Instant Replay: Giants 6, Astros 3

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Instant Replay: Giants 6, Astros 3

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SAN FRANCISCO Madison Bumgarner and Brandon Belt hit their first home runs of the season and the Giants opened a three-game series against the Houston Astros with a 6-3 win.Starting pitching report: Madison Bumgarner struck out the side in the first inning and cruised through 7.2 dominant innings, as he allowed two runs, just one earned, en route to his sixth win of the season.The Astros unearned run came in the third inning, when Jose Altuve reached on a two-out throwing error by Brandon Crawford on a routine ground ball. Crawfords throw sailed wide of Brandon Belt, allowing Altuve to advance to second, where he didnt stay for long. After stealing third base, Altuve trotted home on Brian Bixlers bloop single.Bumgarner was in cruise control from that point on, as he put together 1-2-3 innings in the fourth and fifth. The Giants young southpaw didnt allow an extra-base hit until the eighth inning, issued no walks and struck out 12, his seventh career double-digit strikeout game. All but one of Bumgarners strikeouts were swinging.His final line: 7.2 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 12 K (98 pitches, 70 for strikes).Bumgarner is now 13-2 with a 1.99 ERA in his last fifteen home starts after going 0-5 with a 5.82 ERA in his first seven starts at 3rd & King to start the 2011 campaign.Bullpen report: Sergio Romo entered the game with two outs in the eighth, a 4-2 lead and a runner on second. Five pitches later, all Frisbee sliders, he returned to the dugout with his standard flash and gave way to Clay Hensley in the ninth.Hensley walked pinch-hitter Jordan Schafer to lead off the final frame, but rebounded with two quick outs, including a fielders choice that could have been a game-ending double play if fielded cleanly by Brandon Belt. With two outs and a runner on second, Bruce Bochy turned to Javier Lopez to face lefty Jason Castro, who doubled down the right field line on the second pitch he saw from Lopez to cut the Giants lead to 6-3.Bochy turned to closer Santiago Casilla for the final out. Pinch-hitter Brett Wallace flew out to Melky Cabrera in left to end the game. Casilla earned his 17th save in 18 chances filling in for Brian Wilson.At the plate: Novato native Bud Norris overmatched the Giants in the first inning with a fastball that touched 95 miles per hour at times. Buster Posey got San Francisco into the hit column with an opposite field single in the second inning, but the Giants didnt get into the run column until the third, thanks to an unlikely hero.Entering Tuesdays game, the Giants had gone 16 straight contests at AT&T Park without hitting a home run. Madison Bumgarner stepped to the plate to leadoff the third and sent a 2-1 Bud Norris fastball deep to left field for the Giants first home dinger, ending a homerless streak of 517 at-bats and 138 innings.Bumgarners bomb tied the game 1-1 and the Giants came back in the fourth to take the lead, thanks to a wild Norris. Posey worked a walk to lead off the inning, and after a Pablo Sandoval pop out, Norris issued back-to-back walks to Nate Schierholtz and Brandon Belt to load the bases. With Bumgarners big bat lurking in the on-deck circle, Brandon Crawford redeemed himself for an earlier error with a seeing eye single past Norris and a diving Jose Altuve at second base. Crawford came into the game 9-for-52 with runners in scoring position, but his clutch hit drove in two for a 3-1 lead.Norris had to leave the game midway though the third inning with a left knee sprain sustained when chasing down a foul pop up by Bumgarner, and the Giants didnt fare well against his replacement. David Carpenter worked 2.2 scoreless innings, despite giving up two hits and issuing a walk.The Giants added an insurance run in the seventh, when leadoff man Gregor Blanco worked a walk, stole second, and advanced to third when catcher Jason Castros throw trickled into centerfield. Blanco scored the Giants fourth run on Melky Cabreras second single of the night in his first game after missing three with a balky hamstring.Even with Bumgarner ending the Giants home homerless streak, Brandon Belt entered Tuesdays game stuck in his own season-long dinger drought. It came to a merciful end in the eighth inning, as the first baseman took Wesley Wright deep with a towering shot to right that hit the arcade and bounced into McCovey Cove.Nate Schierholtz and Crawford joined Cabrera with two hits each. The Giants totaled nine hits, drew five walks and went 2-for-8 with runners in scoring position.In the field: Brandon Crawford committed his Major League-leading 11th error by a shortstop when he threw wide of Brandon Belt in the third inning, leading to an Astros unearned run. It was the Giants 57th error of the season, tied with the Baltimore Orioles for the most in the Majors.In the third inning, Madison Bumgarner threw to first as Brian Bixler took off for second, but Brandon Belts throw to Crawford at second was high and wide, allowing Bixler to slide under the tag.Pablo Sandoval has taken some heat for his defensive efforts since returning from the disabled list, but he made an impressive catch of a screaming line drive off the bat of Bixler. Diving to his right, Sandoval caught the ball just off the ground, robbing Bixler of a likely double.Sandoval came close to another amazing play when Matt Downs laid down a bunt in the seventh, but a charging Sandoval bobbled his attempt to catch the ball with his bare hand and Downs was credited with a single.Belt had the opportunity to turn a game-ending double play, but bobbled Downs grounder and settled for the out at first. Two batters later, Brett Wallace fouled a ball in play, but Joaquin Arias backed off and Brandon Crawford slipped, extending the game.On the bases: Nate Schierholtz took off for second base after leading off the bottom of the sixth inning with a single, but was hung out to dry when Astros first baseman and former Giant Matt Downs snagged Brandon Belts liner for an easy double play.Gregor Blanco led off the seventh inning with a walk, and was on third base in no time when he stole his seventh base of the season and advanced to third on a bad throw from Jason Castro that made it into centerfield.Attendance: The Giants announced a crowd of 41,200 on Irish Heritage Night for their 117th consecutive sellout.Up next: Matt Cain will take the mound Wednesday in search of his eighth win of the year. At 7-2 with a 2.41 ERA, Cain is off to a stellar start to the season, but is 1-3 with a 4.69 ERA in his career against the Astros. Houston will start J.A. Happ (4-6, 4.54 ERA) opposite Cain. Happ is coming off a rough outing against the St. Louis Cardinals in Houston and is 0-2 with a 3.75 ERA in 12 career innings pitched against the Giants.

Giants spring training Day 7: Rule change should help Bochy

Giants spring training Day 7: Rule change should help Bochy

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — On one of the many nights last season when his bullpen imploded, Bruce Bochy nearly put a catcher on the mound. Trevor Brown ended up playing an inning of third base on June 28 as the Giants gave up eight runs over the final two innings in a brutal loss to the A’s, and he said this week that he was told he was the next man up on the mound. 

That night was an odd one, as a tired bullpen was waiting for Sergio Romo to get activated off a rehab assignment and trying to get by without long reliever Chris Stratton, who had thrown 57 pitches out of the ‘pen the night before. The bench was also short because Joe Panik was about to be put on the concussion DL.

Bochy hopes he doesn’t have to deal with such a situation this season, and not just because the bullpen should be much improved. The disabled list lasts 10 days now, not 15, and Bochy is thrilled with the new rule.

“The DL thing, I really like it,” he said. “You get caught in that gray area so often.” 

Bochy met with league officials on Saturday to go over some of the rule changes. DL stints can now be made retroactive just three days, but it’s still a vast improvement overall. 

“With (position) players and pitchers it’s going to make it easier to DL guys,” Bochy said. “If you’re looking at (starting) pitchers, they could miss just one start.”

The Giants have often played a man or more short, trying to get by day-by-day to give a position player or starter time to heal. Around camp, this could be called the Angel Pagan Rule, as the former Giants outfielder often missed a week or so before officially going on the DL. At times, Bochy has been patient with players like Buster Posey and Hunter Pence, knowing that even if they missed a week, keeping them off the DL could still earn the Giants seven or eight games with a big bat back in the lineup. If a future diagnosis is that a player will miss a week, it’ll be much easier to swallow putting him on the 10-day DL than it was for the 15-day. Likewise, the Giants will take advantage of the change if a pitcher will have to miss a start. 

Bochy has said often that he would like every reliever to go on the DL during the season to freshen up. That’ll make more sense now, and it should keep the Giants from having to play as many games where the bullpen is gassed and a backup catcher is preparing to pitch. For guys like Stratton — a versatile pitcher on the 40-man roster — it should also lead to increased trips up to the big leagues to fill gaps. 

INJURY UPDATE: Pence (side muscle) took 25 swings during a live BP session in the cage and Bochy said he’s doing much better. That was about the only significant activity Sunday. Once again, the workout was rained out. Bochy said the Giants have enough time to get guys ready for the Cactus League opener on Feb. 24, but they’ll likely hold some big-name pitchers out of the early games. Brandon Crawford and Posey will get plenty of early starts to prepare for the WBC. 

PROSPECT WATCH: If the early games are turned over to prospects, Dan Slania will be an interesting guy to watch. Slania is listed at 6-foot-5 and 275 pounds, so he always had the look of an imposing reliever. But his greatest success last season came after a surprise move to the rotation. 

Slania, a 2013 fifth-round pick out of Notre Dame, got a call on his 24th birthday telling him to prepare to start because of an injury in Richmond’s rotation. He had not started a game since high school, but his four-pitch mix worked. He had a 5.32 ERA out of the bullpen but it dropped to 1.48 in 10 starts for the Flying Squirrels. In two Triple-A starts, he struck out 14 over 13 innings while allowing just eight hits and two runs. The Giants put him on their 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft. 

“He had a great year last year,” Bochy said. “He’s in camp for a reason. He’s got great stuff and a good makeup.”

RULE CHANGE: One more thing that came out of that rules meeting: Managers who are out of challenges now have to wait until the eighth inning to ask an umpire to look at a play.

QUOTABLE: “We know he’s better off taking some days. We talked about it (with him). He agrees that it’ll help him.” Bochy on Pence’s workload. The right fielder is coming off two injury-marred seasons, and the Giants have no intention of even trying to get him back to his Iron Man days. 

Tomlinson still a fit as Giants put bench together

Tomlinson still a fit as Giants put bench together

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The “options game” can be a cruel one. It can also be one of the most important parts of spring training. 

If two players are relatively even at the end of camp but only one can be optioned to the minors, he’s usually the man left out. Giants officials have already made reference to this several times in discussing left field, where Jarrett Parker — who is out of options — would surely be claimed off waivers if the Giants try to sneak him back to the minors before Opening Day. Mac Williamson, on the other hand, can be shuttled back and forth. 

The same holds true for Kelby Tomlinson, and while it was easy during the first week of camp to see him as the odd man out, manager Bruce Bochy said that’s not the case. What do all the veteran infielders mean for the young one already in-house?

“It hasn’t affected anything for Kelby, really,” Bochy said. “It’s all about competition for spots on this team.”

Tomlinson played 54 games in 2015 and 52 a year ago, but the Giants put a clear emphasis this offseason on finding backup infielders. Jimmy Rollins, Jae-gyun Hwang, Orlando Calixte and Gordon Beckham were among those brought in before camp, and Aaron Hill arrived on the fourth day. Sure, Ehire Adrianza — who was seemingly perpetually out of options — is no longer around, but if the Giants carry just two backup infielders, one of them will almost certainly be Conor Gillaspie. 

Tomlinson isn’t bothered by the offseason of additions. He said he can take knowledge away from six weeks spent with guys he grew up watching.

“Rollins’ prime was right in my later high school years,” he said, smiling. “I’ve got a lot of guys to learn from and watch. It’s a little of both (a competition and learning experience). We’re all fighting for the same job, but we’re still on the same team and we’re all trying to learn from each other and help each other.”

Tomlinson is the incumbent, and the Giants certainly know all about his speed and ability to play all over the field (he continued to take fly balls this winter, just in case). They also now know that Tomlinson adds something that’s needed on any bench. Last season, he emerged as one of Bochy’s most reliable pinch-hitters. 

Tomlinson’s seven pinch-hits were tied for second on the team after Gillaspie’s 11. He was 7-for-17 in a pinch, adding three walks. Tomlinson’s simple swing and up-the-middle approach have proven perfect for important spots. He’s a .315 career hitter with runners in scoring position, a .373 hitter in situations baseball-reference deems “late and close,” and a .367 hitter in “high leverage” spots.

“I’m just trying to compete up there every at-bat, especially in that pinch-hitting role,” Tomlinson said. “It’s a grind, but that makes it fun when you give the team a quality at-bat. Even if it’s not a hit, you go up there and try to see five pitches and have a good at-bat.”

Tomlinson has given the Giants plenty of them over parts of two seasons. With Brandon Crawford headed for the World Baseball Classic, he is sure to see increased time this spring, and while the options game or non-roster list might catch up to him, the Giants haven’t forgotten what they already have. 

“He gives us versatility,” Bochy said, “So he’s in the mix, too.”