EXTRA BAGGS: Giants bullpen gives a tissue sample, etc.

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EXTRA BAGGS: Giants bullpen gives a tissue sample, etc.

Programming note: Giants-Dodgers coverage gets underway today at 3:30 p.m. with Giants Pregame Live, only on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area!

LOS ANGELES You dont need to remindGiants manager Bruce Bochy that the bullpen plays a critical role in thepostseason.

Two years ago, Bochy used his beardedwonders and his lefty sidewinder to win almost every late-inning matchup whiledispatching the Braves, Phillies and Rangers in so many torturous, one-runvictories.

That bullpen entered the playoffs withsparkling credentials an 0.90 ERA in September, including 24consecutive scoreless innings to end the season.

This current group of relievers has performed admirably given the lackof an unquestioned hammer in the ninth inning following Brian Wilsons elbowsurgery in April. But they are not nearly so untouchable. They had a 2.56 ERA inSeptember, and for the season, the Giants are just 7-8 when tied after eightinnings.

Not only that, but in 2010, the Giants 2.99 relief ERA was the lowestof all four NL playoff teams. This time around, their 3.51 bullpen ERA ranksfourth out of five clubs headed to the postseason. And two of those other NL playoff teams the Reds withAroldis Chapman and the Braves with Craig Kimbrel sport closers havingall-time great seasons.

Thats what made Tuesday nights environment such a perfect Petri dishfor Bochy. With the Dodgers playoff hopes connected to a plug and a loud,intense crowd stirring when anyone reached base, it was the perfect time toseason the soup and taste a ladle.

Sergio Romo grabbed the plug and pulled with both hands. He had such a memorable meltdown in Atlanta two years ago. He's still a bit volatile with the home run ball. But now that he's added that two-seamer against left-handers, he's a different pitcher. And the more you see him in big situations, the more you get the feeling that he's a bit stronger inside, too.

But it was not a perfect night for the bullpen, and that offered Bochy another learning opportunity. After Guillermo Mota allowed extra-base hits to three of the fourbatters he faced, Bochy brought in rookie George Kontos.

Mota struggled and hes the guy werelooking at in the sixth, seventh innings, Bochy said. Kontos, we wanted tosee how hed handle it and he did a good job.

Enough to improve his chances of makingthe playoff roster?

The way he handled himself, sure, Ithink he helped himself, Bochy said. Hes a young pitcher and you dont knowhow hes going to react against one of the best hitters in the game. He got himout.

That would be Matt Kemp, with the tyingrun at third base.

I was telling some of the guys thatwas the most adrenaline Ive had on a baseball field, Kontos said. It was mybiggest moment in professional baseball. Its a taste of what the postseason islike, if Im fortunate to be on the playoff roster.

He has a better shot of that now.Kontos fell behind 2-0 but came back with two fastballs one taken, one swingand miss to get back in the count.

My slider is my best pitch and I wontchange that even for a great breaking ball hitter, Kontos said. But with thatclosed stance he has, Im able with my sinker to get it in there and run it onhis hands. It was a great call by (catcher Hector) Sanchez. If he calls slider,Id have thrown slider. Im just glad he didnt because fastball was the bestpitch.

Once he got to two strikes, Kontoscould break out that slider again. It was well off the plate and in the dirt(Sanchez saved a run by blocking it), and Kemp couldnt stop his swing. Then hereally let the bat go, spiking it into the turf in a fit of rage.

I was pretty geeked up, said Kontos,and then I saw him and it fired me up a little more.

Kontos is a rookie, remember, so in thesmallish, outdated visiting clubhouse at Dodger Stadium, that gets you a lockerin an alcove, mashed between the equipment closet and the 1980s, arcade-stylevideo game machine.

Makes sense. His outing Tuesday waslike a video game come to life.

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Why on earth did Dodgers manager DonMattingly have right-hander Jamey Wright intentionally walk Angel Pagan to getto Marco Scutaro in the fifth inning? Didnt he remember what happened on Sept.7, when he put Pagan on base and Scutaro hit a two-run single?

Didnt he realize that Scutaro washitting .438 over a 19-game hitting streak, and .361 in 55 games as a Giant?

"He was 2-for-19 vs. Wright, Mattingly said. Thattells me he doesnt see him well."

Im sure there were times Scutaro didnt when he was withthe As several years ago and Wright was with the Texas Rangers. That isnt thecase now. Scutaros two-run double gave the Giants a 4-1 lead.

No, it wasnt quite Joe Morgan. But knocking out the Dodgersonly adds to Scutaros brief but growing legacy as a Giant.

If it makes the fans feel good, thatmakes me feel good, too, he told me.

Does it fire him up to get a hit afteran intentional walk?

Well yeah, a little bit, he said. Theymade their move. They think its going to work better. They make their move andI try to make mine.

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If Scutaro can manage a hit on Wednesday, he'd extend his hitting streak to 20 games -- and match Angel Pagan and Pablo Sandoval for the longest hit streak by a Giant this season.

It also would mark the first time in nine years that a major league team had three hitting streaks of at least 20 games. In 2003, the Pirates had Kenny Lofton (26), Jason Kendall (23) and Aramis Ramirez (22). Also that year, the Blue Jays had Mike Bordick, Reed Johnson and Vernon Wells (20 apiece).

Thanks to the amazing @dfeldy for looking that one up for me.

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Clayton Kershaw vowed to make his starton Wednesday, even though the Dodgers are out of contention. Bochy vowed tostart his regulars behind Ryan Vogelsong, too, but the game could have a lateMarch feel to it. Most of the starters wont play the whole game, Bochy said.

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Interesting that Bochy inserted BrandonCrawford at shortstop in the ninth inning but didnt slide over Joaquin Ariasto third base. Pablo Sandoval finished the game. Perhaps Sandoval has earnedBochys trust again with his defense.

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With the Nationals and Reds both winning,the Giants still cannot be certain of their NLDS opponent. The possibilitiesare simple, though: The Giants will face the Reds unless Washington loses ANDCincinnati wins on Wednesday. If those events came to pass, the Nationals wouldbe the No.2 seed and head to AT&T Park.

The Nats play before anyone else onWednesday. If they beat the Phillies, then you can forget about the rest.Theyll clinch the top seed and fly to meet the winner of the wild-cardknockout game between Braves and Cardinals (Medlen vs. Lohse).

The Reds already have their top threestarters lined up: Johnny Cueto, Bronson Arroyo and Mat Latos all right-handers.Homer Bailey, another right-hander, would be the likely choice in Game 4.

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Congratulations to Mike Matheny, who isgoing to the playoffs as a rookie manager with the Cardinals. Considering what a fine stay he hadin San Francisco, it seemed rather proper that the Giants victory touched offa champagne celebration at Busch Stadium.

Giants use big fifth, sixth innings to take down Cubs

Giants use big fifth, sixth innings to take down Cubs

BOX SCORE

At Scottsdale, Arizona, Giants starter Matt Cain gave up two runs — one earned — and three hits over two innings.

New Giants closer Mark Melancon tossed a 1-2-3 third inning in his first outing. Cain threw 40 pitches and Justin Ruggiano had an RBI double in a three-run fifth.

Javier Baez went 2 for 3 with an RBI double.

Giants spring training Day 13: Cain goes two; Melancon has perfect debut

Giants spring training Day 13: Cain goes two; Melancon has perfect debut

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Bruce Bochy planned to give most of his pitchers one-inning stints during the first weekend of spring ball, but Matt Cain stretched it out to 40 pitches on Saturday. 

“I’ve had enough days off the past couple of years,” Cain said, smiling.

In his first start of a crucial spring, Cain threw two innings. He was charged with three hits and two runs, just one of them earned. 

“He’s in a good place right now with his arm strength,” Bochy said. “His delivery is consistent. I’m glad he got a lot of work today, to be honest. It’s something he needs as much as anybody on this staff, is work. He’s going to get it.”

Ty Blach, Cain’s biggest competition for the fifth starter spot, gave up four hits and one earned in his two innings. Neither pitcher was hit particularly hard, and both suffered a bit from iffy defense in the early innings of an 8-6 win over the Cubs. 

The inning separating Cain and Blach was notable for other reasons. Mark Melancon made his Giants debut, getting two groundouts and a fly to right in a quick inning. Melancon received a nice ovation, and he noted the opponent — a Cubs team that helped guarantee the Giants would spend big on a closer — but he didn’t put any added importance on the outing. 

“It doesn’t matter what I do out there right now,” he said. 

Melancon’s new teammates might disagree. Spring or not, the Giants certainly enjoyed watching a closer breeze through his inning. Especially against the Cubs. 

“He’s a pro,” Bochy said. “He’s going to be out there working on stuff, his command and pitches. It was good for Buster (Posey) to catch him. It was a good day for him.”

NOTABLE: On his first swing of the spring, Posey threw his bat up against the visiting dugout. It can only go uphill from there … Bryan Morris had a scoreless debut, striking out one … Josh Osich ran into some trouble in the eighth and gave up a pair of runs, but Bochy appreciated the way he fought his way out of the frame … Former Giants prospect Chris Dominguez started for the Cubs at first base. He had a couple of hits ... If you're headed to Goodyear for tomorrow's game, Joe Panik, Brandon Belt, Conor Gillaspie, Jimmy Rollins, Mac Williamson, Jarrett Parker, Gorkys Hernandez and Trevor Brown will start behind Matt Moore. Also, if you're headed to Goodyear, I'm sorry. 

TRAINER’S ROOM: Eduardo Nuñez is limited to DH duty for now because of a sore throwing shoulder. Nuñez said the tightness popped up after some work in the weight room, but he’s not concerned at all. He said he would have played third base if Saturday’s game was a regular season contest. The Giants expect him in the field sometime next week. 

Nuñez also said it took five weeks after the season ended for his hamstring to get back to 100 percent, so apparently that injury was much worse than it first looked. Nuñez was out on the field before every NLDS game, trying to get clearance to return. He never quite got there. 

Will Smith (elbow) is just a day or two from throwing off flat ground, Bochy said. 

CUETO UPDATE: The Giants had hoped to have Johnny Cueto in camp this weekend, but he remains in Boca Chica, Dominican Republic. Cueto is waiting for a visa for his ill father, Domingo, who will travel to Scottsdale with Johnny. 

LIGHTER SIDE: Brandon Crawford spent a couple of minutes learning some of Jeff Samardzija’s mound moves. The impersonation is pretty solid.