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.

 

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

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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.”