Casilla to Giants fans: 'I can do this job'

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Casilla to Giants fans: 'I can do this job'

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PHILADELPHIA A thought drifted through Santiago Casillas mind with two outs in the 10th inning and Jimmy Rollins stepping to bat.

It wasnt that Casilla had blown five of his previous eightsave attempts. It wasnt the firm reminder that pitching coach Dave Righettiand manager Bruce Bochy had given him to keep mixing his pitches to the veryend. It wasnt the cacophony of voices from back home who want the Giants toget an established closer on the trade market.

Instead, Casilla thought back to the last time he stood onthis mound, in this place. It was Game 2 of the 2010 NL Championship Series,and he gave up the bases-clearing double to Rollins that blew open a tightgame.

With a one-run lead and the tying run on first base, Casillathought this: This is a different game. This is going to be different.

He mixed his pitches to the end.

Casilla bought a strike with his slider, he missed with acurveball, then he came back with a backdoor cutter that Rollins mildly put inplay to seal the Giants 6-5 victory and ensure a pair of series victories onthis tough trip to Atlanta and Philadelphia.

RECAP: Baggs' Instant Replay -- Giants 6, Philliese 5 (10)

It felt like the Giants played a weeks worth of games in onelate afternoon, for all the back-and-forth action on Saturday. They rallied after Ryan Howards crushing, three-run shot off Matt Cain put thembehind. They tied it on Melky Cabreras solo shot and took the lead againstPhillies closer Jonathan Papelbon with a squeeze of redemption from GregorBlanco.

So when the Giants moved to the bottom of the 10th, they entrusted Casilla to protect more than just aone-run lead on the road. He was protecting their collective effort, theirspirit and their tenacity. To blow this one wouldve been an especially harshshock to the system. It's games like these that make executives spend millions to have "that guy" in the bullpen.

Bochy said he briefly considered letting Sergio Romo hit forhimself in the 10th so he could start the bottom of the inning. But Bochy thought it would be a needless risk. Hehad Casilla rested and ready, and he still believed in him. He wanted to makesure his closer, for all his struggles in the last two weeks, got that message,too.

That should build some confidence, Bochy said. Heregrouped. You could see he came out pitching right away a different guy.

Casilla went curve-slider-curve to retire John Mayberry Jr.on a fly out. Righetti came out for a visit following a walk to PlacidoPolanco, just to remind the right-hander not to get too cheddar-happy.

And when Casilla got two strikes on pinch hitter Ty Wigginton, he didn't go dead red. He buried one ofthose spike curves of his, Wigginton couldn't lay off and Buster Posey blocked it to get the strikeout.

Casilla made an interesting comment after the game. He said he had fallen intothe trap of pitching like it was the sixth or seventh innings, when hitters arestill trying to take pitches or time fastballs. He noted that he gave up only twohome runs last year but already has surrendered six this season.

The ninth is different because they swing hard, he said.Ive learned a little bit. Too many fastballs with two strikes. I have a goodslider. I have a good curve.

Thats why he said he didnt lose confidence, even when hewas giving up the lead with alarming frequency. His stuff wasn't the problem.

I never lose the feeling in my heart, Casilla said. Iknow I can pitch any inning. I dont lose that. You make a mistake here, youhave to pay and I pay!

But I feel good to know the manager, Bochy, he believes inme.

From everything I'm told, that belief is authentic. The Giants really do think theycan make it down the stretch and thrive in the postseason with Casilla in thecloser role. Theyll look to upgrade in the bullpen, for sure, and JonathanBroxton is an arm they like. Other closers, such as Rafael Betancourt andHuston Street, are less obtainable. Brett Myers just got dealt to the WhiteSox. So obtaining another closer isnt as easy as the catalog of names mightsuggest. If help arrives, it's more realistic that it'll come in the form of another right-handed setup man.

I asked Casilla: What would you tell people who arentconvinced you can be this teams closer down the stretch and into the playoffs?

I tell them that sometimes you go through a bad time,Casilla said. "I tell them that I know if I keep pitching, I can help this team.I can do this job. I tell them 'hey, were in first place.'

Casillas save was his 24th in 30 opportunities,third in the NL behind Craig Kimbrel and Joel Hanrahan.

He was in the middle of telling reporters that he didntcare about any statistics except team victories when Clay Hensley, residentwise guy, shouted from across the room: Aw, dont believe him. He just caresabout saves and ERA.

Hensley was smiling all the while. Casilla wasted no timewhile delivering a comeback line:

Hey! We won a World Series here, and you werent here!

Now thats how you mix it up.

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. 

 

Samardzija sticking with more versatile approach in second year with Giants

Samardzija sticking with more versatile approach in second year with Giants

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Jeff Samardzija’s first season in San Francisco was ultimately not far from what the Giants hoped it would be. Samardzija gave them the desired durability, throwing 203 innings with a 3.81 ERA in 32 starts. 

The route to those final numbers was remarkably circuitous. Samardzija had a 2.84 ERA through the season’s first two months, but that number jumped all the way up to 6.23 over his next 11 starts, seven of them losses for the team. As the Giants went into a second-half tailspin, Samardzija found his groove and helped keep them in the playoff race. He had a 2.45 ERA over his final 10 starts, earning the nod as the Game 2 starter in the NLDS. That appearance against the Cubs lasted just two innings. 

The up-and-down season showed the Giants two very different versions of a big offseason acquisition, and at times opposing hitters saw two very different Samardzijas. He went heavy on his cutter early, but when hitters started teeing off on pitches that all came in at a somewhat similar velocity, Samardzija mixed in a curveball that was completely mothballed through June. Down the stretch, when he found his form, Samardzija brought back his splitter and ignored the cutter. He threw 165 cutters in April but just two in September. On the flip side, he threw 113 splitters in September after never throwing more than 35 the first five months. 

“He found the splitter and using it more made him more of a complete pitcher,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “He’s got the four (main) pitches now. They can’t just sit on the hard stuff. He had a good year. It was a little bump there, but he had a great run and was throwing the ball really well (down the stretch). He’s one of our guys. We certainly think (that deal) is going to pay off, and it did last year. He got us deep into games consistently.”

Samardzija learned from the up-and-down year, and during his first start of the spring, he varied the repertoire. He gave up two runs in the first inning but was pleased with a curveball he threw four times — twice for called strikes, twice for foul balls. 

“If you can get it going here in Arizona, it’s going to be a pretty solid pitch for you,” he said. “(Bringing it back last year) was kind of out of necessity. I picked it up and played around with it and it felt good.”

The curveball, which he hadn't thrown since 2012, changed eye levels last season and kept hitters from loading up on pitches in the low to mid 90s. Samardzija further expanded the velocity gap by finding the feel of a splitter that had toyed with him for years.

“For me, with that splitter coming back late in the year, it’s going to be about mixing it in and seeing what feels good on that day, seeing what’s going to be the out pitch,” he said. “I had been chasing (the feel) of it since 2014. We broke it all the way back down and went back to zero. So many guys were sitting fastball. To have that splitter that out of the hand looks like a heater, for me, that’s huge.”

The Giants expect the more varied approach to lead to big results in 2017, and Samardzija could subtly benefit from a change Bochy and pitching coach Dave Righetti made. Samardzija will pitch behind left-hander Matt Moore, not Johnny Cueto. He said he would often last season compare notes with Cueto, who like Samardzija, pitched most of his career in the NL Central. The two would often take a similar approach on the mound.

“(Opponents will) have to face a tough lefty like Moore, so they can’t have that same lineup two days in a row,” Samardzija said. “To me, that’s big.”