Giants

Down on the Farm: Key changes see Giants prospect Suarez star for River Cats

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Sacramento River Cats

Down on the Farm: Key changes see Giants prospect Suarez star for River Cats

Coming to Triple-A Sacramento from Double-A Richmond can be a tough transition for Giants pitching prospects. After going 4-4 with a 2.96 ERA in 11 starts with the Flying Squirrels, Andrew Suarez became a River Cat in the Pacific Coast League, a pitcher’s nightmare. 

“Eastern League had really good hitting as well, but these guys are really advanced,” Suarez said on the biggest difference from Double-A to Triple-A. “You can't have the same sequence with them because they'll know what's going on. And some of the parks here, the ball just flies.”

Through his first six starts with Sacramento, Suarez was 3-3 but owned a 4.98 ERA. Starting July 22, Suarez began dealing, dropping his ERA in each of his next eight starts. The biggest change came from being all ears with veteran catcher Tim Federowicz. 

“Fed was catching me one game and he told me I should use my four-seam (fastball) more with two strikes,” Suarez explains. “I've been doing that and it's actually helped my curveball more to get more swing and misses.” 

Suarez has seen a huge spike in success with his curveball simply using it more often. There hasn’t been any change in grip or arm angle. Instead, the lefty’s confidence keeps rising from repetition. 

Prior to the 2017 season, he hardly even threw the pitch. 

“The catchers love it here though,” Suarez said. “I throw it a lot here and it's actually helped me a lot. I'm getting a better feel for it.” 

On the mound, Suarez’s mindset has always been to pound the zone. Between the two levels he has issued 41 walks this season and wants to limit that number. But, the Giants have challenged Suarez to keep the ball more off the plate in two-strike situations. 

As of late, he’s taken that to heart and has been rewarded for doing so. 

“I'm not really afraid to challenge hitters. I get criticized all the time that I throw too many strikes,” Suarez says. “I think they just want me to extend the zone. 

“I think that's why I haven't been giving up too many hits lately and getting more strikeouts.”

In his latest start Monday, Suarez allowed one earned run over five innings. Since his promotion, Suarez is now 6-5 with a 3.19 ERA in 14 appearances — 12 starts — for Sacramento. With one start left in the 2017 season, San Francisco isn’t even on his mind yet.

“Hopefully I can carry this momentum over into next year and spring training and just see what happens,” Suarez said on his future with the Giants.

Gary Brown never recovered on the field from 2015 DFA: ‘Hurt me to my core’

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AP

Gary Brown never recovered on the field from 2015 DFA: ‘Hurt me to my core’

There was a time when Gary Brown was considered the Giants’ top prospect – their center fielder of the future. Hype was never higher than in 2011, when the fleet-footed 22-year-old set a franchise record with 188 hits in 131 games, earning California League Rookie of the Year honors with the San Jose Giants in his first full minor league campaign.

But six seasons and seven major league at-bats later, Brown’s professional baseball career ended at 28 years old.

“I feel like I let my emotions get the best of me in the years after that (2011 season),” Brown told NBC Sports Bay Area in an exclusive phone interview. “I think I started to believe the hype that everyone started to give to me.”

Brown never matched his magical .336-season in High-A ball with 14 home runs plus 53 stolen bases, and then struggled finding a routine with the rigors of the Pacific Coast League’s travel schedule once he reached Triple-A. Despite three hits in his seven at-bats as a September call-up with the Giants in 2014, Brown was designated for assignment on March 31, 2015.

Brown’s career spiraled playing the draining waiver game. Unsuccessful stints with the Cardinals and Angels sent Brown to the land of the last chance: Independent ball in the Atlantic League.

“It was not fun for me for quite a few years. I wasn’t a very happy person,” Brown said. “After I got DFA'd by the Giants, that really took a toll on me. I never really recovered from that, so I was kind of stuck in the past and things kind of just got away from me. 

“I was kind of heartbroken to be honest. I mean, it hurt me to my core.”

Through tumultuous career turns, the Southern California native never turned on the team that drafted him 24th overall in 2010.

“I'm thankful for the opportunity the Giants gave me. No matter how big or small mine was, I am very thankful” Brown said emphatically. “I definitely wish I could have shown what I feel like my true potential was, but it didn't work out that way. 

“I still root for the Giants. All my friends with the Giants, I'm still pulling for them. They run that organization so well. I have no ill intentions or anything bad to say about the Giants organization.” 

Far removed from his days with the Giants, Brown found new life with the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs in 2016. Brown batted .249 and returned to the team in 2017. He started strong with a .298 batting average in 31 games while having fun for the first time in years, but injuries struck at an inopportune time.

Chronic aches in his hip joints and intense back spasms, in addition to a frustrating lack of interest from MLB teams and the fact he and his wife had twins on the way, spurred Brown to retirement in the middle of the season on July 5.

“Retirement has nothing to do with the lack of competitiveness (of the Atlantic League). It was the distance and the time away, matching the minor league salary,” Brown said. “Going back to that makes it really hard on the family and when you get older it really becomes about what you value more.”

The player he once was is gone, but the person he is has only grown. There’s one piece of advice which goes beyond the diamond that Brown was sure to pass on to the next wave of future top Giants prospects.

“Never stop making adjustments,” Brown said ruefully.

Days away from turning 29 on Sept. 28 and out of baseball for the first time in his life, Brown is certainly making his own.

***

Part 2 of our interview with Gary Brown focusing on where he is now in his life will be released Friday on NBCSportsBayArea.com.

Matt Moore blanks Rockies, continues late-season surge

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AP

Matt Moore blanks Rockies, continues late-season surge

SAN FRANCISCO — Matt Moore knew there was something different about his final home start at AT&T Park this season, and not just the fact that he received a loud ovation as he walked off the mound in the seventh. Moore noted later that the outing was the first shutout he has been a part of this year. In fact, it was the first time in 30 starts that he walked off the mound without having allowed a run. 

“I guess it’s better late than never,” he said. 

The Giants are hoping it’s actually a preview of things to come. They counted on Moore to be a big part of their 2017 push, but instead, he likely will finish with the worst ERA of any full-time starter in the National League. Still, general manager Bobby Evans has informed Moore that his 2018 option will be picked up, something that Moore appreciated given the time of year. 

“I always pictured myself here,” he said. 

Whether coincidence or some kind of “weight off the shoulders” situation, Moore’s first start since the public revealing of the decision was his most encouraging of the year. Facing a good lineup, and a team that needed a win desperately, he pitched six shutout innings. The Giants beat the Rockies 4-0. 

Moore was already showing signs of life, with a 3.76 ERA over his seven previous appearances. Bruce Bochy viewed this as another step forward. 

“It’s been getting better and better with each start,” he said. “What he did really well today was on the arm side. He had good balance to both sides of the plate.”

Moore peppered the outside corner with fastballs, and he credited catcher Nick Hundley with stealing a few strikes. The plan allowed Moore to put hitters away in big spots, one of three points of emphasis he brought into the second half. The other two: limiting lefties and getting ahead of hitters.

That’s Moore’s roadmap back to being the player the Giants acquired. For the team as a whole, the roadmap back to relevance is similar to Wednesday’s plan. This is not a home-run hitting lineup, but the Giants are 47-21 when scoring four runs, and Wednesday was a reminder of the different paths to that magical number. 

Brandon Crawford had a solo homer, but the first two runs came on sacrifice flies and the fourth on a walk-wild pitch-single combination. Bochy said he liked “the brand of ball” his team played.

“They executed so well today,” he said. “It’s just good baseball, and that’s what I felt good about.”