EXTRA BAGGS: Lopez's remarkable streak ends, etc.

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EXTRA BAGGS: Lopez's remarkable streak ends, etc.

BOX SCORE

PITTSBURGH Javier Lopez turned on his heels, hopped onceand watched the ball soar over the center field stands to the banks of theAllegheny River. He smiled through gritted teeth and punched his glove, the waysomeone might when hitting black after collecting a dozen times on red.

It finally ended. And what a run it was.

Hard as it might be to believe, the home run Lopez served upto the Pirates Pedro Alvarez on Friday was the first hes allowed in a Giants uniform.

No need to reread. Lopez had faced 378 batters as a Giant and 18 more in the 2010 postseason without allowing a home run.

Yeah, I was aware, Lopez said. I try to keep the balldown but when I dont, things like that happen. It was my big slider. That onewas up, middle, and Pedros really got a good approach now. Hes balanced onthose breaking balls.

It wasnt a cheapie, either. He got it.

A reporter told him that it went 457 feet.

Well, I didnt really care that much, but I appreciate it,he said, with a wise smile.

Did he remember the particulars of the last home run, whichcame 136 appearances and 91 13 innings ago, when he was wearing a PittsburghPirates uniform, oddly enough?

Carlos Gonzalez, in Coors, he said, accurately recalling July 28, 2010. Samepitch, slider. He hit it off the face of the third deck.

You can tell me how far that one went, too.

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Barry Zito was something less than impressive while battlingthrough five innings with a flat curveball in Friday's 6-5 victory, but he did exactly what the Giantshoped hed do in what amounted to a fifth-starter role: He gave them a chance towin.

He did that remarkably well in the first half. Zito ends itwith a 7-6 record. The Giants were 9-8 in his starts. That is more thanacceptable, considering the kerosene he was throwing in his final two outingsof the spring.

Im just fighting every day, Zito said. Im not going toback down. I think theres a lot of things to build on and a lot of things toimprove on. Ive got a pretty good rest now to work on some things and be readyagainst Atlanta.

Giants manager Bruce Bochy pointed out that Zito came uphuge from his very first start, when the club got kicked in the teeth in aseason-opening three-game sweep at Arizona. Zito picked them up by throwing hisremarkable shutout at Coors Field.

He was in a similar spot Friday at Pittsburgh, after theGiants were exhausted and maybe a little exposed while getting swept in threegames at Nationals Park. This one wasnt a shutout, but Zito found a way tominimize the damage after putting the team in a 3-0 hole.

Zito has a 4.01 ERA entering the break. In 2010, he was evenbetter at this stage. He was 7-4 with a 3.76 ERA at the break, and after acouple more strong starts, he stood at 8-6 with a 3.38 ERA at the end of July.

Then he went 1-8 with a 6.14 ERA in his last 12 games (11starts), and you know the rest. There was that ugly outing in the 161stgame of the season when he had a chance to lock down the division but walked inPadres with the bases loaded. And there were the three rounds of playoffbaseball when Zito, a former Cy Young winner with an outstanding postseasonrecord, had to deal with the ignominy of being off the roster.

So hes motivated to see this season through. Lord knows theGiants are counting on him, especially with Tim Lincecum still struggling to findhimself.

In 2010, the second half was just very difficult for me, especiallythe last six weeks, Zito said. I just wasnt in any rhythm or timing in mydelivery. Im cognizant of that and Im geared up to go out one start at a timeand keep battling.

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On another note, Ryan Vogelsong is suddenly your NL ERAleader. Atlantas Brandon Beachy is hurt and fell out of qualifying. The CubsRyan Dempster also fell short of the requisite number of innings. So Vogelsongand his 2.26 ERA lead the Senior Circuit.

Makes his All-Star snub all the more noticeable.

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Speaking of league leaders, the Pirates, Andrew McCutchenentered the day with an NL-best .35593 average. Melky Cabrera was next, at.35582.

They both put on a show. McCutchen was 3-for-5 with atriple, two RBIs and a run scored. Cabrera was 2-for-4 with a two-run home runthat tied the game in the fourth inning.

And at the end of the day: McCutchen was at a nice, round .36000.And Melky was at .35757

Were a long way from actually tracking the batting crown.But these guys have been so good this season. To watch them both at their craft(and both facing lefties, too, which they are absolutely mauling this season),was quite a treat.

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Cabrera is almost certain to post the highest average by aGiant at the All-Star break since Barry Bonds in 2004, when he was hitting.365.

The rest of the list:

Willie Mays, 1958 (.358)
Rich Aurilia, 2001 (.356)
Melky Cabrera, 2012 (.357)
Jeff Kent , 2000 (.355)
Willie Mays, 1960 (.353)
Barry Bonds, 1993 (.348)

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Just yesterday I was walking past the White House. So when my flight landed in Pittsburgh today, imagine my surprise when I found out why police wereblocking my taxi and other traffic on an onramp to I-376.

The presidential motorcade was about to pass through.President Obama was campaigning in Beaver County and en route to give a speechat Carnegie-Mellon University. I watched as several emergency vehicles led aprocession down an empty freeway that included police, several armored blackSUVs and a bus, presumably holding the press corps.

It dawned on me that the White House press corps really hasit good. Imagine they never get stuck in traffic!

Giants spring training Day 7: Rule change should help Bochy

Giants spring training Day 7: Rule change should help Bochy

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — On one of the many nights last season when his bullpen imploded, Bruce Bochy nearly put a catcher on the mound. Trevor Brown ended up playing an inning of third base on June 28 as the Giants gave up eight runs over the final two innings in a brutal loss to the A’s, and he said this week that he was told he was the next man up on the mound. 

That night was an odd one, as a tired bullpen was waiting for Sergio Romo to get activated off a rehab assignment and trying to get by without long reliever Chris Stratton, who had thrown 57 pitches out of the ‘pen the night before. The bench was also short because Joe Panik was about to be put on the concussion DL.

Bochy hopes he doesn’t have to deal with such a situation this season, and not just because the bullpen should be much improved. The disabled list lasts 10 days now, not 15, and Bochy is thrilled with the new rule.

“The DL thing, I really like it,” he said. “You get caught in that gray area so often.” 

Bochy met with league officials on Saturday to go over some of the rule changes. DL stints can now be made retroactive just three days, but it’s still a vast improvement overall. 

“With (position) players and pitchers it’s going to make it easier to DL guys,” Bochy said. “If you’re looking at (starting) pitchers, they could miss just one start.”

The Giants have often played a man or more short, trying to get by day-by-day to give a position player or starter time to heal. Around camp, this could be called the Angel Pagan Rule, as the former Giants outfielder often missed a week or so before officially going on the DL. At times, Bochy has been patient with players like Buster Posey and Hunter Pence, knowing that even if they missed a week, keeping them off the DL could still earn the Giants seven or eight games with a big bat back in the lineup. If a future diagnosis is that a player will miss a week, it’ll be much easier to swallow putting him on the 10-day DL than it was for the 15-day. Likewise, the Giants will take advantage of the change if a pitcher will have to miss a start. 

Bochy has said often that he would like every reliever to go on the DL during the season to freshen up. That’ll make more sense now, and it should keep the Giants from having to play as many games where the bullpen is gassed and a backup catcher is preparing to pitch. For guys like Stratton — a versatile pitcher on the 40-man roster — it should also lead to increased trips up to the big leagues to fill gaps. 

INJURY UPDATE: Pence (side muscle) took 25 swings during a live BP session in the cage and Bochy said he’s doing much better. That was about the only significant activity Sunday. Once again, the workout was rained out. Bochy said the Giants have enough time to get guys ready for the Cactus League opener on Feb. 24, but they’ll likely hold some big-name pitchers out of the early games. Brandon Crawford and Posey will get plenty of early starts to prepare for the WBC. 

PROSPECT WATCH: If the early games are turned over to prospects, Dan Slania will be an interesting guy to watch. Slania is listed at 6-foot-5 and 275 pounds, so he always had the look of an imposing reliever. But his greatest success last season came after a surprise move to the rotation. 

Slania, a 2013 fifth-round pick out of Notre Dame, got a call on his 24th birthday telling him to prepare to start because of an injury in Richmond’s rotation. He had not started a game since high school, but his four-pitch mix worked. He had a 5.32 ERA out of the bullpen but it dropped to 1.48 in 10 starts for the Flying Squirrels. In two Triple-A starts, he struck out 14 over 13 innings while allowing just eight hits and two runs. The Giants put him on their 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft. 

“He had a great year last year,” Bochy said. “He’s in camp for a reason. He’s got great stuff and a good makeup.”

RULE CHANGE: One more thing that came out of that rules meeting: Managers who are out of challenges now have to wait until the eighth inning to ask an umpire to look at a play.

QUOTABLE: “We know he’s better off taking some days. We talked about it (with him). He agrees that it’ll help him.” Bochy on Pence’s workload. The right fielder is coming off two injury-marred seasons, and the Giants have no intention of even trying to get him back to his Iron Man days. 

Tomlinson still a fit as Giants put bench together

Tomlinson still a fit as Giants put bench together

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The “options game” can be a cruel one. It can also be one of the most important parts of spring training. 

If two players are relatively even at the end of camp but only one can be optioned to the minors, he’s usually the man left out. Giants officials have already made reference to this several times in discussing left field, where Jarrett Parker — who is out of options — would surely be claimed off waivers if the Giants try to sneak him back to the minors before Opening Day. Mac Williamson, on the other hand, can be shuttled back and forth. 

The same holds true for Kelby Tomlinson, and while it was easy during the first week of camp to see him as the odd man out, manager Bruce Bochy said that’s not the case. What do all the veteran infielders mean for the young one already in-house?

“It hasn’t affected anything for Kelby, really,” Bochy said. “It’s all about competition for spots on this team.”

Tomlinson played 54 games in 2015 and 52 a year ago, but the Giants put a clear emphasis this offseason on finding backup infielders. Jimmy Rollins, Jae-gyun Hwang, Orlando Calixte and Gordon Beckham were among those brought in before camp, and Aaron Hill arrived on the fourth day. Sure, Ehire Adrianza — who was seemingly perpetually out of options — is no longer around, but if the Giants carry just two backup infielders, one of them will almost certainly be Conor Gillaspie. 

Tomlinson isn’t bothered by the offseason of additions. He said he can take knowledge away from six weeks spent with guys he grew up watching.

“Rollins’ prime was right in my later high school years,” he said, smiling. “I’ve got a lot of guys to learn from and watch. It’s a little of both (a competition and learning experience). We’re all fighting for the same job, but we’re still on the same team and we’re all trying to learn from each other and help each other.”

Tomlinson is the incumbent, and the Giants certainly know all about his speed and ability to play all over the field (he continued to take fly balls this winter, just in case). They also now know that Tomlinson adds something that’s needed on any bench. Last season, he emerged as one of Bochy’s most reliable pinch-hitters. 

Tomlinson’s seven pinch-hits were tied for second on the team after Gillaspie’s 11. He was 7-for-17 in a pinch, adding three walks. Tomlinson’s simple swing and up-the-middle approach have proven perfect for important spots. He’s a .315 career hitter with runners in scoring position, a .373 hitter in situations baseball-reference deems “late and close,” and a .367 hitter in “high leverage” spots.

“I’m just trying to compete up there every at-bat, especially in that pinch-hitting role,” Tomlinson said. “It’s a grind, but that makes it fun when you give the team a quality at-bat. Even if it’s not a hit, you go up there and try to see five pitches and have a good at-bat.”

Tomlinson has given the Giants plenty of them over parts of two seasons. With Brandon Crawford headed for the World Baseball Classic, he is sure to see increased time this spring, and while the options game or non-roster list might catch up to him, the Giants haven’t forgotten what they already have. 

“He gives us versatility,” Bochy said, “So he’s in the mix, too.”