EXTRA BAGGS: Time to start 'MVP' chant for Posey, etc.

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EXTRA BAGGS: Time to start 'MVP' chant for Posey, etc.

BOX SCORE

SAN DIEGO Here are the numbers that Buster Posey ownssince the All-Star break:

A .439 average. Fifty hits in 114 at-bats. Ten doubles andnine homers, too. And 35 RBIs in 32 games.

If he were playing his own video game, hed have accumulatedenough sunflower seeds to buy a riding lawnmower. (If that reference sounds bizarre, you haven't downloaded "Buster Bash.")

Posey was 3 for 4 with a sacrifice fly and an RBI doubleSaturday night, continuing to smoke one pitch after another to right field asonly he can.

When he lasered another to right in the ninth inning, hehustled another double out of it. He didnt let up even as the Giants wereleading 7-5, and even though he already had caught five pitchers on a warmnight at Petco Park.

Its a good thing Posey kept playing all out. He was able toscore on Hunter Pences double, and that run proved invaluable when the Giantswere pushed to the limit before escaping with an 8-7 victory.

Lets also recall that Posey threw out Cameron Maybin tryingto steal second base in the second inning an inning in which the Padresloaded the bases with no outs against Barry Zito, yet only squeezed one run outof it. Poseys throw minimized that threat.

It was somewhere between that throw and that hustle doublein the ninth that I realized: Posey truly is, at this moment, the most valuableplayer in the National League. As amazing as Andrew McCutchen has been for thePirates, Posey has transformed himself into a dominant presence in the middleof the Giants lineup while also contributing at the most important defensivespot on the diamond.

You could make up a nice spreadsheet and compare Posey toMcCutchen in every statistical category. Im sure McCutchens WAR is justdandy.

But every MVP candidacy is built on a narrative, too. And what a story would it be if the Giants, led by Posey in the middle of theirlineup, persevered to win the NL West without Melky Cabrera. What would it tell youif the Giants suddenly lost the player who was leading the major leagues inhits and runs scored, then managed to stay in first place over the final 45games?

It would say that Poseys impact is undeniable. And hisvalue is inestimable.

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Good lord. Posey has 50 hits since the All-Star break.

And yes, I know I already mentioned that once.

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I didnt need to ask Bruce Bochy if Posey would becatching Sunday afternoons series finale in San Diego. If Bochy had planned torest Posey, he wouldve given him his break Saturday night and had Hector Sanchezwork with Barry Zito. When Posey was in the lineup to catch Zito, you knew hewould play the following day, too.

Sure enough, Bochy said Posey would be in there.

The Giants faced a left-hander Saturday and theyll getanother on Sunday. Cabrera, its been noted, had the third highestaverage against lefty pitchers of any major league hitter. He was hitting .395.

Posey ranked second. He entered the game at .423.

So as the Giants look to find a consistent lineup againstlefties, youd better believe Posey will be a part of it.

And, as he said after Saturdays game, Regardless, at thispoint in the year, its time to push it a little more. I want to be out thereas much as possible.

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Pablo Sandoval will be back in Sundays lineup as well, eventhough he did more running than a refrigerator with a bad seal.

He tripled, slid with a thud when he scored on a sacrificefly, then had another inelegant slide when he scored from second base on asingle.

His strained hamstring survived intact.

I dont think twice. I just go, Sandoval said of his triple.

But he acknowledged that third base looked off in thedistance as he picked up coach Tim Flannery.

I see the base so far, he said, smiling. Its likeFlannery pulled the base out.

Sandoval said he was still 90 percent.

What about Sunday? Maybe 91

Still 90, he said, smiling and exhaling.

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In minor league news, Heath Hembree is moving back to Triple-A Fresno after five hitless innings for Single-A San Jose. The Giants wanted Hembree to start out slow at San Jose after missing more than a month with a strained flexor mass in his forearm.

I don't think Hembree will be a candidate to close for the Giants this season. But if he's healthy and effective, and if the reports are good over the next several weeks, then absolutely the Giants will be open-minded to bringing him up in September.

One other minor league note: For the first time in his pro career, Gary Brown started a game someplace other than center field Saturday night. He started in left field and Juan Perez was in center for Double-A Richmond. I'm not sure what that means, but GM Brian Sabean said just the other day he didn't envision Brown playing in the big leagues this season. Anyway, the situation bears watching.

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What has been the key for the Giants offense while scoring18 runs in two games at Petco Park?

They arent striking out. Before Angel Pagan got rung up inthe sixth, the Giants didnt have a strikeout in Saturdays game.

Thats a beautiful thing for Bochy, who was so frustratedearlier in the season when the Giants failed to make contact in RBI situations.They simply arent enough of a power team to justify all those strikeouts, hesaid.

Weve talked about it. Weve discussed it, Bochy said. Theyrefighting up there more. Theyre doing a better job of putting the ball in play,cutting down their swing. We had to cut down in that department. And the guys reallyhave made a concerted effort to do that.

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As mentioned elsewhere in our coverage, Bochy had a quickhook with Barry Zito. He said having a 13-man staff allows him to do that.

The next item to note: Will Bochy have a similar hook withTim Lincecum the rest of the way?

Im guessing ... yes.

Giants spring training Day 41: Hwang wins award, hits game-winner

Giants spring training Day 41: Hwang wins award, hits game-winner

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Jae-Gyun Hwang’s day started with an ovation from teammates who had selected Hwang as the Barney Nugent Award winner. It ended in style, too. 

Hwang’s walk-off single in the ninth gave the Giants an 8-7 win and raised his spring average to .308. Barring an injury or sudden change, Hwang will not make the team out of camp, but he’ll travel to San Francisco for the Bay Bridge Series next week and the Giants expect him back at AT&T Park soon.

“He can keep the award now,” Bochy joked after Hwang’s walk-off. “Good for him. Players love him, and the way he’s come out every day and the effort he puts in. He’s been inspiring with how hard he has gotten after it every day.”

The Barney Nugent Award is given to the player in his first big league camp “whose performance and dedication in Spring Training best exemplifies the San Francisco Giants spirit.” It is meaningful in large part because the voters are teammates, trainers and coaches. Hwang was called to the middle of the clubhouse by trainer Dave Groeschner on Saturday morning to accept the award. 

“With this being my first time coming to spring training to play baseball, I wanted to work hard and show that I belong here,” Hwang said through interpreter Mark Kim. “I think my teammates have noticed how hard I’ve worked for the team.”

The rest of the Giants have also noticed how easy Hwang has made the transition look. He said that, outside of learning a new strike zone, the adjustment hasn’t been a difficult one. He has four homers this spring, but doesn’t necessarily view that as a shining positive. Hwang said he wants to show more of an all-around game, especially on defense, and a stint in Triple-A Sacramento should provide that opportunity. 

If the rosters play out as expected, Hwang should see most of the time at third base in Triple-A. He can also play first, and he’s eager to show that he’s viable in left field. 

“I want to show I’m a versatile player,” he said. 

GAME RECAP: Chris Stratton was having a good spring, but he got knocked around by the Padres early … Buster Posey and Brandon Crawford both hit deep homers in their second game back from the WBC … Mark Melancon still has not allowed a run this spring … Hunter Pence's March slump got a bit deeper with an 0-for-3 ... Bryan Reynolds, last year’s top pick, entered as a pinch-runner and flew home from first on a Gorkys Hernandez double off the wall. 

BULLPEN BATTLES: In the front office’s perfect world, Josh Osich would be the one to take over for Will Smith, giving the team a hard-throwing lefty capable of neutralizing lefties and righties. It’s been an up-and-down spring for Osich, but he was filthy Saturday, striking out a pair in his lone inning. 

George Kontos looked even better in his inning, striking out the side. Kontos has allowed just five hits in 10 innings this spring, with 15 strikeouts. He seems forever stuck in that sixth-seventh range, but given his splits have been just about even over the years, maybe it’s time the Giants see what he can do in a more high-profile role. 

Cory Gearrin followed the previous two with a perfect eighth. Neil Ramirez struck out one and allowed one hit in the ninth. In 9 1/3 innings this spring, Ramirez has struck out 16 and allowed just five hits and two runs. He has a real shot to take someone’s job in the bullpen next week. 

ICYMI: The big news from this morning: Michael Morse will stick with the team and try to rehab/play his way back to the big leagues. And from the early afternoon, Johnny Cueto had a ton of fun with a 19-year-old he faced in a minor league game. 

NOTABLE: Bochy said that all of the players left in camp are slated to head home on the team flight Tuesday, but some guys have opt-outs on March 30, so moves are coming. This would seem a great sign for Aaron Hill, who is due a $100,000 retention bonus on Tuesday. Hill has slumped late in camp, but he’s still in position to make the team. Also noteworthy: Tyler Beede is scheduled to start Saturday’s game in Oakland. The Giants surely want to knock some MLB-stadium-nerves off before Beede heads down to Triple-A to wait for a call-up.

 

Cueto toys with young prospect in Giants minor league game

Cueto toys with young prospect in Giants minor league game

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — There is no way to really ramp up the intensity when an All-Star pitcher makes an appearance in minor league camp, so Johnny Cueto instead found a way to have a bit more fun. 

While getting his work in against A-ball hitters, Cueto had a prolonged, smile-filled battle with 19-year-old Jasrado Chisholm, one of the Diamondbacks’ top prospects. The sequence between Cueto and the shortstop from the Bahamas: 

  • Cueto just missed with a two-strike inside fastball, so he went right back to the same spot, freezing Chisholm, who smiled and nodded at Cueto, who laughed back. 
  • The next time up, Chisholm took two vicious hacks, trying to crank a homer onto Hayden Road. He missed both breaking balls by about a foot. 
  •  Before the third pitch, Cueto yelled something at Chisholm and smiled. “I was telling him to keep his eye on the ball,” Cueto said. “Because every time he was swinging, he was taking his eye off the ball.”
  •  The advice worked. Chisholm hung in on the third pitch, lining a single to left-center. Cueto laughed and pointed his glove at the teenager. He promptly picked him off of first base. “He probably doesn’t know I have a quick move,” he said. “I was having fun with a kid who wanted to actually hit against me.”

Nobody has more fun than Cueto, even on a sun-baked minor league field. He capped his day by standing in for an at-bat of his own, and he stood and watched as a young Diamondback struck him out.

The work on the mound was just what was needed: 7 innings, 85 pitches, 10 strikeouts, 0 runs. Cueto, who missed the opening weeks of camp, is ready for the season.

“I feel strong,” he said. “I feel really good."