SAN FRANCISCO You know Angel Pagan has been the hottest hitter on the Giants in August. And you know Buster Posey has been sizzling ever since the All-Star break.But do you know who is hitting .352 over his last 28 games, and .371 over his last 19?Think for a minute.(Music plays.)Its Brandon Belt. The Giants first baseman has quietly lifted his average from.229 on July 24 up to a respectable .265. And his on-base percentage is up to .362, which is second only to Posey (.403) among Giants hitters who arent suspended.With all the talk of how the Giants would replace Melky Cabrera, there wasnt much mention of the resurgence of Belt. Thats partly because hes done it without hitting homers he hasnt hit one since June 23, and he has just four all year but Belt doesnt care. He said he decided to not worry about his numbers and just worry about helping the team win.I got in this low spot, he said. I wasnt doing anything to help the team. I was probably hurting the team, and it really bugged me. I said, No matter how I feel, Im going to go out and battle and see what happens. I think thats make me play better personally.In his second at-bat on Saturday, Belt did exactly what the Giants needed, even though it lowered his batting average. With runners on second and third and no outs, he hit a ground ball to second. It was the perfect out, because it drove in a run and moved another runner to third. In his next trip, Belt drilled a double over the head of center fielder Michael Bourn.I think its a changing mindset, Belt said. Im just going out there and battling whether I feel good or bad, just do anything I can to try to help us win. Its getting down to crunch time and we have to win as much possible.---The Giants optioned right-hander Eric Hacker to Triple-A after Saturdays game, with a corresponding roster move to be announced before Sundays game. Hacker appeared in three games since he was recalled Aug. 17, and he gave up runs inall three.Guillermo Mota will not be the guy who takes his spot on Sunday. That is the final day of his 100-game suspension. Mota will have to be activated or designated for assignment on Tuesday, after the Giants off day on Monday.--Speaking of Mota, Bruce Bochy said before the game that the decision on whether he comes back will be mostly baseball related, but its a fair question how much of his outside circumstances should be taken into account.Will fans forgive a two-time violator of baseballs drug policy? Does it matter if fans forgive him or not? Are the Giants better off not even reopening the discussion by putting him back on the mound?All good questions.From here it seems the Giants ought to do whatever wins them the most games, and thats probably what fans want too.--Jeremy Affeldt is scuffling. In his last seven games, hes allowed four runs on eight hits and six walks in 4 23 innings. He issued back-to-back bases-loadedwalks in the eighth inning on Saturday, turning a 4-3 game into a 6-3 game.Hes battling himself a little bit, Bochy said. He was so close to gettingout of that inning. Got two strikes and was so close to getting out of that. Once he walked the guy he was frustrated and then he walked another guy. Hes a big part of the pen and they all have their moments, which hes having now, but it wasnt too long ago he was pitching as well as anybody, and well get himback on track.--Francisco Pegueros major league debut was ok, Bochy said, hardly a ringing endorsement.Peguero did make a nice catch running back toward the fence in the first inning, saving a couple runs, but his two at-bats didnt go well. In the third inning he grounded out weakly. In the fifth, all he had to do was put a ball in play to drive in a run, and he struck out.---Pegueros big league debut prompted discussion of Bochys first taste of the majors, more than 34 years ago. Bochy was playing in Double-A when he got promoted to the majors. He said he got to New York, only to realize the Astros were playing that day in Houston.Someone is playing a joke on me, Bochy recalled thinking, before he realized that the team was arriving in New York the following day.Bochy also didnt come to the majors with a big league wardrobe, having been on a Double-A road trip at the time of his promotion.I think I broke even when I got called up because I had to buy so many clothes, Bochy said.A little baseball-reference search reveals a few fun facts about Bochys debut. He was in the lineup with another future manager (Art Howe) and a future general manager (Bob Watson). It was also the first of three consecutive doubleheaders the Astros played in New York and Philadelphia. No wonder they needed reinforcements from Double A.
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.
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."