager.

"That's a pretty good word to use -- it is embarrassing to come out and lose every day, especially with the group of guys we have," Belt said. "When you're losing as much as this, it is embarrassing. We're trying to do whatever we can to turn this thing around."

Lately, that has meant changes to the roster. It is officially audition season, and in that respect, it was not a particularly inspiring day for the bullpen. The Giants felt they would have a better mix this year, but it hasn't played out. Instead, they're once again trying to find pieces for the next successful Giants bullpen.

With Hunter Strickland suspended and Derek Law in the minors, two young relievers, a middle-innings stalwart, and a newcomer pitched the final two frames. They gave up four runs.

Sam Dyson was the first on the mound in the eighth. Belt had homered a few minutes earlier, tying a good starter's duel. Dyson gave up a leadoff triple to Curtis Granderson and walked Asdrubal Cabrera before throwing two good sliders past Yoenis Cespedes for the strikeout. With two lefties coming up and the go-ahead run still on third, Bochy turned to Steven Okert. He immediately gave up a seeing-eye RBI single to Jay Bruce. Wilmer Flores doubled off George Kontos later in the frame to make it 3-1. 

In the ninth, Kyle Crick showed some of the wildness that kept him in the minors for seven years. He, too, gave up a leadoff triple, a sin you always pay for. A walk helped put another run into scoring position and a wild pitch extended the Mets’ lead to four. 

Before the game, Bochy talked of getting an extended look at Jones. He was 0-for-4 in his first big league game but he’ll be back out there tomorrow. It’s time to fight for a job, and the same holds true of some relievers who didn’t fare well Saturday. It is a group with a closer locked into a longterm deal and little else decided. 

Are Strickland or Law eighth-inning guys? Will Dyson be a worthwhile reclamation project? Will Kontos be back, and will he carve out a different role? Are Okert and Josh Osich capable of giving Bochy lefties he trusts? Is Crick’s improvement in Triple-A a sign of things to come? There are many questions to be answered over the next three months. 

“This is a good time for them, this is what players get up here for, to show what they can do,” Bochy said. “Because of our situation, we’re going to take a look at these guys and we know there are going to be growing pains.”

Instant Analysis: Five takeaways from Giants' 50th loss of the season

Instant Analysis: Five takeaways from Giants' 50th loss of the season

BOX SCORE

SAN FRANCISCO — The promotion of an intriguing prospect can bring a certain buzz to the ballpark. It didn’t last long. 

The debut of Ryder Jones came in the latest flat performance from the Giants, who collapsed late and fell 5-2 to the Mets. The loss was their 50th of the season. They did not lose their 50th game last season until August 12. 

With the score tied in the eighth, Curtis Granderson crushed a leadoff triple into the alley. Sam Dyson walked the next batter and then whiffed Yoenis Cespedes, but Jay Bruce greeted Steven Okert with an RBI single to right. It kept going poorly from there. 

Here are five things to know from a cool day by the water … 

—- Jones grounded out to second in his first at-bat and then flied out to center, grounded out to first, and grounded out to second. He had one chance in the field, starting a double play that ended the second inning.  

—- Johnny Cueto seems to have turned a corner. Over his past two starts, he has allowed just three earned runs over 14 innings. Whether they trade him or not, the Giants certainly could use a nice little hot streak for the next six weeks. 

—- A few seconds after Bruce Bochy shook Cueto’s hand, Brandon Belt got him off the hook for a loss. He hit the first pitch of the bottom of the seventh into the seats in left-center, tying the game. The homer was Belt’s 14th. He’s on pace for 29. 

—- The Mets got eight one-run innings out of Jacob deGrom, who is quietly the most reliable of a star-studded rotation. He struck out seven and gave up just four hits. 

—- If Madison Bumgarner wants another Silver Slugger Award, he’ll have to chase down deGrom, who hit a homer in his last start. His single in the third was his 10th hit, and he finished the day with a .294 average.