Can't hit a lick, you say? Not concerning Crawford

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Can't hit a lick, you say? Not concerning Crawford

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Brandon Crawford spent less than 10nights at home in the Bay Area this offseason. He was such a vagabond, he got marriedin Hawaii and had the honeymoon in Jamaica.

That was her idea, Crawford said.But Crawford carries a smart phone in his pocket. So hecouldnt island-hop away from all those preconceived notions about him.
If you summarized every article sizing up the Giants as theyenter the spring, it would include some version of the following: Youngshortstop Crawford is a talented glove man. Pity he cant hit worth a lick.Well, yeah, I see the articles, Crawford said. I mean,Im on Twitter. But if I let it affect me, Id be screwed.The Giants do not believe they will be screwed at such acritical position. Although they seldom hand jobs to players with such a shorttrack record, Crawford is not trying to win a place this spring. Manager BruceBochy reiterated that the 25-year-old needs no audition to claim an everydayrole in the next six weeks.We plan on putting him out there on Opening Day, Bochy toldme. Spring training, for the most part, is the time to prepare for the season.It does play a role in some decisions and it doesnt mean you dont change, butwe plan on Brandon being our shortstop.Crawford memorably launched a grand slam for his first bigleague hit May 27 at Milwaukee. Thus ended the fireworks show. He finished witha .204 average, a .288 on-base percentage and a .296 slugging percentage whileplaying in 66 games (53 starts). His offensive struggles led to his demotion atthe end of July (although a blindfolded Crawford might have hit better thanover-the-hill Orlando Cabrera, the new acquisition that replaced him).Still, Crawford at no point appeared overmatched at theplate. He never struck out three times in a game. He only had four games inwhich he struck out twice. And when he made a subtle change in his mechanics inSeptember, raising his hands a little higher, he started to find a more directpath to hit the fastball.I hit a lot this offseason, so I think my swing is ready togo, Crawford said. I took those changes into the (Arizona) Fall League, soIm just just following up on that and making sure it still feels good.As for the chatter that his bat doesnt matter?It makes me work harder, he said, without hesitation. Idont really look into it a whole lot. Just approach every at-bat the same waywhether theyre writing good things or bad things.Bochy said there have been many times he worried about oneof his players paying too much attention to negative press. But he doesntconcern himself with Crawford.You know, not with Brandon, Bochy said. I think he showedhis mental toughness last year in how he dealt with everything and didnt letit affect him. I love his attitude. He wants to take advantage of this. Heknows its a great opportunity. Brandon has a great way about him. Having aneven-keel attitude through all this will benefit him.Steve Decker, now the Giants organizational hittingcoordinator, saw Crawfords steady attitude while managing him at several stopsin the minor leagues. Decker also knows Crawfords swing better than anyone. Hehosted the Pleasanton Foothill High alumnus at his home near Salem, Ore., afterthe 2010 season for an intensive hitting clinic.Hes one of the coolest, calmest cats Ive been around,Decker said. If anybody can handle it emotionally, its Brandon.But can he handle major league pitching?You know, thats really jumping the gun for people to sayhe cant hit, Decker said. He had some really good numbers in A-ball and thenhad some injuries. Hes still learning.I can simplify everything for you, Decker continued. Whenhe becomes a really good fastball hitter, hell make a lot of money. If hemisses the fastball, hell be a defensive hitter and hell have to hit thepitchers location and the pitchers selection, and the numbers wont be asconsistent. Really, thats it.Heres what its about: control your stride length, get thebarrel to the ball and strike zone awareness. Does he stay in his zone? Does hehit his pitch when he gets it? Its as simple as that. But as far asoverhauling his mechanics? No way. Doesnt need it. This is a guy who works hisbutt off and is a quality person that you pull for. Hes a quality Giant andyou want him to be successful because he can really help this organization withhis defense.No, the Giants dont expect Crawford to contend for theSilver Slugger award. They understand that they rushed his development, jumpinghim from A-ball out of necessity last season. Now they are hoping to protecthim as much as possible, which means hitting him in the No. 8 spot and shieldinghim from tougher left-handed pitchers. Veteran infielder Ryan Theriot, aright-handed hitter, was brought on board for that reason, primarily.An eight hole hitter is about strike zone awareness, nothow good of a hitter you are, Decker said. If you can get on base via bunt,walk or single and have a .340 on-base percentage as a No. 8 guy, youre helpingthe team. Youre turning the lineup over and getting the pitcher up to bat. Howmuch does that have to do with swing mechanics? No, it has to do with vision andcontrolling the strike zone. Its about having a solid plan as a hitter. Itsnot just going up there to freelance and try to hit the pitch in every zone. Thatstrue of any young hitters development and Brandon is no different.Crawford said his biggest problem last season was theat-bats I threw away by swinging at borderline pitches and rolling it over. Iwas putting the ball in play but it was a weak or routine ground ball. Maybe Icould have waited for a better pitch and drove it a little better.The stats back him up. Crawford had a .228 average on ballsin play. The overall NL average was .296.Thats a fairly extreme gulf. Luck can explain a bit of it,too.Yeah, there were some lineouts in there, he said.Crawford didnt stay grounded over the winter. After theFall League and his nuptials to Jalynne Dantzscher, a formerUCLA gymnast, and then a whole lot of time at 30,000 feet between Kona and OchoRios, the Giants asked Crawford to attend the leagues rookie development campin Virginia. He went anyway, without protest.They tell you what to expect in the bigleagues, Crawford said. Id already been there 94 days.Its easy to forget, but during none of those94 days did Crawford get to take the field with Buster Posey, his pal from the2008 draft class. Crawford was still rehabbing a broken finger at Single-A SanJose at Bakersfield on May 25, when Posey got blasted in a home-platecollision. Mike Fontenot injured his groin in the same game.I thought I would be going to Triple-AFresno, Crawford said.He went to the big leagues instead. Crawfordsgrand slam came two days after Poseys injury, and might have been theadrenaline needle to the heart that helped the Giants hold it together for afew more months.The last time I played with him was in theFall League two years ago, Crawford said. So Im looking forward to this.Its going to be fun.

Giants spring training Day 16: Rollins IDs similarities between Kershaw, Bumgarner

Giants spring training Day 16: Rollins IDs similarities between Kershaw, Bumgarner

PEORIA, Ariz. — Two years ago, Jimmy Rollins spent a season playing shortstop behind Clayton Kershaw. On Tuesday, he lined up behind Madison Bumgarner. 

Rollins is one of the few big leaguers who has shared a clubhouse with the two left-handed aces, so during a recent interview, I asked him to compare Kershaw and Bumgarner. One trait stood out. 

“When it’s game day, (Kershaw) is all on,” Rollins said. “It’s intense, it’s his job, it’s his game, it’s his mound — almost a ‘Don’t get a reliever up’ type of mentality. Playing against MadBum, it was the same thing. When he took the mound he expected himself to go nine. ‘I’m not turning the ball over,’ and when he did, it’s like, ‘Alright, I get it.’ Not willingly, but more reluctantly.”

Rollins was the everyday shortstop for the Dodgers in 2015. Two years later, he’s trying to secure a much different role. Rollins, 38, is in the mix to win a utility infielder job, and he’s off to a decent start. He has had good at-bats over the first week and on Tuesday he showed the arm is still there on a relay throw from center. The Giants will move him around quite a bit this spring, with second base likely to be the biggest challenge for a player who has spent most his life standing at shortstop. Manager Bruce Bochy said Rollins will start at second on Thursday. 

Rollins hopes he has many more days behind Bumgarner. He certainly has had more than enough time against him. Rollins is 7-for-32 against Bumgarner, with no extra-base hits or walks, and 10 strikeouts. 

“I swung at a two-strike pitch that Madison threw in L.A. and I was like, you know what, I’m going to take a shot at a fastball,” Rollins said. “He threw a curveball and the ball bounced two feet in front of the plate and I’m just swinging like I’m trying to hit a home run. He stuck me out. ‘Alright, well. I gave it a shot and that didn’t work out. Don’t ever do that again.’ Sometimes you have those matchups that you can’t figure a guy and he was that for me. 

“He has a lot of deception with his move, stepping over, sideways-slinging, but he has good control. He can backdoor a curveball when he wants to. He can cross-fire and bag you up.”

Rollins talked much more about facing the Giants and Bumgarner during the interview, which aired on my podcast today. You can stream it here or download it on iTunes here. 

GAME RECAP: Bumgarner had a seven-pitch first inning but gave up two runs in the second. He got his work in, as they say … Mark Melancon made his second appearance of the spring. It’s six up, six down so far … Josh Osich had another wild outing, walking two and giving up an RBI single … Chris Marrero, who hit a walk-off in the opener, scorched a two-run single off the wall in dead center. He was held to just a single because he tripped rounding first. Still, another good display of his power.

PROSPECT WATCH: Ray Black, the 100 mph man, walked one and struck out one in his debut. He sat 95-96 mph with a good slider. "It's good to see him healthy," Bochy said. "He's made some good adjustments. He's feeling good. Knock on wood, he stays healthy. That's a big arm. You'd like to see him healthy all year and let him take the next step."

FAMILIAR FACE: Hector Sanchez pinch-hit for the Padres in the seventh and drew a walk. Sanchez remains El Iman, The Magnet. He has already missed time this spring because of two separate foul tips. For more on former Giants, here’s a look at all the familiar names in other camps as non-roster invitees. 

STOCK RISING: It can’t hurt Gordon Beckham’s cause that he did a decent job in a surprise start in left field. Beckham caught two liners but got turned around by a ball to the track in the second inning. He’s trying to make this team as a utility infielder/outstanding clubhouse guy, and Bochy said he'll mix him in as a left fielder.

“He’s a good guy to have on the team,” Bumgarner said, before joking: “A talented player, too … except for today when he couldn’t throw the ball home or catch the ball.”

TRAINER’S ROOM: Will Smith played catch for the second straight day. It looked like a normal game of catch, which is good.

QUOTABLE: "He came in and said, 'Wow, I got a 1-2-3 inning in spring training. I think that's the first 1-2-3 inning I've had in five years here.'" -- Bochy on what Bumgarner said to him after a quick first.

 

Giants spring training Day 15: Arroyo picks up where he left off

Giants spring training Day 15: Arroyo picks up where he left off

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The Giants do not expect Christian Arroyo, their top hitting prospect, to get a lot of at-bats in a camp filled with veteran infielders. But the 21-year-old continues to make the most of every opportunity he gets. 

Arroyo hit a scorching single to left in his first at-bat Monday. When he came up with the bases loaded in the seventh, he poked a single into right, tying the game. Arroyo grounded out in his final at-bat, ending his perfect run this spring. With three hits in his first four at-bats down here, Arroyo is now 17-for-30 in three springs in big league camp.

“It’s the same (thing) he did last spring,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “He’s getting great at-bats and playing well at shortstop. In the early go here, he’s playing the kind of ball that he was last spring. His mechanics are very solid. It’s a good foundation, good balance, and he doesn’t try to do too much. The bat stays in the zone a long time and he uses the whole field well. He’s a good hitter. He’s only going to hit for more power. The power is going to come, too.”

A move to the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League should help. No matter what Arroyo does this spring, the Giants will send him to Triple-A if their 40-man guys are healthy. But Arroyo’s time is coming, and it’s coming soon. 

For more on Arroyo, here’s a feature I wrote about him last week. Here’s more from the first day of the third week of spring training … 

GAME RECAP: The Giants will not go undefeated this season. They lost to the A’s for the 124th consecutive time in the Cactus League, this time by a score of 5-4 … Michael Morse got the first hit of his comeback attempt. His pinch-hit single up the middle in the seventh drove in a run. In the eighth, he lined a two-strike single to right … Brandon Belt hit his first homer of the spring. It was the 24th of his spring training career. You can see it here … Bochy was impressed with Jose Dominguez, who struck out one in a scoreless inning. 

STOCK WATCH: Orlando Calixte played right field, after previously seeing time at short and second this spring. “He’s intriguing,” Bochy said. “He showed the arm off in right field. He’s a good shortstop and plays second and third. He’s a good athlete.” The Giants plan to carry five outfielders, but if none of the right-handed bats break through, they could always carry Calixte as a super-utility guy. Remember, he’s on the 40-man roster. 

CUETO UPDATE: The co-ace still is not in big league camp, or on the way. Here’s the latest on Johnny Cueto. 

TRAINER’S ROOM: This room now belongs to Anthony Reyes, as Dave Groeschner is off to South Korea with Hensley Meulens and Team Netherlands. Will Smith (elbow) threw off flat ground and everything went fine. Eduardo Nuñez (shoulder) will likely resume playing third base later this week.

QUOTABLE: “To have that splitter that out of the hand looks like a heater, for me, that’s huge.” — Jeff Samardzija on a pitch that helped him dominate in September. Here’s more on Samardzija and his plans for 2017.