EXTRA BAGGS: Huff hustles too little, Crawford too much

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EXTRA BAGGS: Huff hustles too little, Crawford too much

BOX SCORE

MIAMI Imagine what a story it wouldve made.

The Giants ushered Miami Marlins closer Heath Bell from thegame in the ninth inning Friday night, they advanced the tying run to third base and MelkyCabrera, the major league leader in hits, was coming to the plate.

The Marlins infield met on the mound. Clearly, they were going topitch carefully to the NLs hottest hitter.

And the man on deck? None other than Buster Posey, facingthe Marlins one year to the day that Scott Cousins took him out.

You could envision Posey, his jaw locked, sending a ballover the fence and rounding the bases, expressionless as a contract killer. Itwouldve been one heck of a story. And it might have helped the Giants fret alittle less over Tim Lincecums troubles for a night.

But Posey did not get past the on-deck circle. Marlinsright-hander Steve Cishek stole a first-pitch strike against Cabrera, he ranthe count full, and then he dropped down to throw a gutsy slider that triggeredthe fist of plate umpire Mike Winters.

The Giants lost 7-6, and one-run defeats are like rabbitholes for managers. There are so many moments in the game to tumble around in your head, somany mistakes or missed opportunities that became turning points.

We were awful tonight, Giants manager Bruce Bochy said.Errors and baserunning came back to haunt us, as they should. Those thingsshouldnt happen on the field.

During his session, Bochy wasnt specific about the baserunning issues. I onlycounted two possibilities: In the second inning, when Aubrey Huff trotted outof the box and coasted into first base on his near-homer-turned single; and inthe third, when Brandon Crawford got thrown out trying to go from first tothird on Angel Pagans two-out hit.

Not wanting to make assumptions, I circled back to ask. Bochy said yes, he was referring to those two plays.

Huff said he just lost track of what happened, Bochy said.He didnt see where the ball went.

And because Joaquin Arias followed with a double-playgrounder, Huffs failure to get to second base proved damaging. Sure,Pagan had to hold up between first and second to see if the ball would becaught. But Pagan had gone more than halfway. There was no reason Huff couldnt havebeen right behind him. If the balls caught, hes out anyway. (Paganstill made it to third base, by the way.)

Managers often say they dont have a problem with playerswho make aggressive mistakes. But Bochy seemed to be more bothered byCrawfords attempt to take third. Both Tim Flannery and Roberto Kelly tookCrawford aside after the game, telling him he cant get thrown out at thirdbase with two outs. He already was in scoring position, they said, and its notlike he can come home on a two-out sacrifice fly.

We cant make those kinds of mistakes, Bochy said.

Its important to play smart. But its even more importantto play hard, isnt it?

--
Pablo Sandoval is coming along in his rehab from left handsurgery. He began swinging a fungo bat right-handed on Friday, but Bochy saidthe third baseman is still two weeks away from returning.

Hes getting better, Bochy said. Were probably lookingat a couple weeks if there is no setbacks, which is good news for us.

Sandoval had been the teams No. 3 hitter, but Bochy said heplans to keep Melky Cabrera in that spot. No wonder. Cabrera homered andtripled, adding to his MLB-best 69 hits. He has 42 of them in May with fivegames to play and hes nine short of the San Francisco-era record for hits in amonth, which Randy Winn established with a 51-hit performance in September, 2005.

Bochy said he might put Sandoval in the No. 5 spot and moveAngel Pagan up to second, even though Pagan also has taken well to that placein the order. Sandoval wont bat sixth or lower, Bochy said.

Hes too good a hitter, the manager said.

Heres one other variable that will affect what the Giantsdo: Crawfords performance in the No. 2 slot. Hes definitely getting betterpitches and having better at-bats since Bochy tried him in that slot. But itshard to imagine the Giants keeping him there when they have a betteralternative.

Oh, and in case its not obvious the fact Bochy is talkingabout moving Pagan to the No. 2 slot should make it very apparent that GregorBlanco has become the everyday leadoff man and outfielder for this team.

Giants Notes: Span feeling better, hopes to return to lineup Wednesday

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Giants Notes: Span feeling better, hopes to return to lineup Wednesday

CHICAGO -- Joe Panik's leadoff homer in the series opener was a jolt, but the Giants are a much more dangerous offense when Denard Span is clicking atop the lineup, a spot ahead of Panik, and they hope to have that duo going Wednesday. Span got treatment all day Tuesday and said he could return to the lineup against Kyle Hendricks. 

"The swelling has gone down," Span said of his sprained left thumb. "The thing to do is to come in tomorrow, test it out, and if it feels good, you strap it on."

Span said an X-ray came back clean, but he didn't grab a bat Tuesday to test the thumb, focusing instead on treatment. He is batting .326 in nine games since coming off the DL. His replacement in center this week, Gorkys Hernandez, was 0-for-3 against Jon Lester, lowering his average to .160. 

--- The main story from the second game of this series: Johnny Cueto is now dealing with a second blister, and you can see the lack of movement on his pitches. The Cubs took advantage. Lester didn't need much help while throwing a 99-pitch complete game in two hours and five minutes. 

"He threw a lot more changeups than we've seen in the past," Buster Posey said. "He's shown it in the past but tonight he had good command of it. It wasn't just a show-me pitch. He used it a lot and threw it to lefties as well.

Posey twice grounded short rollers in front of the plate.

--- Posey's throw to nab Javy Baez on Monday was one of the best of the year, and on Tuesday afternoon, Bruce Bochy said, "If he's given a chance, I don't think there's anyone better in the game." That might be true, but Willson Contreras is threatening to get into the conversation. He threw an 85 mph rocket to second in the fifth to nab Eduardo Nuñez. If you're wondering how Lester -- who flat-out has the yips about throwing to first base and doesn't do it -- has allowed just six stolen bases this season, look no further than his young catcher. Long-term, Contreras is the guy I would expect to compete with Posey for Gold Gloves. 

"Nuney, with his speed, can go," Bochy said. "Their catcher made a great throw. Put it right on the money."

--- From before Tuesday's game, what do the relievers think of the new hidden bullpen at Wrigley? And if you missed the Power Rankings the other day, the records are outdated, but there are updates in here on old friends Matt Duffy, Chris Heston, Tommy Joseph, Adalberto Mejia, Yusmeiro Petit and others. Petit in particular is incredible ... just keeps doing his thing. 

--- This play was made by the shortstop. That's good for the old UZR.

Now dealing with a second blister, Cueto gives up three homers to Cubs

Now dealing with a second blister, Cueto gives up three homers to Cubs

CHICAGO — Even after losses, Johnny Cueto tends to find a way to flash a smile or two in post-game interviews. He is as competitive as it gets between the lines, but off the field he embraces a relaxed attitude. 

There was none of that Tuesday night at Wrigley. Cueto wore a dour look while describing a 4-1 loss to the Cubs, perhaps because he is a man searching for answers. Cueto was already pitching with a blister for the first time in his career. On Tuesday, he admitted he’s now trying to make the ball dance while dealing with a second blister. 

The first, on his middle finger, popped up at the end of the spring and has bothered Cueto off and on. The second, on his index finger, formed in St. Louis last week. 

“It’s not an excuse,” Cueto said several times. “I was getting hit.”

The Cubs crushed three homers, including a 470-foot bomb from Kyle Schwarber. All three pitches leaked right over the heart of the plate, and Cueto admitted that he can't get that final twist on the ball as he normally does. A tad of his movement is missing, and hitters are taking advantage. 

“It’s just those pitches I left hanging,” Cueto said through interpreter Erwin Higueros. “When you leave pitches hanging or put them right in the middle of the plate, you’re going to pay the price.”

The homers — by Schwarber, Jason Heyward and Anthony Rizzo — represented 60 percent of the hits Cueto gave up. He struck out eight in six innings.

“It’s a little unlike Johnny to make mistakes like that,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “You like to think you could make a mistake and get away with it, but he didn’t tonight. A couple of fastballs he pulled over the heart of the plate and then one cutter.”

Catcher Buster Posey said the Cubs were on Cueto’s heater, so the duo tried to adjust. You can’t pitch without your fastball, though, and Cueto’s isn’t quite as explosive as it was in his first year with the Giants. The velocity is down a couple of ticks, but it’s unclear if that too is related to the blisters. 

What is clear is that Cueto is a different pitcher in his second season in San Francisco. He has a 4.64 ERA and opposing hitters are batting .253 with 11 homers. Through 10 starts last year, Cueto had a 2.83 ERA and was holding hitters to a .229 average. He had allowed just two homers. 

“Gosh, it’s just probably a few more mistakes than he made last year,” Bochy said. “He’s still competing so well and he gives you a chance to win every game.”

Cueto made it through six despite the long-ball issues, but that wasn’t enough against Jon Lester, who would have faced Cueto in Game 5 last October. Lester needed just 99 pitches to carve up the Giants for a complete game. He threw 70 strikes. 

That’s the type of efficient performance the Giants came to expect from Cueto last year. Cueto still expects it from himself, but his fingers aren’t cooperating. Asked if he would take a short stint on the DL to get right, Cueto said he can’t. He needs to keep pitching and have callouses form. Plus, any break without throwing would be a significant blow to a team trying desperately to stay within shouting distance of a playoff spot. 

“Basically, it makes no sense whatsoever,” to take a break, Cueto said.