Giants establish winning pattern, sweep Cubs

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Giants establish winning pattern, sweep Cubs

SAN FRANCISCO Ryan Vogelsong woke up with a worried mindMonday morning.

Three guys pitched into the ninth? Thats a little pressureto follow, the All-Star right-hander said.

But Vogelsong followed suit, and the Giants finally timedtheir trump card to sweep a series and complete what could become aseason-defining homestand.

Their 3-2 victory over the distracted, defeated Chicago Cubsgave them six wins in seven games at AT&T Park and the Giants did it byestablishing the exact paradigm that they envisioned.

RECAP: Baggs' Instant Replay -- Giants 3, Cubs 2

Pitching. Defense. More pitching. Timely hits. Goodbaserunning. And Tony Bennett.

The Giants were 12-10 at AT&T Park before this homestandbegan, and they trailed the Los Angeles Dodgers by 7 games in the NL West.They are now back to their winning ways at Third and King and they are within2 games as their archrivals prepare to take the field Monday night.

In completing their first sweep of the season (a four-gamer, no less), the Giants' rotation was brilliant. The starting pitcherscombined for a 1.55 ERA while completing seven innings and giving up fewer thantwo runs in all seven games. Its just the second time in San Franciscofranchise history the club has received seven consecutive starts of that ilk.They had a run of nine in a row in 1988-- from Don Robinson, Mike LaCoss (twice), Kelly Downs (twice), Atlee Hammaker,Terry Mulholland (twice) and Rick Reuschel.

Its hard to beat that, Giants manager Bruce Bochy said.

Said catcher Buster Posey: To me, I feel like theyve beendoing it all year a couple years since Ive been here, really.

The difference this time? The Giants played errorless ballin their six victories. They committed just one error on the entire homestand.And thats after leading the majors in miscues for most of the season.

Not only are the fielders playing clean games, they also aremaking plays to pick up the pitching staff. Witness Ryan Theriots highlightsweep-and-grab play on Starlin Castro to keep the tiebreaking run from scoringin the seventh inning. The play ended Vogelsongs afternoon, and the Giantsmade a winner of him when Posey who walked four times -- scored in the bottomof the seventh.

I gave him a big hug after that one, Vogelsong said of Theriot.Its pretty amazing. You dont see a guy sweep at it like that and have it popup. Its a pretty athletic play to barehand it and throw in one motion.

That play probably saved the game for us.

Said Theriot: I was hoping it was in my glove. My hand wasnumb, it was hit so hard. It was in my glove briefly, and luckily, it came upright in front of me.

The Giants are playing crisper and smarter than theircompetition, although against the Cubs, thats like matching wits against theguy from Sling Blade. (Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro probably wont enjoy theflight back to the Midwest after losing track of the outs while the Giants tiedthe score on a fielders choice in the fifth inning.)

They are even finding ways to time their contributions,whether its the offense sneaking out runs despite a total power outage (onehomer in their last 19 home games seriously) or the bullpen finding ways topiece together the ninth despite a rash of injuries, or the starters workingdeep to give the bullpen a break.

It was Jeremy Affeldts turn on Monday. With SantiagoCasilla unavailable because of a bruised knee and Sergio Romo also questionablebecause of a knee issue, Affeldt pitched the final two innings without allowinga baserunner to pick up the save.

We have a bullpen who can do it, are able to do it and havethe stuff to do it, Affeldt said. Obviously, were getting it done so itseasy to say that.

They are getting the rest to do it, too. The bullpen onlyneeded to throw 10 23 innings out of 64 on the homestand. Thats fewer thanfive outs per game. And Affeldt said the relievers needed the break, after beinggassed when the club finished a stretch of 20 games in 20 days last Sunday.

The only thing the Giants lacked on the homestand was a goodol blowout victory to rest a few starters like Angel Pagan or Melky Cabrera.The aggregate score over the seven games was 19-13.

No surprise, really, since the Giants havent found anextension cord at AT&T Park. They have played 13 consecutive home gameswithout going deep the second longest in San Francisco-era franchise history(behind a 15-game streak in 1980) and the longest by a major league team sincethe Dodgers had a 14-game power outage at home in 1992.

Is it really sustainable? Can the Giants keep winning withRBI ground outs and a string of singles?

Well, weve done it, Bochy said. Not quite lacking thepower like we are right now. But when you have an added dimension like speed,thats going to show up every day.

The home runs are nice and I think we will hit more. I do.Were in a rut now but Pablo (Sandoval) will be coming back soon.

For now, were going with defense. Any time you win theseone-run games, its pitching and defense. Really, thats what is doing it.

What, should Vogelsong worry?

Weve talked about it, he said. You have to learn how towin and I think were starting to do that.

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.”