Giants' Brown has leading-man skills, flair for comedy

693062.jpg

Giants' Brown has leading-man skills, flair for comedy

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. Center fielder Gary Brown stole 53 bases last year for Single-A San Jose. Hes known to score from first base on a single. Some scouts say he was the fastest right-handed collegiate hitter theyve ever clocked down the line.But yes, he can be caught from behind.We were 10 strokes down on the 10th hole, said Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford. And we came all the way back.On a recent night this spring, Brown, Crawford and their significant others went to dinner. They took separate cars and agreed to meet up at a minigolf course. When Crawford arrived in the parking lot, he encountered quite a sight.
Brown was in full golf-dork outfit. He sported an ill-fitting polo with a red and black stripe motif across the stomach seemingly borrowed from a 1980s Atari video game. Brown matched it with unfashionably pleated black pants that were two inches too short. A bright blue visor completed the look.Browns girlfriend, Lindsay, had on plaid pants and a vest fit for a ladies luncheon at the country club.They went to a thrift store and picked out the worst golf clothes they could find, Crawford said, rolling his eyes. Didnt surprise me. Shes as goofy as he is.As for the choke job on the back nine?Well, Brown said, I really shouldnt blame my partnerRookies are supposed to be seen and not heard, and Brown is being as dutiful as possible as he enters his second big league camp. But his is a spirit that cant be bottled up.On a recent morning, Brown hustled through the clubhouse and walked past another speedy center fielder, Willie Mays. Most players are too intimidated to say anything to the Say Hey Kid, too awed by his regal presence and his status as the games greatest living player.Hey there Willie! Brown chirped, not slowing his pace.Brown is on a fast track, all right. The 23-year-old from Cal State Fullerton blitzed Cal League pitching for a .336 average in his first full pro season. He set a San Jose franchise record with 188 hits. Hes an easy call as the organizations top prospect. GM Brian Sabean steadfastly refused to deal him to the New York Mets last July for Carlos Beltran, sending top pitching prospect Zack Wheeler, instead.RELATED: Gary Brown 2011 San Jose Giants stats
Brown is expected to patrol center field at AT&T Park for years to come. He might even make his major league debut at some point this season.Until then, hell continue to work seriously on the field and be not so serious off it.Once the game starts, its always about the next pitch, he said. The game is serious and so I get serious. But its too long a season not to have fun. So I like to laugh out there. I like to joke around out there with my outfielders or in the clubhouse. Im not the kind of guy who just likes to go out to dinner. Ive always got to be doing something.Or plotting something. Like the time last season when Brown caught San Jose teammate Craig Westcott taking pictures of guys while they were sleeping on a long bus ride.He thought it was funny, Brown said. I didnt find it too funny. I was cranky.So the next time Westcott fell asleep, Brown used athletic tape to wrap the pitcher to his seat.Oh, I was slick about it, Brown said, laughing. He woke up and it was, Unnnnhhhh! Ohhh, man, howd you guys do that? His feet got stuck and tangled up in the tape. We got him good.Im always an accomplice in one way or another, whether its giving the ideas or helping to pull the pranks. I get them pulled on me, too. Im kind of surprised, actually, that nobodys tried to get me yet here.He paused.Better not put that part in there.It was no laughing matter in October, though, when Brown went to the Arizona Fall League and started to feel sick after 11 games. Doctors took blood tests and diagnosed him with mononucleosis, but a second test ruled it out. Next they tested Brown for Valley Fever, a debilitating and long-lasting condition that can be contracted by the inhalation of mold spores. He was anxious for the results. Those came back negative, too.It was the flu, Brown said. By the time everyone figured it out, I had already missed a week and lost more weight. So they felt it was best to send me home for the offseason.Brown started last season at 190 pounds and ended it at 170.So yes, his first full pro season was a physical test. Its always a mental one, too, and Brown felt good about the way he handled it especially when he started to slump in June.It may not start in your head, but it ends in your head, Brown said. Thats what I was most proud of, that I was able to stay calm and beat those demons, those nightmares about hitting, to constantly be worried about your swing and fidgeting around all the time. I was happy I was able to stay calm, stay focused and get out of it.His manager at San Jose, Andy Skeels, remembered it this way:He came out like gangbusters, then the league started adjusting to him. It took him awhile to find his bearings, but when he did that, he killed the league the last two months.What impressed me was ability to work on a daily basis to get better and really attack things he was trying to work on. His work ethic is good and hes focused when he works. Hes a SoCal kid, you know? He can fool you because hes so easy going. But his approach and attitude are great. When he works he applies himself.And he competes. A lot of guys have talent, but you wonder, Will he show up every day? And he certainly did. That to me weighs very favorably and heavily on whether hell have what it takes to succeed at the major league level.Brown has an unusual setup in the batters box. His hands are pinned close to his body, giving the appearance that he wont be able to cover the outer part of the plate.But its about where you are at the point of contact, Brown said. Youll see guys do a lot of different stuff but they usually end up very similar when theyre about to hit the ball. So thats what works for me. Its a comfort thing.Brown hopes to get more comfortable against higher-level pitching, whether he starts at Double-A Richmond or Triple-A Fresno. He is willing to do anything to get on base he was hit by pitches a whopping 23 times last year but as a leadoff man, he knows hell have to take more walks.Its just trusting my strike zone and staying within myself, which is hard thing to do, he said. Ive got to trust that the umpire sees the pitch the same way I do. Thats tough for a player. Ive been taught to swing and its going to be something Ive got to work on, adjusting to the zone and these pitchers and not let them take me away from my game.There are bound to be times when the game gets away from you, though. Especially if the game includes windmills and giant gingerbread houses -- or Crawfords wife, Jalynne, making a clutch hole-in-one on No.18.Yes, he can be caught from behind in minigolf, Crawford said. Thats the only way, I think.

Giants Notes: Marrero hopes to be back; Posey faces Romo

posey_dodgers.jpg
USATSI

Giants Notes: Marrero hopes to be back; Posey faces Romo

SAN FRANCISCO — About 45 minutes after the Giants announced that Chris Marrero had been designated for assignment, the left fielder walked up to the locker of one of the newcomers. Marrero patted Christian Arroyo on the back and shook his hand, congratulating him for his first call-up to the big leagues. 

“That’s my boy,” he said later. “I was really happy for him.”

The Arroyo promotion and the addition of Drew Stubbs signaled the end of Marrero’s April run in the lineup. He was cut and Aaron Hill was put on the disabled list, clearing two roster spots. Just as Arroyo forced his way up with three huge weeks in Triple-A, Marrero forced his way onto the opening day roster with a monster spring that included eight homers. He had just five hits in 38 at-bats before Monday’s moves.

“The team is struggling and we’ve got to make some moves,” Marrero said. “I believe in myself and I’ll go down and get back to how I felt in spring training. This is what I’ve worked for my whole life. I lost the feel that I had in the spring. Things were a little rushed. I came in and worked hard every day to try and find it. I’m going to keep working. I haven’t lost confidence in myself.”

Marrero was put in a bit of a tough spot. He played just about every day in Scottsdale because he was trying to win a job, and when he finally did make it, some Giants coaches felt he was a bit worn down. The team’s brutal start to the season put a glaring spotlight on left field, and this move became obvious over time.

Marrero said he likes it here, and that if he isn’t claimed, he will go to Triple-A Sacramento and try to find that spring swing and get back up here. Count Bruce Bochy among those hoping it goes down that way. 

“We thought a lot of him and still do,” Bochy said. “He’s a good hitter.”

--- Arroyo had a 4.4 GPA in high school, so the Giants knew he was smart. He’s savvy, too. There’s nothing like picking up the longest-tenured player on the team, literally. After snagging a ricochet in the fourth inning last night, Arroyo kept running and lifted Cain off the grass. They then chest-bumped. 

“That just kind of happened,” Arroyo said. “He hit it, I looked at Cain going down and saw the ball, went running and got it, instincts took over. I made a throw and got the guy. It was a fun play. In that moment, I was just pumped up. It’s one of those plays you get excited over.”

Arroyo said he heard Cain yelling and he thought he was hurt, so that’s why he ran over. Cain did have an X-ray on the foot that got hit but it came back negative. 

“Christian did a great job handling himself,” Cain said. “He picked me up big-time.”

The best part of the play came hours after it was made. As Cain talked to reporters, Brandon Crawford — who was in position to scoop the grounder in the fourth — was standing at his locker, a few feet away.

“Let it go through next time,” he said softly.

--- Denard Span was out on the field Monday afternoon, but he’ll miss another two to four days with that right shoulder injury. This will truly be a day-to-day situation. If at any point the Giants feel they need coverage, Span can be put on the 10-day DL. 

--- Hill apparently felt discomfort after playing long toss on the road trip. He can swing a bat but he was going to be kept from throwing for three to four days, so he was put on the DL.

--- This spring, Posey was asked about facing Sergio Romo. Here was his long tendencies-filled answer. Posey faced Romo in the eighth and flied out. 

"It was a little weird, I'm not going to lie," he said. "I caught him for so long. It's definitely interesting being in the batter's box instead of being the plate."

Was there a nod or "hey what's up" look between the two?

"I've caught him long enough to know you don't look at him," Posey said, smiling. 

--- If you missed it, the standing ovation for Romo was a very, very cool moment. Also, here's my story on Madison Bumgarner, who spoke for the first time since his injury. And here's the first story on Arroyo, with a fun anecdote about his mom. She'll be in the stands Tuesday. And finally, my game story from last night. 

On night Giants turn to youth, Matt Cain turns back the clock

On night Giants turn to youth, Matt Cain turns back the clock

SAN FRANCISCO — In the second inning Tuesday, as Christian Arroyo strapped on his gear and grabbed his bat, Buster Posey looked over at Matt Cain. 

“Goodness,” he said. “He looks really young.”

There was a time when that was said about Cain, now 32, and Posey, now 30. They broke in as fresh-faced kids, too, but these days they’re the grizzled vets, anchors of a clubhouse that got some fresh blood on Monday. Arroyo brought the energy to AT&T Park and Cain and Posey did the rest. 

The starter, in the midst of a surprising resurgence, threw six dominant innings against the visiting Dodgers. Posey threw one runner out at second to end the eighth and back-picked Justin Turner at second with two down in the ninth, clinching a 2-1 win that felt like a must-have in the clubhouse. 

“I mean, we needed it,” Posey said. “I don’t think you can underscore it. We definitely needed it.”

The front office sensed that after a sweep at Coors Field. After weeks of saying the Giants had to be patient with Arroyo, Bobby Evans pulled the trigger Monday morning. Drew Stubbs was also added to temporarily take over in center. The message was clear: A sense of urgency was needed throughout the organization, and the players responded with perhaps their cleanest game of the year. 

Cain did the heavy lifting, allowing just two hits and a walk before his right hamstring bit. He was pulled while warming up in the seventh, but he’s optimistic. Cain missed two weeks last year with the same injury, but he said it’s not as bad this time around. 

“Last year it was something that was definitely more on my mind when I did it,” he said. “I pushed too hard. I thought we were being a lot smarter today.”

The bullpen backed Cain, with Steven Okert, George Kontos, Derek Law (who allowed a run but shut down further damage) and Mark Melancon carrying it home. Melancon ran into some trouble in the ninth when Turner alertly took second on a spiked curveball. With Adrian Gonzalez up, the Dodgers were a single away from tying it up. Turner strayed too far off the bag and Posey gunned him down.

“It was just instinct,” he said. “He was anticipating a ball being put in play and took that one or two extra stutter steps. 

Melancon emphatically yelled on the mound. Cain watched the final out from the trainer’s room. The win was his first over the Dodgers in four seasons, and while on the mound, Cain lowered his ERA to a staff-best 2.42.

“He did a great job locating his fastball,” Posey said. “He threw his curveball for strikes, expanded the zone with his fastball, mixed some changeups in. He did a nice job.”

The approach looks sustainable, and the Giants need it. Madison Bumgarner had another MRI on Monday and while the Giants don’t have a firm timetable yet, manager Bruce Bochy acknowledged that it will “be a while.” 

In the meantime, the Giants will try to find a mix that works. Hunter Pence was moved up to leadoff Monday and he drove in a needed insurance run. The infield trio of Brandon Crawford, Arroyo and Joe Panik combined for the first run, with Crawford doubling, Arroyo moving him over, and Panik skying a ball deep enough for a sacrifice fly. 

Bochy praised Arroyo for his approach in that moment, and the rookie said he was focused hard on getting Crawford over. It was the kind of at-bat the Giants teach in the minors, and they hope more is on the way. The Triple-A squad is more talented than it’s been in years, and with big leaguers continuing to drop, the depth will be needed. 

As he got dressed Monday night, Arroyo rattled off facts from the night’s River Cats game and talked about how much he believes in the players there. He’s part of a wave that’s coming slowly, a group that includes Ty Blach, who faces a monumental task Tuesday. The young left-hander will go up against Clayton Kershaw as the Giants try to keep the momentum going.

“We’ve got our hands full tomorrow,” Bochy said. “We know it. I thought tonight was huge for us to stop things.”