Giants bash, Lincecum wins to improve NL West math

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Giants bash, Lincecum wins to improve NL West math

BOX SCORE

DENVER There is plenty of math in baseball. Here are somefun numbers for Giants fans to contemplate:

If the Giants merely go 8-9 to finish the season, theDodgers must go 15-4 to tie them atop the NL West standings. Oh yeah: And theDodgers have a home series coming up with the wild-card jousting St. LouisCardinals, followed by a road trip with stops in division-leading Washington and Cincinnati.

Or if you prefer the neat and tidy version: The Giantsmagic number is 13.

They took one more step toward their second NL West title inthree seasons and their ninth since moving to San Francisco, beating theColorado Rockies 8-3 behind Tim Lincecum in yet another thumper at Coors FieldWednesday night.

Combined with the Dodgers third consecutive loss, theGiants stretched their NL West lead to seven games with 19 to play.

Trailing the Dodgers for most of the season, the Giants tookfirst place July 14. Since then, they are 8-0-1 in nine road series. AndLincecum, for all his trials this season, has won five consecutive road starts something hes never accomplished before in his career.

Lincecums key moment came in the sixth inning, with theGiants leading 5-3 and the Rockies threatening. Giants manager Bruce Bochy cameout from the dugout following Charlie Blackmons pinch double, but thedouble-time in his step told everyone that he wasnt going to ask for thebaseball.

He wanted to look his pitcher in the eye and make sure hesaw what he wanted to see.

Lincecum went slider-curve-fastball to strike out DexterFowler and complete a six-inning performance that lacked aesthetic appeal butfilled the bill.

I said, Youre the guy right now. Focus on your pitches,Bochy said. He made three great pitches there. I think he knew that was hislast hitter so he gave it his all.

Your starters are critical for you, believe me. Weve had acouple guys have their hiccups. Hes picked up his game and helped to pick usup.

Lincecum has a 3.33 ERA in the second half after a 6.42 ERA before the All-Star break. More to thepoint, the Giants are 10-6 in his last 16 starts after beginning the year 2-12in his first 14 assignments.

It feels good from a personal standpoint, Lincecum said.You want to get better as the year goes along. Ive completely eliminated myfirst half from my mindset. My second half has been a little better and knowingwhat were striving for, and what direction were going into, that motivationis a little deeper.

Is he ready to take the ball in the front three of a playoffrotation? Where would the Giants slot Lincecum, who carried them so far in2010?

Those are questions that do not require answers for a coupleweeks still. But Lincecum said he would be ready for the stage when it arrives.

Right now Im not pitching great, but Im getting out ofjams, which was a lot different than the first half, he said.

Hed also like to be more efficient. Lincecum has thrownmore than 100 pitches in each of his last three starts but hasnt made it intothe seventh inning. And there are those walks four more on Wednesday,including three in the first two innings.

Including his two previous starts, Lincecum became the firstGiants starting pitcher since John DAcquisto in 1976 to walk at least onebatter in 10 consecutive innings. Thats not a distinction he embraced, even ifonly two of those 11 walks came around to score.

Im messing with fire there, obviously, he said. It onlytakes one blooper to turn it into a big inning. Its a fine line, but it givesme confidence to know Im in a jam and can get out of it.

Now the Dodgers, for all their high-priced acquisitions, arein the thick of it. While they try to rattle off an improbable run against someof the top teams in the NL, the Giants will play their next 16 games againstthe Diamondbacks, Rockies and Padres.

Theres one way the West is being won: The Giants are 32-21against division opponents. The Dodgers are 28-35. Thats a nine-game swingbetween the clubs.

Dont expect Bochy to take it easy or start skippingstarters or playing reserves anytime soon, though. Heck, he used sevenrelievers to get nine outs at Coors Field. He even used Guillermo Mota, JavierLopez and Sergio Romo one batter at a time to get through the ninth, despite afive-run lead.

Is he being paid by the pitching change?

Well, I think we all know this ballpark, Bochy said. Youdont want a rally getting started because once it starts, its hard to stop.

Confidence works that way, too. The Giants are awash in it.

Giants spring training Day 7: Rule change should help Bochy

Giants spring training Day 7: Rule change should help Bochy

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — On one of the many nights last season when his bullpen imploded, Bruce Bochy nearly put a catcher on the mound. Trevor Brown ended up playing an inning of third base on June 28 as the Giants gave up eight runs over the final two innings in a brutal loss to the A’s, and he said this week that he was told he was the next man up on the mound. 

That night was an odd one, as a tired bullpen was waiting for Sergio Romo to get activated off a rehab assignment and trying to get by without long reliever Chris Stratton, who had thrown 57 pitches out of the ‘pen the night before. The bench was also short because Joe Panik was about to be put on the concussion DL.

Bochy hopes he doesn’t have to deal with such a situation this season, and not just because the bullpen should be much improved. The disabled list lasts 10 days now, not 15, and Bochy is thrilled with the new rule.

“The DL thing, I really like it,” he said. “You get caught in that gray area so often.” 

Bochy met with league officials on Saturday to go over some of the rule changes. DL stints can now be made retroactive just three days, but it’s still a vast improvement overall. 

“With (position) players and pitchers it’s going to make it easier to DL guys,” Bochy said. “If you’re looking at (starting) pitchers, they could miss just one start.”

The Giants have often played a man or more short, trying to get by day-by-day to give a position player or starter time to heal. Around camp, this could be called the Angel Pagan Rule, as the former Giants outfielder often missed a week or so before officially going on the DL. At times, Bochy has been patient with players like Buster Posey and Hunter Pence, knowing that even if they missed a week, keeping them off the DL could still earn the Giants seven or eight games with a big bat back in the lineup. If a future diagnosis is that a player will miss a week, it’ll be much easier to swallow putting him on the 10-day DL than it was for the 15-day. Likewise, the Giants will take advantage of the change if a pitcher will have to miss a start. 

Bochy has said often that he would like every reliever to go on the DL during the season to freshen up. That’ll make more sense now, and it should keep the Giants from having to play as many games where the bullpen is gassed and a backup catcher is preparing to pitch. For guys like Stratton — a versatile pitcher on the 40-man roster — it should also lead to increased trips up to the big leagues to fill gaps. 

INJURY UPDATE: Pence (side muscle) took 25 swings during a live BP session in the cage and Bochy said he’s doing much better. That was about the only significant activity Sunday. Once again, the workout was rained out. Bochy said the Giants have enough time to get guys ready for the Cactus League opener on Feb. 24, but they’ll likely hold some big-name pitchers out of the early games. Brandon Crawford and Posey will get plenty of early starts to prepare for the WBC. 

PROSPECT WATCH: If the early games are turned over to prospects, Dan Slania will be an interesting guy to watch. Slania is listed at 6-foot-5 and 275 pounds, so he always had the look of an imposing reliever. But his greatest success last season came after a surprise move to the rotation. 

Slania, a 2013 fifth-round pick out of Notre Dame, got a call on his 24th birthday telling him to prepare to start because of an injury in Richmond’s rotation. He had not started a game since high school, but his four-pitch mix worked. He had a 5.32 ERA out of the bullpen but it dropped to 1.48 in 10 starts for the Flying Squirrels. In two Triple-A starts, he struck out 14 over 13 innings while allowing just eight hits and two runs. The Giants put him on their 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft. 

“He had a great year last year,” Bochy said. “He’s in camp for a reason. He’s got great stuff and a good makeup.”

RULE CHANGE: One more thing that came out of that rules meeting: Managers who are out of challenges now have to wait until the eighth inning to ask an umpire to look at a play.

QUOTABLE: “We know he’s better off taking some days. We talked about it (with him). He agrees that it’ll help him.” Bochy on Pence’s workload. The right fielder is coming off two injury-marred seasons, and the Giants have no intention of even trying to get him back to his Iron Man days. 

Tomlinson still a fit as Giants put bench together

Tomlinson still a fit as Giants put bench together

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The “options game” can be a cruel one. It can also be one of the most important parts of spring training. 

If two players are relatively even at the end of camp but only one can be optioned to the minors, he’s usually the man left out. Giants officials have already made reference to this several times in discussing left field, where Jarrett Parker — who is out of options — would surely be claimed off waivers if the Giants try to sneak him back to the minors before Opening Day. Mac Williamson, on the other hand, can be shuttled back and forth. 

The same holds true for Kelby Tomlinson, and while it was easy during the first week of camp to see him as the odd man out, manager Bruce Bochy said that’s not the case. What do all the veteran infielders mean for the young one already in-house?

“It hasn’t affected anything for Kelby, really,” Bochy said. “It’s all about competition for spots on this team.”

Tomlinson played 54 games in 2015 and 52 a year ago, but the Giants put a clear emphasis this offseason on finding backup infielders. Jimmy Rollins, Jae-gyun Hwang, Orlando Calixte and Gordon Beckham were among those brought in before camp, and Aaron Hill arrived on the fourth day. Sure, Ehire Adrianza — who was seemingly perpetually out of options — is no longer around, but if the Giants carry just two backup infielders, one of them will almost certainly be Conor Gillaspie. 

Tomlinson isn’t bothered by the offseason of additions. He said he can take knowledge away from six weeks spent with guys he grew up watching.

“Rollins’ prime was right in my later high school years,” he said, smiling. “I’ve got a lot of guys to learn from and watch. It’s a little of both (a competition and learning experience). We’re all fighting for the same job, but we’re still on the same team and we’re all trying to learn from each other and help each other.”

Tomlinson is the incumbent, and the Giants certainly know all about his speed and ability to play all over the field (he continued to take fly balls this winter, just in case). They also now know that Tomlinson adds something that’s needed on any bench. Last season, he emerged as one of Bochy’s most reliable pinch-hitters. 

Tomlinson’s seven pinch-hits were tied for second on the team after Gillaspie’s 11. He was 7-for-17 in a pinch, adding three walks. Tomlinson’s simple swing and up-the-middle approach have proven perfect for important spots. He’s a .315 career hitter with runners in scoring position, a .373 hitter in situations baseball-reference deems “late and close,” and a .367 hitter in “high leverage” spots.

“I’m just trying to compete up there every at-bat, especially in that pinch-hitting role,” Tomlinson said. “It’s a grind, but that makes it fun when you give the team a quality at-bat. Even if it’s not a hit, you go up there and try to see five pitches and have a good at-bat.”

Tomlinson has given the Giants plenty of them over parts of two seasons. With Brandon Crawford headed for the World Baseball Classic, he is sure to see increased time this spring, and while the options game or non-roster list might catch up to him, the Giants haven’t forgotten what they already have. 

“He gives us versatility,” Bochy said, “So he’s in the mix, too.”