BOX SCORESAN FRANCISCO -- All that noise about Saturday night being a make-or-break start for Tim Lincecum against the Houston Astros?First Lincecum heard about it."I wasn't aware of it at all," he said after making the Astros look like a minor league outfit with eight shutout innings and 11 strikeouts, both season highs. Call them the AAAstros.And manager Bruce Bochy agreed that there was no hangman waiting in the back...just in case. Not even with Lincecum have been shelled in his two most recent outings, in Washington and Pittsburgh, giving up a combined 13 runs in 6 23 innings to the Nationals and Pirates."He was never approached with that," Bochy said.In fact, Bochy reaffirmed that Lincecum would make his next start, in the sweltering heat of Philadelphia."I'm not going to answer 'What if?' But he's starting Friday. This was a great outing for him to get back on track."Something, though, switched on him when the calendar flipped to August in 2010. Consider: before that month, Lincecum was a combined 51-21 with a 2.94 ERA. Since then, he was 21-30 with a 3.93 ERA entering Saturday. And that's counting a 5-0 September in 2010 that catapulted the Giants into the postseason and World Series.Against Houston on Saturday, though, Lincecum lowered his career ERA against the Astros to 0.99."I was just being aggressive, trying to command the zone...trying to feed off that with the mindset of attacking hitters."Lincecum has also been much better at home this season, as his 2-4 record and 3.99 ERA at AT&T Park versus a 1-6 mark and 9.00 road ERA would suggest.Four of his next six starts should be on the shores of McCovey Cove."I can only worry about my next start," he said."Today was a good day."Beat the Astros Sunday behind Matt Cain, who authored the franchise's first perfect game the last time he faced Houston on June 13, and the Giants will have swept the Astros for the first time since May 14-16, 2010.While it was Hector Sanchez's second career walk-off hit, it was the Giants' fifth walk-off win of the season. Sanchez's sixth-inning run-scoring double was his first extra-base hit off a left-handed pitcher since May 23 at Milwaukee.Astros shortstop Jed Lowrie left the game in the third inning after being spiked by Grego Blanco at second base. The injury was described as a right ankle sprain, though he seemed to be grabbing at his right knee.
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."