For Giants, Saturday sucked a very great deal

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For Giants, Saturday sucked a very great deal

BOX SCORE

SAN FRANCISCO -- Brandon Phillips saw his starting pitcher Johnny Cueto shut down after eight pitches. He heard the crowd at the Thing On King roar their delight. And he copped to the feeling of despair that washed over the one part of the ballpark that wasn't populated by Giants or their faithful customers.

"When Johnny went down, I was like, 'Oh gosh. Oh no. We're done. Why? Why?'" the Cincinnati second baseman said. "It sucked a little bit."

Well, it sucked more than a little bit for the Reds. But as time went on, it started to suck less and less until it didn't really suck at all, except for the Giants. For them, Saturday sucked a very great deal.

BAGGS' INSTANT REPLAY: Reds beat Cain, Giants in Game 1

Phillips was one of several Reds who gave the Giants that general feeling of suck in Game 1 of this National League Division Series. He turned on a delicious and nutritious Matt Cain curve ball to give the Reds a 2-0 lead, he drove in an insurance run in the ninth with a two-out single, he dove to save extra bases on a leadoff single by Giant right fielder Hunter Pence, and he verified what he claimed after the game:

"I'm good on TV."

RELATED: Phillips shines under bright lights

But lots of Reds were good on TV, including manager Dusty Baker and pitching coach Bryan Price. Between their jerryrigging a solution to Cueto's first-inning back spasms, Mat Latos' four-inning relief performance, Jay Bruce's homer, Ryan Ludwick's defense, and mostly from relief pitching, the Reds took a 1-0 lead in the series that feels a lot more like 2-0 or 3-1, and in doing so, they saw to it that the only Giant that looked good was Buster Posey.

In other words, they brought home the suck.

There is no truly elegant alternate way to put it, for this was not an elegant game. It was more a white-knuckler on a 20-seat plane through bad weather and turbulence, and though the box score suggests that the Giants were dominated, what they really endured was a night of vertigo. Cueto to Sam LeCure to Latos to Sean Marshall to Jonathan Broxton to Aroldis Chapman is enough to make anyone's head wobble on its axis, and even though Broxton and Chapman seemed most vulnerable to offensive coercion, the Giants did too little too often to have it matter.

And therein lies the difficulty they face going into Game 2. The only quality at-bat they got with runners in scoring position all night was Cain's line-out to Bruce to end the second. Posey's home run off Latos was the one at-bat that brought the sellout crowd of 43,492 out of its torpor, but it was followed by nothing of substance.

The Giants' offense forced Cain to be perfect, which is not unusual for him or them. But it happened on a night when he plainly wasn't. He missed spots, he left curve balls like the one to Phillips in hittable places ("If he throws a fastball or a cutter, I'm back in the dugout with everyone else"), and he was not dominant on a night when dominance would have barely broken him even.

Suddenly, the onus of the series is squarely on San Francisco. A split is barely tolerable, but it is all the hope the Giants have, and they need Madison Bumgarner to be what Cain was not -- masterful. The Reds, who looked to be in shambles after eight pitches, may still have Cueto for Game 3 against (in all likelihood) Ryan Vogelsong, in which case they have lost nothing at all from a night that looked so . . . well, suckworthy halfway through Marco Scutaro's first at-bat.

Cueto said he feels fine, and Baker said, "You know how back spasms are. When it lets you go, it lets you go when it wants to."

But that's too far away for the Giants. They have to navigate another of Cincinnati's nasty starters, Bronson Arroyo, Sunday or go to Ohio needing a sweep in a park that is not kind to their kind of pitcher, whether it be Vogelsong, Barry Zito or Tim Lincecum.

In short, and with all apologies to the gods of strained metaphors, the suck is already on the other foot.

Giants spring training Day 44: Marrero caps huge spring with eighth homer

Giants spring training Day 44: Marrero caps huge spring with eighth homer

MESA, Ariz. — The Giants went 0-62 last season when trailing after eight innings. Chris Marrero wasn’t around for any of that, but it’s a stat that could help Marrero as he tries to lock up a bench spot. 

The first baseman/left fielder crushed a three-run shot in the ninth inning Tuesday, wiping out a two-run deficit against the Cubs. Marrero also has two walk-off homers this spring. 

“This kid, you see it when he goes up there. He’s got great focus,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “It’s intensity and determination. From day one, you could see it in his at-bats. Late in the game, he seems very comfortable. He wants to go up there.”

Tuesday’s homer, which shot out to right-center, was the eighth of the spring for Marrero. That ties him with a guy named Bryce Harper for the MLB lead, and the vast majority of Marrero’s bombs were no-doubters. 

“It’s been a great spring for him,” Bochy said. “The last game here, it seems fitting that he would do something like that. He’s already done it a couple of times. This kid has done all he can. I love his swing and the work that he’s put in.”

With Michael Morse down, Marrero is the best remaining option as a power right-handed bat off the bench, a glaring need a year ago. Justin Ruggiano, another one in the mix, followed Marrero’s shot with one of his own. The homer was Ruggiano’s second of the spring. 

Ruggiano is a better fit defensively in the outfield, but Marrero has been solid at first and Bochy said he’s fine with what he’s seen in left field. “He’s still working on it,” Bochy said, noting that Marrero will play left field during the Bay Bridge Series. 

LEADING OFF: Denard Span saw a wild pitch bounce off the bricks behind home plate, and he never slowed down. Span sped around third in the second inning and slid in ahead of the throw. The notable part of the play wasn’t that a quirky bounce allowed Span to take 180 feet on a wild pitch. It was that his legs did. The 33-year-old has been a different guy in his second spring with the Giants. Last year, Span was coming off hip surgery. This spring, his old game has returned.

“I’ve just been able to do the things I’ve always been able to do,” Span said. “I have more control of my body. I’m stronger. I had a full offseason and a full spring training to get my legs up under me. The last couple of weeks, I’ve felt much better and more confident.”

A healthy and spry Span would be a big boost to a lineup that often looked flat in the second half last season Span showed off every aspect of his game Tuesday. He blasted a leadoff homer on Jake Arrieta’s second pitch, and during their second matchup, he put a perfect bunt down the third base line for a single. Span stole second easily before his race home. 

“He’s playing terrific baseball and he’s been a real inspiration, being our leadoff hitter,” Bochy said. “That’s what we needed — energy at the top of the order.”

TRAINER’S ROOM: Eduardo Nuñez (shoulder) is feeling much better, and Bochy said he’ll play third base during the games at AT&T Park before getting four or five innings at shortstop on Saturday. Joe Panik (drilled in the back on Monday) said he’s feeling fine. 

POSITION BATTLES: Here’s the latest on Matt Cain, and here’s an update on Aaron Hill and Jimmy Rollins. 

ICYMI: Big news today from NBC Bay Area. Matt Williams, Javier Lopez and Cody Ross have joined out pre- and post-game shows. You can find stories about those guys on our homepage here. Those shows will also now be an hour long on both ends of the game, adding an extra hour of Giants coverage to your day. Which is good. 

That’s all on the way during the regular season. If you missed any of our spring coverage, you can find a bunch of features here, and podcasts here (spring pods included Mike Morse, Matt Cain, Mac Williamson, Jimmy Rollins and others, with one more coming this week). And in case you’re new to our coverage, the Twitter account is here and the Facebook page is here. Next stop, San Francisco … 

 

Giants appear to have decided between Hill or Rollins for roster spot

Giants appear to have decided between Hill or Rollins for roster spot

MESA, Ariz. -- Aaron Hill didn't play in the final Cactus League game, but he didn't need to. By simply being on the flight to San Francisco on Tuesday, Hill got good news. 

The veteran infielder was due a $100,000 bonus on Tuesday, and while the Giants haven't formally announced their roster, you don't pay a man that much money to come play three exhibition games against the A's. Hill appears to have made this club as a second backup infielder, along with Conor Gillaspie. Another veteran, Jimmy Rollins, got the news that the Giants are headed in a different direction. 

Team officials spoke with Rollins this week about their future plans. He was not on the travel roster Tuesday and did not attend the game against the Cubs. 

"We're waiting to hear back from him," manager Bruce Bochy said. "He knows the scenario and the situation. We're waiting to hear back."

Rollins, 38, showed the Giants that he can still handle shortstop defensively, and he was a quick learner when he moved to second. But he hit just .119, falling behind Hill, Kelby Tomlinson and others in the mix for bench spots. It would seem unlikely that Rollins would want to get additional at-bats in Triple-A, but that feeling hadn't been fully conveyed to team officials Tuesday. There was a hope that Rollins, an East Bay native, might join the team for the Bay Bridge Series, which finishes Saturday in Oakland. Rollins grew up an A's fan.

Rollins and Hill were part of a crowded infield group at the start of camp. Gordon Beckham also had a retention bonus and he asked to be released when he was told he wouldn't make the opening day roster. David Hernandez, the third player due a bonus, also was released. He promptly signed with the Atlanta Braves.