EXTRA BAGGS: Pagan helping Giants' cause, and his own

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EXTRA BAGGS: Pagan helping Giants' cause, and his own

LOS ANGELES Angel Pagan moved back into the leadoff spoton Aug. 3.

In 18 games since then, he has a .343 average and a .424on-base percentage. He has hit two home runs, six doubles and three triples. Hehas scored 20 runs and knocked in 12.

RELATED: Angel Pagan career stats 2012 game logs
And he, along with the rest of the Giants, have beenbetrayed by Melky Cabrera.

Its a bit misleading to say Pagan has responded toCabreras 50-game drug suspension by playing his best ball of the season. Paganalready had begun to blister the baseball before the news broke last week.

But this much is true: he hasnt let the controversy surrounding his formerlocker mate distract him.

Pagan is playing with edge and intensity, and his performancein Tuesday nights 4-1 victory at Dodger Stadium might have been his bestall-around effort of the season. He hustled to avoid the tag on a ground ballto first base. He turned a ground single up the middle into a double. And hethrew out a runner at home plate.

We all know how important these games are, Pagan said.Youre playing the guys
who want to take your spot. Im just going out thereto play hard, play hard for my teammates, and try to win some ballgames.

Said Bruce Bochy: Since hes assumed the leadoff role, hesreally turned up his game a notch. Hes just playing great baseball on bothsides. He has his ups and downs, but he deals with them and hes playing asgood ball as anyone right now.

Those downs, particularly through July, made it seem as ifPagans stay in San Francisco would be brief. He will be a free agent after theseason. So will Cabrera, who had won over everyone with his relentlessly greatplay. The Hunter Pence trade, and his impending salary in arbitration, seemedto make it official: The Giants couldnt bring back all three outfielders. Pagan would go somewhere else.

But things change quickly in this game. Cabrera almost certainly will neverbe a Giant again, his level of deception too deep to forgive. And Pagan isplaying inspired baseball again.

Its still far from a guarantee Pagan will be back in 2013. Itmight be something less than a coin flip. But say this: its a far greater possibility thanit was eight days ago.

Most importantly, Pagan appears driven by the here and now,and this pennant race.

Ive been feeling awesome, said Pagan, who credited themove to leadoff with helping him hit his stride. Thats helped my approach andits helped my confidence. So far, I feel the best I have the whole season.

I just hope to keep getting on base and scoring early runs,because thats going to be so important for us, for our pitching staff.

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Pagan is not known for his arm, but his throw to the platein the fifth inning had enough on it and a little luck to nail A.J. Ellisat the plate.

Pagan said he just wanted to keep the throw true so that itdeither be cut off, possibly leading to one of the back-end runners being hungout to dry, or the ball would make it cleanly to catcher Hector Sanchez so the otherrunners couldnt advance.

Just make sure we get one out or we keep the double play inorder, he said. I was just trying to clear the mound, not have it bounceaway.

It hit the mound in the perfect spot on the downslope and that allowed it to pick up speed. Sanchez did the rest by blocking theplate, and first baseman Buster Posey made the decision to let the throw gothrough.

I dont know if you guys saw me, said Tim Lincecum, but Iscreamed my head off when he made that play.

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Sanchez had an eventful night. He lost track of the outs in the second inning,making a dash for the dugout after Ellis struck out. The odd thing is thatLincecum only faced two batters in the inning, and struck them both out. So it's hard to fathom how Sanchez got confused.

Lincecum had to laugh.

Because Ive been in a similar situation, he said,smiling.

Sanchez said he'll survive the embarrassment. But he's bracing for the unavoidable roastthat awaits him on Kevin Millars Intentional Talk show on the MLB Network.

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Im going to predict a big game soon for Pablo Sandoval. Hehit two line drives that seemed to be rising as Matt Kemp caught them in centerfield. They were both absolutely scorched.

He told me hes really encouraged and he is seeing the ballthe best he has all season.

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Hunter Pence was 0 for 4, dropping his average to .200 inhis first 20 games as a Giant. But its not panic time. Hes putting the ballin play in RBI situations and getting runs in, which is what the Giants signedhim to do. Hes not striking out in big spots, which has been a problem for somany others this season.

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After getting Andre Ethier to ground out on a sinker to endMondays game, Javier Lopez said he would have to invent something new toretire the Dodgers All-Star outfielder the following day.

Well, the following day arrived, and Lopez was summoned toface Ethier again. He got a ground-ball double play to end the game.

On asinker.

What happened to all that invention talk? Was that the seedhe wanted to plant?

Well, yes, Lopez said, in jest. Exactly right.

Actually, Lopez mixed sequences and went for astrikeout with a two-strike slider. When Ethier didnt bite

Just try to go down in the zone, Lopez said. Im aground-ball pitcher. Thats always what Im looking for. I was fortunate andgot ahead yesterday, and got ahead again today.

And tomorrow: eephus.

Or another sinker.

--
Hard to tell what was a better sign for the bullpen: JoseMijares striking out Ethier to strand two of Lincecums runners in the sixth orSantiago Casilla needing 19 pitches to get six quick outs in the seventh andeighth.

Having Mijares is big for the Giants because they can saveLopez for a spot later in the game, and keep Jeremy Affeldt in more of aone-inning role.

But I'll go with Casilla. He was such a force in the first half. Getting himback on the beam could be the key to this whole committee thing having a chanceat working.

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Some national columnists are already boiling down the NL MVPvote to Andrew McCutchen and Buster Posey. Im sure Major League Baseballofficials are just hoping both of them stay hot to the finish.

RELATED: Buster Posey 2012 game logs Andrew McCutchen 2012 game logs

McCutchens average is down to .350 barely ahead of thedisgraced Melky Cabrera, who was at .346 when the league handed down its suspension.

Cabrera was one plate appearance short of qualifying for the batting title, butplayers who fall a few at-bats short can have them added to their total. Iftheir adjusted average is still higher than anyone else, as was the case once withTony Gwynn, then they are considered the batting champ.

Remember, this is not some award that can be taken away. Its based on an officialstatistic, and Cabreras average is in the books. When you add one extraat-bat, hes still hitting .346.

As for Posey? Hes third in the NL, with a .327 average.

Bud Selig had his hands in his pockets when Barry Bonds hithis 755th home run. Youd
better believe he is rooting for McCutchento stay above .350, and for Posey to get there, too.

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The other day I mentioned that Madison Bumgarner and ClaytonKershaw had faced each other just one other time before Monday night on April12, 2011.

Last season, in other words.

As a side note, here are the six batters atop the Giantslineup that day: Miguel Tejada, Freddy Sanchez, Aubrey Huff, Buster Posey, PatBurrell and Aaron Rowand.

Five guys who are done, if you count Huff. And then you havePosey.

It always amazes me how quickly things turn over in thisgame and how good you must be to endure.

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.