EXTRA BAGGS: Lincecum scraps slider to save elbow

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EXTRA BAGGS: Lincecum scraps slider to save elbow

PHOENIX Tim Lincecum pronounced himself ready for theseason, even though his line score wasnt pretty in a 7-4 loss to the MilwaukeeBrewers at Maryvale.

And even if Lincecum isnt throwing his slider.

The pitch was key to Lincecums turnaround from a wretched, 0-5August to a hair-flipping, World Series hero in 2010. But hes leaving it in his back pocketto start the season. He said he doesnt need the extra wrinkle.

But theres another reason hell limit himself to fastballs,curves and his signature split-change when he starts Fridays season opener atArizona.

Giants manager Bruce Bochy acknowledged the slider isnt sofriendly on the elbow, and Lincecum is trying to pace himself this season.

He just wanted to back off, Bochy said. Its a longseason and he has a lot of innings in him. It probably puts a little morestress on his arm. He probably wants to wait to break it out later.

Asked a follow-up question about Lincecum's health, Bochy insisted that the two-time Cy Young award winner has no physical issues. It's true, Lincecum hasnt thrown hard this spring. But that is notatypical. He often starts out slow before zipping 94 mph on the gun when the seasonbegins. More important, he says, is location of his two-seamer so he can get ahead ofhitters and try for more efficient, contact outs.

It's still cause for concern, though. (That will always be true for Lincecum. People will always be at the ready to predict a breakdown. Story of his life.)

Lincecum did not appear concerned as he prepared to join the team flight back to the Bay Area. Although he struggled to get his fastball down all spring, he threw all heaters in his final two innings and said its the besthes felt.

Good, fine, everything felt the same, Lincecum said. Bestthe fastball location has been all spring. I feel ready to get back out thereand pitch in a real game. Im out there pitching for a purpose, and thats towin.

A few defensive plays werent made behind him includingone exchange between Lincecum and first baseman Brandon Belt and thatcontributed to a linescore that was messier than it shouldve been. Lincecumgave up two doubles to Rickie Weeks and Ryan Braun also hit a two-run double asthe Brewers scored six runs on eight hits and one walk in 4 23 innings.

Lincecum, who was only scheduled to throw five innings,recorded four strikeouts and also hit Weeks with a pitch.

He ends his spring with a 5.70 ERA.

He will match up against Arizonas Ian Kennedy at ChaseField on Friday. Kennedy was 3-0 with a 1.22 ERA in five starts against theGiants last season.

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The Giants were 16-14-3 in Cactus League play, if you're keeping track of such things.

One reason I don't: Arizona was 12-25 last spring.

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Even in the last Cactus League exhibition Sunday, Bochy, thecoaching staff and front office were still trying to evaluate players as theypiece together the opening-day roster.

In the case of Joaquin Arias, it was not great. Hismiddle-infield defense has kept him under consideration, and by allindications, he has been in competition with Brett Pill for one roster spot.

But Arias hasnt looked as steady at third base, and he hada chalk-outline kind of afternoon there Sunday. Seemed everything was just outof his reach.

Pill is no great shakes at third base, either. But hisability to back up Pablo Sandoval would be another notch in his utility belt asthe Giants try to justify carrying his right-handed power bat.

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Youd better believe the Giants had a purpose by havingHector Sanchez catch Lincecum, too.

They need to figure out if Sanchezs defense has made enoughprogress to justify putting him on the roster as Buster Posey's backup.That way, their lineup wouldnt suffer as badly on the many occasions whenPosey needs a break from behind the plate.

Yes, the front office and coaches agree with you: A lowerthird of the lineup with Emmanuel Burriss, Brandon Crawford and either ChrisStewart or Eli Whiteside is not tantalizing in the slightest.

But they also have to do right by this pitching staff, andif Sanchez isnt ready defensively, they have to pay consideration to that.

Sanchez looked rough at times while receiving Lincecum, asmost catchers do. Timmy is tough to catch. Sanchez was charged with one passed ball and let one changeup in the dirt getpast him for a wild pitch. He also dropped a foul pop. But Ill give him abreak on the drop; it was especially windy and this is one of the worst sunfields in Arizona.

Sanchez also blocked several other curves and changeups in the dirt, as Bochypointed out.

He did fine, and Timmy looked comfortable throwing to him,Bochy said.

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Final predictions after gleaning a bit more intelligence from sources today: Dan Otero makes it over Steve Edlefsen. No Eli Whiteside. No Brett Pill. Yes, Brandon Belt. And the final spot will come down to Joaquin Arias vs. a third catcher. If no Arias, then Chris Stewart and Hector Sanchez both make the club.

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Time for me to begin my two-day exploration of I-10 and I-5,in that order. Before I turn out the lights in Maryvale, though considerthis:

The opening day roster and lineup are important decisions. It is an honor for the players. Those who make it are elated and those whodont are crushed. The decisions give you a window into what the front office and coachingstaff thinks of their players. (And another thing: The executives and coaches arent always inagreement.)

But opening day, for all the hoopla, really is just one gameout of 162. The starting nine that day will be exactly that: The lineup forthat day. Things change, injuries happen. Evaluations are being made all thetime. If Angel Pagan is the center fielder on Friday, it doesnt mean he canhave a .221 on-base percentage on April 30 and will continue to be the starting centerfielder. (It's true. Pagan has a .221 on-base percentage this spring.)

Same goes for Nate Schierholtz, Emmanuel Burriss, and yes,Aubrey Huff.

You will see Belt this year. I cant say for certainthat youll see him starting on opening day. But hell be a factor in 2012. A potentially bigone, too.

Lets just summarize my point this way: See if you can guess the opening-daylineup for your 2010 World Series champion San Francisco Giants. Now scroll down and count how many you got right. (No peeking!)

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CF Aaron Rowand
SS Edgar Renteria
3B Pablo Sandoval
1B Aubrey Huff
LF Mark DeRosa
C Bengie Molina
RF John Bowker
2B Juan Uribe
P Tim Lincecum

Bonus points if you knew that DeRosa was the only Giant tohomer on that opening day in Houston. Extra credit if you knew it would be hisonly homer as a Giant.

As I've often said, if you predicted on opening day of 2010 that the Giants would win the World Series, you are allowed to take no credit. That team didn't win it. Another one did.

Giants notes: Blach shows resiliency; another option in center?

Giants notes: Blach shows resiliency; another option in center?

CHICAGO — John Lackey's night started with a leadoff homer. Ty Blach's night started with a 13-pitch battle. Neither one is a positive for a pitcher, but Blach didn't view it that way. He actually appreciated Ben Zobrist stretching him out.

"It's good to have a battle like that and get you locked in," Blach said. "It gets you focused and you'll be like, I can execute and get guys out. It's good. It's a good battle."

There, in a nutshell, is so much of what Bruce Bochy loves about his young left-hander. The Giants have found Blach's arm and resolve to be remarkably resilient. He wasn't bothered when they moved him to the bullpen and he didn't get too high when they moved him back to the rotation. He is the same after seven shutout innings or three poor ones. Bochy smiled when asked about the Zobrist at-bat, which ended in a strikeout looking. 

"How 'bout that?" the manager said. "He won that at-bat. It seems like the advantage goes to the hitter, seeing all those pitches. He kept his focus and got a called strikeout and here he is pitching in the eighth inning."

After needing 13 pitches for one out, Blach got the next 23 on 81 pitches. Bochy thought Blach tired a bit in the eighth, but the deep effort allowed Bochy to mix and match in the bullpen, and ultimately he found the right mix. Hunter Strickland and Mark Melancon closed it out and got Blach his second win.

--- From last night, Joe Panik's huge night helped give Blach an early lead. With the help of Ron Wotus and his shift charts, he also put on a show defensively.

--- We're trying something new right after the final pitch: Here are five quick takeaways from the 6-4 win.

--- The options game sent Kelby Tomlinson back to Triple-A on Wednesday when the Giants activated Melancon, but his latest stint in Sacramento comes with a twist. Tomlinson started his third consecutive game in center field on Monday. The Giants are getting a bit more serious about their longtime plan to make Tomlinson a super-utility player. 

“Tommy is a valuable guy in the majors and if we can give him some experience in the outfield, it gives you more flexibility and versatility,” manager Bruce Bochy said. 

This is not Tomlinson’s first foray into the outfield. He did work there in the offseason after the 2015 season and he has played 25 big league innings in left field the last two seasons. This is Tomlinson’s first real experience with center field, and while in the past he has said that the transition isn’t as easy as some might think, Bochy is confident Tomlinson can figure it out. He certainly has the speed to be a semi-regular in the outfield, and the Giants aren’t exactly brimming with quality center field options behind Denard Span, who is dealing with his second injury of the season. 

“It’s a little different now,” Bochy said when asked about Tomlinson’s past experiences in the outfield. “He’s in Sacramento doing it, and knowing there’s a possibility we could need help in the outfield.”

If the switch doesn’t come in handy this season, it could in 2018. Bochy compared Tomlinson’s infield-outfield ability to Eduardo Nuñez, who has found regular playing time in left but is a free agent after the year. 

--- Hunter Pence did some light running in the outfield before Monday’s game. Bochy said Pence is still about a week away from being an option.

--- Bochy has said it a few times now when asked about the standings, so it’s officially a new motto for a team that got off to a brutal start: “We’ve put ourselves in a great situation for a great story.”

--- They're starting to get a little grumpy around here with their team hovering around .500. Perhaps the Cubs thought they could fool a few on the way out of Wrigley.

Panik takes step in right direction, helps Giants build lead Cubs can't overcome

Panik takes step in right direction, helps Giants build lead Cubs can't overcome

CHICAGO — The Giants gave Mark Melancon $62 million to make sure they don’t have an NLDS repeat, and the closer did shut the Cubs down in the ninth Monday. There’s a far cheaper solution to those big problems, however: Score so much that a late-inning implosion doesn’t matter. 

The Giants gave up four in the eighth inning in their first meeting with the Cubs since that infamous Game 4 meltdown, but thanks in large part to Joe Panik, the cushion was large enough. Panik, back atop the leadoff spot with Denard Span aching, reached base four times and had three extra-base hits. He came into the game with a .172 average over his previous 14 games, but he took John Lackey deep to lead off the night. 

“The last couple of days in St. Louis I started feeling better,” Panik said. “I started feeling a little better and today it clicked. It’s definitely a step in the right direction. I felt good. The swing path felt good. It’s going back to staying on the ball and not trying to do too much.”

With the wind rushing out toward the bleachers, there was no need to try and muscle the ball. The Giants hit a season-high three homers and added four doubles. Brandon Belt and Justin Ruggiano also went deep as the lead was stretched to 6-0. After Ruggiano’s blast, a familiar feeling set in.

Ty Blach had been brilliant through seven, but Javier Baez took him deep in the eighth. Derek Law entered and gave up a two-run shot to Ben Zobrist. Just as in Game 4, Bochy started wearing out the track to the mound. Steven Okert faced one batter and plunked him as Hunter Strickland and Melancon started to heat up. Strickland got the call, and after falling behind in the count, he got Willson Contreras to ground into a double play, stranding a pair. 

“No lead is safe on a night like this,” Bochy said of the wind. “It’s not surprising when the other team answers.”

It probably wasn’t surprising to the players on the field. It did, however, bring back bad memories.

“You’re human,” Panik said. “You’re human, but with the bullpen we’ve got, we have confidence that they’ll shut it down.”

As the Cubs rallied in the eighth and again the ninth, a half-dozen key plays from earlier loomed larger. Panik was sent from second by Phil Nevin on a hard single to left and he cut the corner at third perfectly, scoring the second run of the night. Blach helped kill one potential Cubs rally by cutting behind Albert Almora in the sixth. The center fielder had dropped a one-out bloop into right and he made a hard turn. Blach followed him to first, fielded a throw from Ruggiano, and threw Almora out at second, eliminating a baserunner ahead of Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo.

“We work on that all the time,” said Blach, a former minor league Gold Glove winner. “I saw him rounding pretty hard so I tried to sneak in. We were able to catch a guy sleeping.”

Blach was being modest. It is not a play most pitchers make, not in a 5-0 game. It was simply one of many defensive highlights for the Giants, who did just about everything right until the eighth. When the bullpen started to wobble, the lead was large enough that it didn’t matter. 

The win was the eighth in 10 games for a team that’s threatening to get back into the postseason chase. For all that’s gone wrong, the Giants are just 3 1/2 games behind these Cubs. They’ll try to get another one back Tuesday in a reminder of what could have been: Johnny Cueto against Jon Lester.

Earlier this season, Panik would have hit seventh or eighth against Lester, but Bochy said he’ll get another night atop the lineup. The manager said Panik earned it with his first career night with three extra base hits. After the first leadoff homer of his career — and probably life — Panik doubled twice. That helped build the lead, but it led to some ribbing hours later. As Panik addressed reporters, Matt Cain snuck up behind the scrum.

“Ask him why he didn’t try for third on his second double,” Cain whispered.