Casilla spikes in value to Giants bullpen

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Casilla spikes in value to Giants bullpen

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. He doesnt have a beard like BrianWilson or Sergio Romo. He doesnt even have Jeremy Affeldts soul patch.

He might be the most under-publicized member of the Giantsbullpen. But Santiago Casilla is having the most impressive spring of thebunch.

Casilla has a 0.96 ERA in 10 games. Opponents are hitting.156 against him. Hes averaging 0.56 baserunners per inning.

Just another instance of a pitcher coming in hot after anoffseason in winter ball, right?

No, no, Casilla said, shaking his head. I didnt playwinter ball. First time in seven years. Escogido, they wanted me. I say no.

Casilla admitted his elbow didnt feel so good at the end oflast season, when he threw 52.1 innings over 49 appearances (and posted a 1.74ERA). Casilla also notched six saves in six chances, not all of them in boringfashion, after Wilson went down with an elbow strain in mid-August.

It doesnt sound like an unbearable workload. But rememberthat Casilla missed 48 games almost 30 percent of last season on thedisabled list because of right elbow inflammation. He struggled with fastballvelocity last spring and gave up a run on opening day before the Giants put himon the shelf. When he came back, he was used a ton.

I threw too much, Casilla said. But I like pitching alot. I wanted to be ready for it.

The Giants need Casilla to be ready. At least in the earlygoing, they arent likely to push Wilson for those four-out saves or send himout to pitch on a third consecutive day. Wilson still hasnt appeared onconsecutive days this spring, as the coaches and training staff move forward atan ultra-deliberate pace.

Casilla and left-hander Jeremy Affeldt are expected to fillin on those nights when Wilson is held back.

Affeldt said Casilla is primed for a big year. Nobody thisspring has sent more bats to bat heaven.

You know why? Its because he throws his curveball behindin the count, Affeldt said. Thats what makes him filthy. And you cant siton it, either, because youve got to be ready for 96 (mph).

Stuff-wise, you arent going to name another right-handerwith better stuff than him.

Casilla bounced around the As system for several yearsbefore joining the Giants as a minor league free agent prior to the 2010season. That previous winter, he had learned a spike curve (also called aknuckle curve) in the Dominican. It made all the difference."

I said, I need a different pitch, my slider is so-so,'" Casilla said. "One pitcher, Rodriguez, said to hold it like a spike curve. It's like how Pedro Martinez holds his curveball. In the bullpen, I throw it. I go to the game, I strike out two and I say, OK, it's mine.'"

His bat-breaking tendencies led to a scary moment onTuesday. He threw a pitch that the Angels Jorge Cantu fouled off. Cantus batshattered so violently that the barrel shard sailed into the stands behind thethird base dugout. The game stopped for nearly 10 minutes as fans and medicstended to a woman hit by the debris. She was bleeding and taken to a hospitalbut was OK.

Oh my God, not good, Casilla said. Its hard becauseyou lose your emotions in the game when you see somebody hurt. I say thank Godshe is OK.

Casilla, 31, has another reason to be grateful. Hisyoungest brother, Jose, is doing well in his rehab from Tommy John surgery toreconstruct his elbow.

Jose Casilla, 21, had a 1.16 ERA in 467 games as thecloser at Low-A Augusta in 2010. He began at Single-A San Jose last seasonbefore having surgery in June. Hes playing catch again and is expected to beready to resume his career in a few months.

Hes great, the elder Casilla said. Hes very happy.

Giants spring training day 8: Melancon, Hundley go way back

Giants spring training day 8: Melancon, Hundley go way back

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — A couple of days before he signed a four-year deal, Mark Melancon fired off a midnight text to Nick Hundley. 

“Call me,” Melancon wrote.

When Hundley called, he found out his college teammate had chosen the Giants, ending a free agency process the two spoke about often. Two months later, it was Hundley’s turn to reach out. 

“I asked him if he wanted to play together again,” Hundley said. “He said, ‘You better not be messing with me.’”

The Giants signed just two free agents who are guaranteed of being on the opening day roster. In an odd twist, the new closer and new backup catcher have known each other for over a decade. Hundley was a second-round pick in 2005 out of the University of Arizona. A year later, his college teammate Melancon was a ninth-round pick. The two have stayed close throughout the pro ball journey. They were groomsmen in each other’s weddings and their wives and children hang out together. 

“We always talked about playing together,” Hundley said, adding that the odds were long in a 30-team sport.

The friends have crossed off a good chunk of them. Melancon has played for the Yankees, Astros, Red Sox, Pirates and Nationals. Hundley has played for the Padres, Orioles and Rockies. Finally, the two have hooked on to the same team, and the Giants are excited to have them both. Hundley will be the veteran catcher the team has missed in recent years, and the Giants are hopeful that he’s a pinch-hit threat, too. Melancon, of course, was brought in to fix the glaring problem in the ninth. Hundley is confident he’ll do it.

“I’ve caught him since 2005,” he said smiling, “And he’s always been nasty.”

NEW FACE: It’s hard to take much away from drills, but Orlando Calixte certainly impressed. As the Giants worked out on the field for the first time in three days, I asked GM Bobby Evans what Calixte showed the team’s scouts. “Just his athleticism, his tools, they stand out,” Evans said. They certainly do. Calixte is smooth out there, and he showed quickness at short that might differentiate him from the pack of infield options. 

Calixte has also played second, third and the outfield in the minors, and while the Giants intend on keeping five outfielders, that versatility could come into play. The Giants plucked Calixte from Kansas City’s system and put him on the 40-man roster when it became apparent that other offers were out there. They thought he could provide more versatility than Ehire Adrianza, and it helps that he has an option remaining. Calixte has to beat out a bunch of guys to win a roster spot, but given his glove and his status on the 40-man, it would be a surprise if we don’t see him at some point this season. 

ICYMI: Bruce Bochy said he’ll call Johnny Cueto to talk about his preparation for the World Baseball Classic. 

POSITION BATTLE: Matt Cain, the clear frontrunner for the No. 5 spot, faced hitters on the main field. Bochy liked what he saw. “He’s gotten more time away from that surgery and he’s throwing the ball well,” Bochy said. “Buster said the same thing. It’s coming out good.”

NOTEWORTHY: The Giants are serious about making Trevor Brown a more versatile option. He fielded grounders at short today and also spent plenty of time at second. 

QUOTABLE: “Just a good day. We (the coaches) were talking about how it’s changed a little bit. We’re not even in March yet and guys are letting it go.” — Bochy on the first day of live BP sessions. The pitchers were certainly well ahead of the hitters today. 

Will Cueto be ready for the WBC? 'That’s the question we have to answer'

Will Cueto be ready for the WBC? 'That’s the question we have to answer'

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Jeff Samardzija whirled and fired a strike to Eduardo Nuñez shortly after 11:30 a.m. on Monday. With that, the Giants took another step back toward actual baseball.

Monday was the first day of live batting practice sessions, but the most important one took place thousands of miles east of Scottsdale Stadium. Johnny Cueto faced teenage prospects at the club’s facility in Santo Domingo, and Bruce Bochy said he would call Cueto to check in on his progress. 

The Giants are not concerned that Cueto — who is tending to his ill father — is missing so much of spring training. They know him well enough by now to know that Cueto paces himself and takes care of his body. They are, however, starting to get a little concerned about Cueto missing so much camp and then going straight to the World Baseball Classic. 

“The spring started early so he’s got plenty of time to get ready for (opening day),” manager Bruce Bochy said. “The question will be will he be ready for the WBC. That’s the question we have to answer.”

Bochy said he would like to see Cueto in the 50-60 pitch range before he goes off to compete for the Dominican Republic. The Dominican team opens play March 9 at Marlins Park. 

“We’re going to talk about a lot of things,” Bochy said. “We’ll see where he’s at, see where he’s at mentally, and see how his father is doing.”

Bochy noted that Nolan Ryan used to show up to camp on March 1 and throw 80 mph, working his way up from there. The Giants view Cueto the same way, but at some point there will be a breaking point where the WBC participation becomes a real concern. At the very least, Bochy said, Cueto might be asked to join the DR team later in the tournament.