Family ties: Bengie Molina chooses Yadier over Posey in NLCS

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Family ties: Bengie Molina chooses Yadier over Posey in NLCS

ST. LOUIS Catchers are getting a lot of attention in this NLCS,and for good reason. Buster Posey and Yadier Molina are team leaders, All-Starbackstops and are likely to appear at or near the top of most National LeagueMVP ballots.

Its an even more intriguing matchup when one of them isyour former protg and the other is your kid brother.

I tell you, this is a privilege for me, said BengieMolina, Yadiers oldest brother and Poseys forerunner behind the plate for theGiants. And not just for me. This is a privilege for anyone who enjoys thegame of baseball. Its a joy to watch these two kids compete.

These are two catchers who can play the position and call agreat game. But its not just that. They can hit, too. They can do everything.That right there is the beauty of baseball.

Its a beauty that Bengie Molina appreciated early on. Theday the Cardinals drafted Yadier in the fourth round, Bengie predicted that hisbrother would become a superstar and the best, most accomplished of the threecatching Molina brothers. In 2009, just a week into Poseys first big leaguespring training camp, Molina understood that this clean-cut, bright-eyed kidfrom Florida State would take his job very, very soon.

It came quicker than anyone anticipated; the Giants shippedout Bengie a month ahead of the trade deadline in 2010 to the Texas Rangers.Then Poseys Giants tore through Bengies Rangers in the World Series.

Yet Bengie never spoke a jealous or resentful word aboutPosey, whom he still considers a friend.

He has to be honest, though, when asked where his loyaltieslie between the two catchers in this series.

Everybody knows what I think of Posey, Bengie told me by phone. Hesa great, great catcher, he calls a great game and I knew this kid would be asuperstar the first time I saw him. But I dont think hes up to the defensiveskills of my brother yet. My brother is in another league, and plus this yearhe really hit when the team needed him to hit.

Posey can get there. Im not putting him down at all. Hehas all the talent and he will work hard, I know that. But nobody is in aleague with my brother.

The Molina brothers will gather in Puerto Rico next monthwhen their mother, Gladys, turns 65. They would like nothing better than tocelebrate another World Series champion, too.

If the Cardinals go all the way, it would be Yadiers thirdWorld Series ring and the sixth among all three Molina brothers. (Jose won in2002 as Bengies backup with the Angels, and also in 2009 with the Yankees.)

Bengie left no doubt: Thats what he hopes will happen.

Hey, against the Reds, I was all Giants, man all Giants,Bengie said, with a chuckle. Against the Cards, Im all Cards. I love theGiants, I love the city and I love the fans, man, they have something specialthere. But Ive got to root for my brother, 100 percent, theyve got tounderstand that.

Bengie cannot help but pull for Posey, though, and not justbecause he respects him as a player and a person. Like many others, he wasfloored at Poseys determined recovery from the devastating ankle injury thatended his season in May of last year.

Very impressed, very impressed, he said. It tells you --it shows you -- what kind of a player and a person he is. It shows you hisdemeanor and dedication and his motivation to come back from that devastatinginjury, and not come back to play first base, but to catch. Hell be the MVP ofthe league.

What he did is unheard of, its crazy. But this is not newfor him. When I saw this kid, I think he can do anything.

Bengie was quick to point out that Yadier is just asdeserving of MVP consideration.

Especially for what he did for that team after losing(Albert) Pujols, and with a new manager, he said. But if Buster wins it, thatis a good choice, too.

What impresses him most about the way his brother receivesthe Cardinals staff?

Its the way he cares, Bengie said. Its what we used todiscuss all the time. I tell him, Everyone wants to be their best out there,but you have to be the best for yourself and you have to make every pitcher on thestaff be their best, too. Thats what impresses me. He makes everybody great.

Bengie said Yadier expressed frustration to him in recentdays about his lack of hitting in the postseason. He had a breakout year at theplate (.315, 22 home runs), but owns just a .138 average in the No.5 spot withjust two RBIs in seven postseason games.

Hey, I told him, Win a game with your catching, Bengiesaid. If you hit three bloopers and go 3 for 4, does that make you a greathitter? No. So dont worry about what the numbers look like. Just be positive.

Thats precisely the kind of message Bengie would deliver toTim Lincecum on the mound during both the right-handers Cy Young seasons in2008-09. Its the kind of rah-rah cheerleading that comes less natural toPosey, which is among the reasons that a struggling Lincecum has been paired sooften with backup catcher Hector Sanchez in this wild aberration of a season.

What advice would Bengie give to Buster about catchingTimmy?

Well, one of the things you have to know about Timmy is youhave to keep him very positive and very up, he said. Its about keeping himon the right track instead of letting things going through his head.

You have to talk to him almost every inning and keep him upto the challenge and keep him happy. Its a psychologist sort of thing, but asa catcher, you do that with every pitcher in different way. You have to psychehim up to go out and pitch.

Youve got to suck up your pride and go to him an say,Lets go.

Giants manager Bruce Bochy continues to insist that its hispreference, and nobody elses, that Lincecum and Barry Zito work primarily withSanchez. The manager only started Sanchez once this postseason, when Zitostarted Game 4 of the NLDS at Cincinnati and Lincecum came out of the bullpento throw 4 13 solid innings. Lincecum threw to Posey in his two other reliefappearances this postseason, tossing a total of four scoreless innings.

Bochy hasnt named Lincecum the Game 4 starter yet, nor ishe committing to a batterymate whenever Lincecum or Zito take the mound again.

Bengie was blunt, though: Its high time that Posey andLincecum, the Giants two highest profile players, work together again.

If you ask me, they need to stop this, Bengie said. Iunderstand they are keeping Posey healthy by having him play first base and notcatch all the time. But there will come a day when Brandon Belt says, This isnot fair. I want to be out there. And then youll have trouble.

They need to take control and say, Buster has got to catchTimmy and thats it. I want to keep everybody happy, but this is our team.

For now, only one of these two teams and one of these twoAll-Star catchers -- can advance to the World Series. Even in retirement,Bengie watches his brother and his former understudy and feels the stirrings ofbeing an active player once again.

Those guys, they wanted to learn so much, he said. Nowthey are so good, there is nothing left to teach them.

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."