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.

After Giants' first Coors Field sweep in 15 years, Bochy preaches urgency

After Giants' first Coors Field sweep in 15 years, Bochy preaches urgency

DENVER — Bruce Bochy watched the first two games of this road trip from his home in San Diego and the final three from the top step of the dugout at Coors Field. He did not like what he saw, but at the moment he’s more concerned with what he might hear. 

“What you have to careful of — you can’t let any kind of complacency set in and say, ‘It’s early, we’ll be ok.’ I don’t want to hear that either,” Bochy said. “It’s the old adage that you come out with some sense of urgency. All these games are important. You’ve got to stay away from that attitude, too: ‘We’re not through April yet and have 140-something games left.’ That doesn’t work out.”

Three weeks into the season, nothing is working. The rotation has a 5.02 ERA, the worst in the Majors. The lineup scored 10 runs over a five-game road trip and got shut out twice. The bullpen hasn’t been given many leads with which to make up for the first-week trouble. The defense has been uncharacteristically sloppy. 

It has added up to a 6-13 start, tied for the worst in club history. The Giants have lost six of seven and they’ll head home seven games out of first place. 

“Right now there’s nothing clicking,” Bochy said. “Let’s be honest, this has been a rough start and we’re not very good right now. I’m not saying we’re not very good. We are good, but we’ve got to find a way to come out of this. This was a tough way to end this series. We’ve been through it. I’ve got men out there and that’s when you find a way to get through this. They will.”

Perhaps Monday will bring some fresh blood for the roster. Drew Stubbs appears poised to give the Giants another veteran option should they cut bait with a struggling outfielder. Michael Morse could be an option in left field soon, and if he’s mostly relegated to first, the Giants can put Brandon Belt in the outfield. He looked fine there Sunday while playing both corner spots. 

Those are moves made around the edges of the roster, though. There is no magic bullet coming from the outside, not even Christian Arroyo, who continues to mash at Triple-A. This is a $200 million roster and much of that has been spent on the rotation. Through 13 games, it is the worst in the National League, and the ace was lost to an off-field accident. Sure, the starters have pitched at Chase Field and Coors Field, but on back-to-back days they were dominated by Rockies rookies who make a living here. 

Samardzija could not keep pace with left-hander Kyle Freeland, who sawed off a handful of bats while cruising through seven. Samardzjiza gave up a run early, two more in the fourth on a hanging splitter that was blasted to right, and five in the sixth.

Bochy challenged his starting staff to improve after Saturday’s game. He has not publicly done the same with the lineup, but subtle changes have been made here and there. It is a group that, outside of a couple of players, has lacked energy. Because they don’t hit for power, the Giants are reliant on stringing together rallies. For the fourth time in seven games, the lineup failed to put a runner on base the first time through the order. 

“Even in spring training we had our games where we had trouble getting something going early,” Bochy said. “It’s the fourth or fifth before a hit. Somehow, we’ve got to change that.”

The Giants played Sunday without Jarrett Parker (clavicle) and Denard Span (right shoulder sprain), but for the most part the lineup is healthy. Bochy said he has talked to hitting coach Hensley Meulens about possibly altering pre-game routines, but that seems a cosmetic fix. 

“We’ve talked and we’ve shaken up the lineup, but as you saw today, there’s only so much you can do,” he said. 

Bochy knows there is outside noise regarding the roster. His eyes bulged the other day when asked if Arroyo would get a call-up next week. The Giants do not feel he is quite ready, or that there is a spot for him on the infield. For all the potential bench options waiting at Triple-A, this team's core is set, and it’s not outrageously banged-up compared to the rest of the division. 

The Dodgers, who come into town Monday, have 10 players on the disabled list, including No. 2 starter Rich Hill, second baseman Logan Forsythe, and left fielder Andre Ethier. The Rockies, the best team in the NL West thus far, are off to this start without big offseason acquisition Ian Desmond and young slugger David Dahl. Jon Gray, their opening day starter, went on the DL after facing the Giants in San Francisco. Chad Bettis, a rotation member, is getting treatment for testicular cancer. 

This division is better than expected, and as the end of April approaches, the Giants are bringing up the rear. Bochy’s plea for urgency was one that would have fit right in with last season’s second half. Back then, the Giants could at least lean on a huge start that got them into the postseason. As they flew home Sunday, there was nothing to fall back on but a simple truth.

This is the team. It must play better.

“We have everything we need in this room,” Samardzija said. “Sometimes you need to go out on the field and prove it.”

 

Instant Replay: Giants' struggles continue in sweep from Rockies

Instant Replay: Giants' struggles continue in sweep from Rockies

BOX SCORE

DENVER — Bruce Bochy spent about 10 minutes before Sunday’s game talking about potential options in left field and center. The problems for this lineup, however, currently go much deeper than the outfield. 

A day after the Giants managed just four hits off Antonio Senzatela, the bats went completely limp against fellow Rockies rookie Kyle Freeland. The Giants were shut out 8-0, a rarity at Coors Field. They were blanked twice on the road trip and scored just 10 runs during a five-game swing through Kansas City and Denver. 

The sweep at Coors Field was the Giants' first since 2002. At 6-13, they have the worst record in the National League.

For the fourth time in seven games, and third time on this five-game road trip, the Giants went one time through the order without a baserunner. That puts added pressure on your starter, and Jeff Samardzija couldn’t keep it close. Charlie Blackmon hit a leadoff liner to right that was misplayed into a triple and he scored on a sacrifice fly. Gerardo Parra got a spinner down in the zone in the fourth and blasted a two-run shot to right. 

As they did Saturday night, the Rockies pulled away with a huge rally. Nolan Arenado’s infield single and a walk of Carlos Gonzalez set the table in the sixth. Gerardo Parra lined a single to center and all runners advanced when Gorkys Hernandez kicked it. Trevor Story’s single to right was bobbled by Hunter Pence and two more scored. Blackmon’s double made it 8-0.

Starting pitching report: Samardzija was charged with seven earned in 5 1/3 innings. He has a 7.40 ERA through four starts. The starting staff has a 5.02 ERA, the worst in the majors. That won’t play, not when you’ve spent most of your resources the last two years on starters. 

Bullpen report: Hunter Strickland's Mullet had a scoreless debut. 

At the plate: Nope. 

In the field: Brandon Belt’s first start in left this season was rather uneventful. He caught a liner right at him in the first and came up inches short on a diving attempt in foul territory. Belt moved to right in the seventh inning. He had one previous inning there in the big leagues but he actually prefers right because it’s the same angle as his normal position. Belt gloved a liner right at him in the eighth. 

Attendance: The Rockies announced a crowd of 42,011 human beings and one donkey, who was a menace. 

Up next: The first look at the Dodgers. The Giants will see Hyun-Jin Ryu, Clayton Kershaw, Alex Wood and likely Julio Urias in the four-game series.