For the Giants, winning requires losing

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For the Giants, winning requires losing

The Giants first seventh game in 50 years wasnt a game at all, but a high-speed parade with bits of debris stuck in the grill work. It was also a tribute to Indonesia during the monsoons, but that was just something for the tourists and the TV folks.And something to scare Giants trainer Dave Groeschner.Im out there scared to death about the mound, that one of our pitchers is going to slip and hurt his arm or something, he said. But I knew the umpires werent going to stop it, and besides, why would we do anything easy?Well, there is that. Even in the final few flooded moments of their 9-0 victory over St. Louis and the propulsion into their second World Series in three years, they couldnt back in. They had to do a little more stunt work first.Hunter Pence hit a three-run double up the middle, three times in one swing. Marco Scutaro sno-coned the final popup. Matt Cain struggled with the strike zone before subduing it, with an RBI single as an exclamation point. And on and on and on into that sodden happy night.BAGGARLY: The Giants win the pennantAnd in 43 hours, they would have to do it all again, and even weirder, against the Detroit Tigers. They do so soaking wet and scorching hot. Comfortable and balancing on a hot knife-edge. And looking for one more way to scare themselves to death, as they have all year.The Giants have embraced this postseason while wearing a damp dynamite overcoat.They didnt overcome adversity as much as they kicked it in the throat. They didnt overcome the threat of elimination as much as they wore it like a shiny orange fez.The Giants, in short, are the 2010 team, only with a death-cheaters swagger they couldnt even pretend to attempt two years ago.And to play this out to the end, they will require one demonstration of proof against the Tigers. After winning their sixth elimination game in 13 days, winning the World Series apparently will require that they lose the first two games of the series.And no, this isnt the third bottle of Tractor Shed Red talking, or the lead paint inhalation problem acting up. This is now what they do.In laying out the Cardinals in such perfectly bizarre fashion, the Giants have made claim to the elimination game as their chosen idiom. With the dark hand of Uncle Death ready to clutch their very throats (or something like that), they outscored the Cardinals, 20-1. And in defying logic, they have refashioned it for themselves.So now you see how the Series has to play out for them to get maximum value. They have to lose Game 1 to Justin Verlander in a 60-mph wind, and Game 2 to Max Scherzer in an unplayable fog. And both games must feature systematically starved seagulls who view the players as grub on the hoof.RELATED: VERLANDER STATSIt isnt the only way to win the Series, and by most analytics it is a stupid way to do it. But it is the way the Giants seem to like it best these days. Its like when we won (Game 5) in St. Louis (behind Zito), Scutaro said while cradling his LCS MVP trophy. It just seemed like the ball started bouncing our way.And when Game 7 came along, the Giants had their best pitcher, the redoubtable Cain.Hey, hes the guy Id want out there, Game 6 winner Ryan Vogelsong said. I think it started with Barry, but it ended with the right guy.Tales will be told of the extraordinary alchemy Bruce Bochy and Brian Sabean affected to make this team . . . well, this team. Brian Wilson became Santiago Casilla who became Sergio Romo, the guy who ended it. Tim Lincecum became Vogelsong. Freddy Sanchez became Ryan Theriot who became Scutaro. Carlos Beltran became Melky Cabrera who became Pence. Orlando Cabrera became Brandon Crawford. Madison Bumgarner became Zito. Pablo Sandoval became a much better Sandoval. Brandon Belt, who homered the last run of the series over the steam cannons in right, became a more reliable Brandon Belt.And Cain pretty much stayed the same.Not all these changes worked out ideally, but the Giants arent an ideal team. They have flaws. They are, however, indigestible. The more you tenderize them, the tougher they are to swallow.This strangely zen approach to the task of winning baseball games makes them hard to figure in the Series, even against a Detroit team that had the seventh best record in the American League. And to be sure, this is Detroit team with its own advantages. Verlander comes about as close as a pitcher can come these days to putting the other team two games in the hole. He beat Oakland twice, crushed New York in Game 3 of the ALCS sweep, and is aligned to start Game 1 against the Unsinkable Molly Brown . . . err, Zito.SPOTLIGHT: The Detroit Tigers
So assuming Verlander is Verlander, and as such the best pitcher the Giants have faced since The Disappearing Steven Strasburg subdued them August 15, the Giants may well have to figure out how to win four out of the other five games to reprise their World Series of two years ago.And if that seems unduly pessimistic at a time like this, you may blame them. They choreographed their postseason for maximum shock value. They juggle cleavers. They saw themselves in half. They scare the audience without scaring themselves. They wait until only the foolhardy proceed, and then they break into a dead sprint. This is what they do now. This is who they are.The conditions be damned.

Giants spring training Day 11: Could Ty Blach open season in bullpen?

Giants spring training Day 11: Could Ty Blach open season in bullpen?

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Bruce Bochy announced a slight tweak to the spring schedule on Thursday: Matt Cain won't follow Madison Bumgarner on the mound in the opener; he'll likely start the second game, with Ty Blach backing him up.

The Giants have made no secret of the fact that Cain is the perfect-world pick to be the fifth starter this season. Is there a world where Blach could still be in the big leagues?

"Sure, I could see that," manager Bruce Bochy said.

Bochy called Blach a potentially good "swing guy." If he can't crack the rotation this season, Blach may see time as a long reliever or even a short-stint lefty. With Will Smith (elbow) on a tight timeline to get ready for opening day, the lefty help could be needed.

"He's confident, he's a strike-thrower, he has really good command and he's a good athlete," Bochy said, noting the traits that allow Blach to be versatile.

The 26-year-old had already proven to be flexible. A week after he threw eight shutout innings against the Dodgers, Blach came out of the bullpen at Wrigley Field and threw 1 1/3 hitless innings. Two days later he threw two more scorleless innings out of the bullpen. 

Blach said he was at first a little worried about the transition, but he talked to Cain, Jake Peavy, Chris Heston and Chris Stratton about the best ways to adjust to a switch to the bullpen. He ultimately didn't have any problems warming up quickly as a reliever.

"It was pretty similar, you just try to go out there the same way and execute pitches," Blach said.

Blach made the quick transition look easy, and that might have opened up a second path to a roster spot. 

Elsewhere on the final day before the games start ...

STOCK WATCH: Tyler Beede will pitch Sunday, and there are going to be a lot of eyes on him. Beede is probably the No. 7 starter at this point, and when you're in that spot, you're just about guaranteed a decent chunk of starts. Injuries will open doors.

"He's looked real sharp this spring," Bochy said. "He's coming off a great year. He's got great stuff, great makeup. He’s a smart pitcher along with having good command of all of his pitches. He knows what he’s doing out there. He’s one of those guys on a fast pace.”

ICYMI: Speaking of guys on a fast pace, here’s my feature on Christian Arroyo

SPRING OPENER: Buster Posey won’t catch Bumgarner on Friday, but Brandon Crawford will be behind him. Crawford is going to get plenty of time early on to prepare for the WBC. Posey makes his spring debut Saturday.

LIGHTER SIDE: Just about every day, a rookie has to get up in front of the team and do something embarrassing. Thursday’s entertainment: Jae-gyun Hwang, the Korean third baseman, dancing to “Gangnam Style.”

QUOTABLE: I think Mike Morse was the best podcast guest so far. We talked about his wedding negotiations with Bobby Evans, his friendship with Hunter Pence, the photo he took with a trophy right after the World Series, why it’s SF-or-bust, and much more. You can stream it here or download it on iTunes here. 

The last question for Morse: Will he use “Take on Me” this year?

“If this is going to be the last time I play baseball, I’m going to have that song every at-bat,” he said. 

Giants keep Christian Arroyo on fast track to big leagues

Giants keep Christian Arroyo on fast track to big leagues

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Christian Arroyo’s fingers flew across the face of his iPhone in a scene that would not be out of place in any dorm room across the country. For a moment, he was simply a young man facing an online opponent on an app, but Arroyo is far from your average 21-year-old.

Arroyo was sitting in front of a locker where a No. 22 Giants jersey hangs as a sign of what the organization thinks of the infielder. A former MVP, Jimmy Rollins, dressed a few feet away. On a flatscreen TV hanging from the ceiling, a feed showed Brandon Belt, Joe Panik and Brandon Crawford practice bunting. That group is one Arroyo hopes to soon join.

“When you get drafted by a team, your goal is to be a guy that stays around for a while,” he said. “I love it here, and to be one of those guys down the road would be awesome. There’s a lot of work to be done to get to that point, and I understand it is a business and some things work out and some things don’t, but I would definitely love to be one of those guys.”

The Giants believe strongly that he will be. It’s why they ultimately felt they had coverage when Matt Duffy — once the fourth member of that group — was traded away in the seconds before the 2016 deadline. It’s why Arroyo is wearing Will Clark’s old number. It’s why Bruce Bochy broke into a wide smile when asked about Arroyo’s month in camp last spring, when he had 10 hits — including two homers — in 18 at-bats.

“Wow — I mean, he had an impressive spring, to the point where guys are going, ‘Maybe he can help us (now),’” Bochy said. “But he needed to go to (Double-A) Richmond and play. He’s not on our radar to make the club (this spring), but what he did last spring opened a lot of eyes.”

The Giants would like Arroyo to get a full season at Triple-A and general manager Bobby Evans said they don’t feel pressure to have their top hitting prospect in the opening day lineup in 2018. Eduardo Nuñez is in the final year of his contract, but Conor Gillaspie is under team control through next season. Still, Arroyo could be a fit as soon as this summer. 

“We’ll let his development dictate the pace of his rise to the big league level,” Evans said. 

The front office will continue to move Arroyo around the diamond in Triple-A, but his future is at third base and that’s where he’ll get most of his time this season. To make the transition, Arroyo — who was drafted as a shortstop — has at times turned to a player who was once blocking him. When bench coach Ron Wotus started working him in at third last spring, Arroyo started following the lead of the incumbent. 

“I was with Duffy on the back field and we were doing our infield work,” he said. “I started turning double plays and he said, ‘Hey, man, you’ve got to slow it down over here. When you’re here, you have time. If you get a double-play ball just deliver a good throw to Joe. It’s not really the speed, it’s the area that you throw it, and let Joe turn two.’

“He’s a Gold Glove second baseman,” Arroyo continued. “He’s going to turn it every time. Once I started to realize that and started to slow everything down over there, my feet were under me and my angles on the throws were right.”

Arroyo continued to work on slowing the game down during his season in Richmond, where he played 48 games at third base, 48 at shortstop, and 19 at second. He is learning the nuances of positioning, and another spring in big league camp — where Wotus regularly helps veterans grow by leaps and bounds — will only help.

At the plate, the focus is on consistently having the right approach. Arroyo showed it last spring, when he fell behind 0-2 during a televised night game and then calmly worked a full count. When he got a cutter he could handle, Arroyo pulled a two-run homer over the bullpen. Several Giants compared the approach that night to Buster Posey’s, and during the season it was continually reinforced.

“When (team executives) would come into (Richmond) and you talk to them, they tell you very specifically the exact plan for the big league level,” Arroyo said. “'Hey, get on base, keep it moving, and make stuff happen.' I understand that when I’m making stuff happen I’m not hitting home runs, I’m hitting doubles and taking walks and taking the extra base. 

“Eventually, hopefully, when I grow into my body and get a little bit stronger down the road, doubles turn into home runs and I can make things happen that way. But for now I understand what kind of player I am at this age and I’m just going to try to stay consistent at what I do and let the other things fall into place.” 

That's the attitude the Giants want Arroyo to continue to take. It’s easy for a young player to get caught up in prospect rankings or homers and RBI, but the numbers that mean the most to the Giants are the ones on Arroyo’s driver’s license. Arroyo hit .274 with a .316 on-base percentage and .373 slugging last season, but he did so in a league where the average player was more than three years older.

“When you’re playing Double-A at the age of 21 and you have 36 doubles and good defense, it stands out,” Evans said. “We challenged him by moving him around, that’s a lot to take, and he had a good year. He has a good head on his shoulders and a good approach at the plate, and he’s only going to get stronger as he grows into a man’s body. Now he’s looking at Triple-A at the age of 22 — and he’ll still be the youngest player.”

Arroyo won’t mind that. The jump to Double-A last season was a challenge, and he was happy the Giants gave it to him. He’s ready for another jump, another season of trying to stay consistent against older and more experienced players. As Arroyo sat in the clubhouse Tuesday waiting for the on-field workout to start, one veteran infielder after another walked through the door. Nuñez, Gillaspie, Rollins, Aaron Hill and others will get most of the time at third base this spring. There are limited at-bats for the prospects, but Bochy doesn’t need to see much more from Arroyo — who is 14-for-26 in two springs — to know what’s on the way. 

“He showed he can handle the bat, third base, or wherever we put him,” Bochy said. “It’s just a matter of time with him.”