Giants spring training Day 22: Three weeks in, Bochy looking for versatility

Giants spring training Day 22: Three weeks in, Bochy looking for versatility

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Aaron Hill has not started a big league game at shortstop since 2006. Jimmy Rollins has never started a meaningful game at second base. Yet there they were Monday, lining up in a strange alignment for a coaching staff that is trying to piece together a 25-man puzzle. 

Manager Bruce Bochy said he’ll start to throw guys into new spots over the next couple of weeks, and the returns Monday certainly didn’t harm the opening day chances of the two veterans. Hill smoked an RBI double in the second and got a great read while scoring on a bloop to left, and he looked fine at short. Rollins, who has been a bit slower to come around at the plate, made two diving snags in the field. 

Bochy said the staff isn’t really looking at spring numbers yet. The Giants are more concerned about seeing where all the veterans might fit in.

“I think this early, it’s hard to judge them, it really is,” he said. “I know it seems like we’ve been here quite a while, which we have because camp started earlier, but as we get into the later weeks of spring these guys should have their swings and their comfort and a sense of timing. It is hard to evaluate right now.”

Hill will continue to see time at short, Bochy said, especially with Brandon Crawford off to the World Baseball Classic. Rollins has done daily work at second. Bochy is looking at other permutations, too … 

  • He said Chris Marrero, who has swung a hot bat early, will see time in left field. Marrerro has played first base all spring. Kelby Tomlinson will also see time in left field. 
  • Trevor Brown continues to work out occasionally at first, second and third. The staff hasn’t ruled out carrying three catchers. 
  • Jae-gyun Hwang will see some time at first base and Bochy also wants a glimpse of him in the outfield. Hwang has played third base all spring. This could be particularly meaningful if he’s in Triple-A, where Christian Arroyo will play third. 
  • Ty Blach came in with one out in the fourth. He said this is the first time he can remember ever coming in during the middle of an inning, and it was done on purpose. “It’s a good situation for Ty to come in,” Bochy said. “It could be his role. I’m not saying it will be, but it could be. We’re going to keep those options open. Early on we’re going to keep options open on the pitching side and position player side. You’re trying to get that flexibility.” Blach is still competing for the No. 5 spot, but Matt Cain hasn’t done anything to make the staff think he won’t win that job, so Blach could be a long reliever or short-stint lefty to start the year. 

GAME RECAP: The Giants won 3-2, snapping an eight-game losing streak that cost them any shot at the prestigious Cactus League title. Kyle Blanks had three hits and drove in a run. Cain was charged with a couple of runs but Blach, Dan Slania, Derek Law and Hunter Strickland took it home. 

A DIFFERENT LOOK: Strickland threw only splitters and two-seamers while picking up the save. He’s looking to get hitters off his four-seam fastball a bit. 

“That felt good today,” he said, smiling. “It felt effortless.”

The returns were positive; he faced three Indians in the ninth and got three ground balls, with the final two outs coming on a double play. The addition of a reliable third pitch would certainly be a huge boost for a guy who should be pitching the seventh or eighth. A year ago, he threw 57 percent four-seamers and 23 percent sliders.

TRAINER’S ROOM: Will Smith remains on track to pitch in a game around March 20 or so. “Smitty will be ready (for opening day),” Bochy said. “I’m confident in that. He’ll be ready.” Conor Gillapie (sore arm) said he’s ready to get back in the lineup Tuesday. Jose Alguacil hoped to visit the clubhouse Monday afternoon. 

ICYMI: From this morning, Crawford and Buster Posey are off to wear the red, white and blue. And if you didn’t see it yesterday, Crawford’s WBC glove is going to lead to a lot of fire emojis on Twitter. 

QUOTABLE: “It’s always a tough at-bat. He’s going to give you a tough at-bat. He’s a guy who has got a great ability to put an at-bat together. He likes to play hard-nosed baseball and that’s what we’re looking for.” — Cain on Hill. It turns out the two go way back; they first faced off in Double-A and Hill lined a first-pitch curveball right back up the middle, nearly taking Cain’s head off.

 

Williamson stuns Davis in ninth, but earlier mistakes haunt Giants

Williamson stuns Davis in ninth, but earlier mistakes haunt Giants

CHICAGO — Had a half-dozen other things gone differently Wednesday night, the Giants might have spent the hour after the game shrugging off a blowout loss or celebrating one of the best at-bats of the year. 

Three innings after the game was nearly lost for good, Mac Williamson saw 12 pitches from Wade Davis, who entered with a perfect ERA in 19 appearances, fouling eight of them off before slamming a two-run homer to right. The play came with some comedic value, as Williamson nearly passed Eduardo Nuñez on the bases. It also came with some historic value, as it snapped a streak of 19 consecutive solo shots that was two shy of the MLB record. 

The homer was not, however, the talking point after the game. A few minutes after Williamson went deep, Joe Panik was tossing his bat into the grass in frustration over a called third strike that ended the game and clinched a 5-4 win for the Cubs. Ten minutes after that, Bruce Bochy watched the highlight and tossed his phone onto his desk. 

“It’s a shame to end on that call, it really is,” Bochy said. “We had him on fumes and that’s not a strike. But they got the call and that’s it.”

The Giants were left with their third loss in four games, a run that has halted their momentum. They again are 11 games back in the National League West, with so many nights like this one: A comeback seemed real, but the mistakes were too much to overcome. 

Williamson, in talking about his homer, pivoted and pointed to a blunder of his own. In a tied game in the fifth, Miguel Montero hit a single to right with Addison Russell on first. The speedy shortstop watched Williamson as the ball rolled into the outfield, and when Williamson didn’t charge as hard as he otherwise might, Russell took off for third. The throw was perfect, but late. Russell scored on a fly ball. 

“The home run is really cool but it would have been a lot cooler if I hadn’t have made the mistake earlier in the game and given them the extra run,” Williamson said, explaining that he has tried to focus on being smooth to the ball and not rushing on fast outfields. In the past, rushing has led to bobbles and extra bases. 

Another costly sequence came in the eighth. After the Giants left the bases loaded in the top of the inning, Steven Okert gave up a triple to Jason Heyward, who scored on a sacrifice fly. Okert, so good when he was first called up, has been less effective of late. 

“We’ve got to get our lefties going,” Bochy said. “We gave them a run there and that put it at three and that’s just enough to cover it for them.”

Truth be told, the Giants were probably lucky to even have worries at that point. The wind blew a three-run Heyward homer inches foul in the sixth, and while the Giants grumbled about the final call of the game, an earlier call on Heyward for running inside the base path took a Cubs run off the board and killed a rally. It was correct by the letter of the law, but one you rarely see. The Giants escaped, but they wouldn’t come all the way back, despite Williamson’s late push. 

The young outfielder has been looking to make an impact since coming back up on the last homestand. He knew how tough Davis has been. 

“He’s been the best in the game this year and the numbers speak for themselves,” Williamson said. “He has phenomenal stuff. You get in the box and figure you’ve got nothing to lose, battle as tough as you can.”

Williamson fouled off good strikes and tantalizing balls. When he lofted a 2-2 pitch toward right, he took off out of the box. The ball carried just over the wall, and Williamson didn’t look up until he rounded third. That’s when Phil Nevin started yelling at him to slow down. Nuñez, who had a tight hamstring, turned and told Williamson to slow down.

“I kinda blacked out for a second there,” Williamson said. 

“I was like, ‘Bro, it’s a homer — just jog,’” Nunez said.

The moment temporarily sent a rush through the dugout. Minutes later, the Giants were left livid over a game that probably shouldn’t have been so close, but nonetheless was right there for them to steal. 

Instant Analysis: Giants' rally falls short in 5-4 loss to Cubs

Instant Analysis: Giants' rally falls short in 5-4 loss to Cubs

BOX SCORE

CHICAGO — The Giants will need a win on getaway day to clinch their first winning road trip.

Wednesday's comeback attempt fell just short, as the Giants scored two in the ninth but lost to the Cubs 5-4. Since taking the first two games in St. Louis, they have dropped three of four, falling 11 games back of the Rockies in the division.

Here are five things to know from the coldest Giants game of the year … 

— Mac Williamson fouled off eight pitches before going the opposite way against Wade Davis, who entered with a 0.00 ERA in 19 appearances. The two-run homer ended a run of 19 consecutive solo shots by the Giants, two short of their own MLB record. It was the first homer off Davis in two years. 

— The sixth inning was one of the stranger escapes we’ve seen from a pitcher this season. With two on and one out, Jason Heyward blasted a Matt Moore pitch right down the line and it looked like it would give the Cubs a 6-2 lead. The wind blew the ball a couple of feet foul. Heyward then topped one down the line and Moore’s throw bounced away from first, allowing a run to score. But the umpires called — correctly — Heyward out for running inside the line. It’s a call you rarely see. Moore then struck out Addison Russell to keep what could have easily been a 6-2 or 4-2 game at 3-2. 

— Before the first game of this series, a Giant asked in the dugout, “I wonder what some of the Cubs’ numbers would look like at our place?” Anthony Rizzo is a .159 hitter with no homers in 18 career games at AT&T Park, but he had no issues on a night when conditions were worse than they are most nights in San Francisco. Rizzo homered off Moore in his first two at-bats. 

— Rizzo will occasionally put a bunt down to beat the shift — he had an accidental bunt in his third at-bat — which the Giants have long wanted Brandon Belt to do. Belt pushed one away from the shift in the sixth, and even though it was too close to pitcher Kyle Hendricks, the throw was off and Belt reached second. One of those a week would open up a few more holes. 

— This lineup has made a habit of making mediocre and downright bad pitchers look good, and the actual good ones are taking advantage, too. A night after Jon Lester recorded his first complete game of the year, Hendricks threw seven innings for the first time.