Giants-Pirates: What to watch for

732222.jpg

Giants-Pirates: What to watch for

Programming note: Giants 2012 Opening Day coverage begins today at 12 p.m. with Giants Pregame Live, then Kruk and Kuip are behind the mic to call the Pirates vs. Giants at 1:30 p.m., only on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area!

SAN FRANCISCO The Giants open their 13th season at AT&T Park, and there wont be a banner raising or a ring ceremony included in the pregame festivities. Instead, theres rain in the forecast.

The Giants do not expect dampened spirits from the stands, though. The club sold out every game last season and could do the same in 2012, even though last years team missed the playoffs and failed to defend its World Series title

Here are a few things to watch for when the anthems and flyovers are complete, and the Giants and Pittsburgh Pirates take the field:

NEW FACES

Melky Cabrera, Angel Pagan, Ryan Theriot and Gregor Blanco will make their home debuts. With his fast start and the flair in his game, Cabrera could establish himself as a fan favorite. Blancos nickname, the White Shark, makes him a natural to be the next hot seller at the plush hat stands. Pagan has spoken with excitement about playing his home games at a ballpark packed with passionate fans. Bet you couldnt guess he was a Met last year.

And then youve got Buster Posey. Despite his case of the shingles, hes expected to start behind the plate. Expect the biggest ovation to be for the Giants beloved catcher, who will be playing his first regular-season game at China Basin since May 25 the night he was involved in a devastating collision near home plate.

SHIVER ME TIMBERS

The Giants havent mopped the poopdeck with the Pirates recently, capturing the season series just three times in the last eight years. Thats not a proud outcome against a franchise that hasnt posted a winning record since Barry Bonds left as a free agent after the 1992 season. (Yes, seriously.)

Last year, the Giants took two of three in PNC Park but lost two of three at home.
RELATED: Stat-Pack -- Giants 9-3 in AT&T Park openers

NO UMBRELLA GIVEAWAY

The weather calls for intermittent showers that should pass through the area by the mid-afternoon. There have been just five rainouts at AT&T Park since the Giants opened their waterfront home in 2000; the last one came April 12, 2006 vs. Houston.

PITCHING MATCHUPS

Right-hander James McDonald (0-0, 3.00 ERA) takes on Matt Cain (0-0, 7.50) on Friday. First pitch is at 1:35 p.m. PDT.

The Pirates havent announced a starter to oppose Barry Zito (1-0, 0.00) on Saturday (6:05 p.m. PDT).

Former Giants right-hander and 2011 NL All-Star Kevin Correia (0-0, 1.50) will face right-hander Ryan Vogelsong on Sunday (1:05 p.m.) Vogelsong came through his two rehab starts for Triple-A Fresno with no lower back problems and will be activated from the disabled list in time to make the start.

With Bumgarner sidelined, Blach 'taking full advantage' of opportunity

With Bumgarner sidelined, Blach 'taking full advantage' of opportunity

SAN FRANCISCO -- At some point over the next four days, Madison Bumgarner will pick up a baseball, stand a few feet across from a member of the training staff, and simply play catch. It'll be a huge step in Bumgarner's rehab, and should it go well, a boost to the psyche of a struggling team.

In the meantime, another lefty is making sure the Giants don't suffer too much without their ace, as improbable as that first seemed.

Ty Blach took a shutout into the eighth Saturday night and in true Bumgarner fashion, he added a pair of hits and an RBI. The Giants beat the Braves 6-3. They've won Blach's past three starts, and even with a 10-run outing in Cincinnati mixed in, he has a 3.71 ERA since taking the spot left open by a dirt bike accident.

"Because of what happened he's in the rotation," manager Bruce Bochy said, "And he's taking full advantage."

Blach has shown that long term, he might be a big part of this rotation. It's been years since the Giants locked a young, cost-controlled starter in, and Blach has backed up his big cameo last year. It's possible -- likely even -- that at some point the Giants will need to trade a veteran, perhaps Johnny Cueto, for young bats. Blach provides needed insurance. 

Short term, he's providing a huge boost to a team that doesn't have much going right. Blach has thrown at least seven innings in his past four starts. He has allowed just eight earned runs in four starts since the one in Cincinnati, throwing 28 2/3 innings. 

"I feel good," Blach said. "I've always been a starter, so it's been a pretty easy transition to make. I feel comfortable."

The Giants are comfortable behind him, as evidenced by a half-dozen strong defensive plays Saturday. 

"He's been consistent and he works quickly," first baseman Brandon Belt said. "He's just a great guy to play behind."

Blach even joined in at the plate. He had an RBI single in his first at-bat -- his first big league hit off Not Clayton Kershaw -- and later roped another single. Blach even showed off his wheels, busting it from first to third on Denard Span's ball to the corner before Phil Nevin held him up. 

"I worked into some good counts and I was able to get fastballs," Blach said of his night at the plate. "It's definitely a big confidence booster when your spot comes up and you're able to drive in runs."

The night was straight out of Bumgarner's playbook, and it was needed. The Giants had dropped five of six, but Blach was backed by homers from Nick Hundley and Brandon Belt. It got a little hairy late, but the bullpen held on, clinching Blach's third win of the season. He looks poised for many more, and Bochy is happy to keep running him out there.

"I'm not surprised by what he's doing," the manager said.

 

Instant Analysis: Blach does it all vs Braves, Giants snap skid

Instant Analysis: Blach does it all vs Braves, Giants snap skid

BOX SCORE

SAN FRANCISCO — This spot in the rotation is the one reserved for the stopper, the pitcher who takes a game by the throat when his team really needs it. 

Ty Blach took the mound Saturday for a team that had lost five of six, and just as Madison Bumgarner often has, Blach ended the skid. The young lefty was dominant into the eighth and the bats finally provided enough support. The Giants won 6-3, tying this weekend series with the Braves.

Here are five things to know from a night we were reminded that Emilio Bonifacio is in the big leagues … 

--- Blach pitched 7 2/3 innings. He has thrown at least seven innings in his last four starts, and five of seven starts overall. Jeff Samardzija (6) is the only Giants starter who has gone that deep more often. Blach is tied with Johnny Cueto for second-most seven-inning starts on staff, and Cueto has made three additional starts. 

--- Blach’s RBI single in the fourth was -- at the time -- the fourth hit of his career, and the first against a pitcher not named Clayton Kershaw. The ball had an exit velocity of 101 mph. Blach tried to score from first on Denard Span’s double, but Phil Nevin held him. Still, the way he was moving, it makes you wonder if Samardzija really is Bruce Bochy’s best pitcher-pinch-running option. In the seventh, Blach picked up a second single. 

--- Blach’s only bad start has been the one he made in Cincinnati, where the Giants played like a Double-A team. If you take that one out, Blach has a 2.21 ERA since taking over Bumgarner’s rotation spot. 

--- Even though he gave up just two earned in 7 2/3, Blach’s home ERA actually went up. It’s 1.75, which ranks seventh in the National League. The sellout crowd gave Blach a standing ovation when he was pulled in the eighth. 

--- Blach had a season-high five strikeouts. When he got Nick Markakis to end the first, Blach ended a streak of 37 left-handers faced without a strikeout. He later struck out another lefty, Matt Adams. The new Braves first baseman came up as the tying run in the eighth but Derek Law got him to ground out to first. 

--- Bonus sixth “thing to know” ... on Blach of course: His first name is Tyson, not Tyler. It’s Tyson Michael Blach.