Michael Morse on returning to Giants: 'I know I’m not done'

Michael Morse on returning to Giants: 'I know I’m not done'

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Two years and one month after the biggest moment of his career, Michael Morse found himself back among the Giants. Morse, a fan favorite in 2014 and clutch bench bat during that postseason run, returned to San Francisco in November for Hunter Pence’s wedding, and at some point he found himself standing with general manager Bobby Evans.

“I know I’m not done,” said Morse, who received just eight at-bats from the Pirates before being released last April.

“If you want to see if you’re done or not, come to camp,” Evans replied.

Pence’s wedding was a long one, taking place on both sides of the Bay Bridge. Morse didn’t need much time, however, to accept the surprising offer. He ran into Larry Baer later in the wedding and told him he would see him in the spring. Then he saw Pence, one of his close friends.

“He was so excited. He was like, ‘No way!” Morse said. “I said, 'I think we just shook on a little deal here.' If (Evans) is telling me I can come to camp, I’m coming. I’m coming hard. I’m giving everything I have.”

Planning a reunion was easy, but Morse flew back to his Fort Lauderdale home knowing there could be speed bumps. He had briefly talked to the Giants about a comeback last summer, but they signed Chris Denorfia. Morse started doing cardio and kept a close eye on the Giants during the Winter Meetings to make sure his potential role wasn’t filled.

In December, the Giants made the deal official. On Thursday, Morse, slimmed down from his first stint in San Francisco, walked back onto the field at Scottsdale Stadium, a wide smile on his face.

“I want to prove to myself I can still play this game,” he said. 

The history of this organization says Morse will get another shot, that he’ll follow the Ishikawas and Gillaspies and turn his comeback into postseason heroics. Morse knows it’s not that simple, but he also knows that he has put himself in a good position to succeed. He is 34 years old and more than two years removed from a significant big league role, but he feels like a player 10 years younger. The half-year off — spent relaxing with family and trying out life as a TV and radio analyst — was a godsend. 

“I feel good … I feel very athletic this year,” Morse said. “Other years, it was more about strength. This year I feel more mobile and agile. It was very refreshing. I let my body heal, which you wouldn’t believe it, it’s such a nice, refreshing feeling. Everybody’s contract should have one year where you don’t have to play, just to heal your body.”

Morse’s last contract took him away from the Giants. He hit .279 and bashed 16 homers in 2014, returning from a bad oblique injury to hit an NLCS homer off the Cardinals’ Pat Neshek that set up Travis Ishikawa’s walk-off. A two-year, $16 million contract put him with the Marlins. He was traded to the Dodgers for a day in 2015 and then was shipped to Pittsburgh.

This current deal is not guaranteed, as Morse is in camp as a non-roster invitee, fighting for one of the open bench jobs. There’s a chance, Morse admitted, that he looks up two weeks from now and realizes it really is over. There’s a chance that the Giants ask him to continue his comeback in Triple-A, and Morse said he’s not sure what he would do if that’s the case. There’s also a chance that he has a big spring but there’s simply not room in orange and black. Morse said that would make for an easy decision. 

“I’m pretty sure that even if I hit .900 this spring and don’t make the team, I don’t think I’d go anywhere else,” he said. “I’d rather go home than not play for them.”

In a way, Morse has done both. He has played just 142 games for the Giants but considers the clubhouse his baseball home. He’s hoping that none of the other possibilities matter, that he runs with this spring opening and once again joins Pence in the outfield. He’s hoping that the wedding handshake was just the beginning.

“This is an opportunity and the Giants have given me that opportunity,” he said. “It’s not something I’m not going to take seriously. I’m 110 percent in it to help this team, and I told Bobby I don’t want to play anywhere else. I don’t want to play anywhere but for the Giants.”

Giants notes: Blach shows resiliency; another option in center?

Giants notes: Blach shows resiliency; another option in center?

CHICAGO — John Lackey's night started with a leadoff homer. Ty Blach's night started with a 13-pitch battle. Neither one is a positive for a pitcher, but Blach didn't view it that way. He actually appreciated Ben Zobrist stretching him out.

"It's good to have a battle like that and get you locked in," Blach said. "It gets you focused and you'll be like, I can execute and get guys out. It's good. It's a good battle."

There, in a nutshell, is so much of what Bruce Bochy loves about his young left-hander. The Giants have found Blach's arm and resolve to be remarkably resilient. He wasn't bothered when they moved him to the bullpen and he didn't get too high when they moved him back to the rotation. He is the same after seven shutout innings or three poor ones. Bochy smiled when asked about the Zobrist at-bat, which ended in a strikeout looking. 

"How 'bout that?" the manager said. "He won that at-bat. It seems like the advantage goes to the hitter, seeing all those pitches. He kept his focus and got a called strikeout and here he is pitching in the eighth inning."

After needing 13 pitches for one out, Blach got the next 23 on 81 pitches. Bochy thought Blach tired a bit in the eighth, but the deep effort allowed Bochy to mix and match in the bullpen, and ultimately he found the right mix. Hunter Strickland and Mark Melancon closed it out and got Blach his second win.

--- From last night, Joe Panik's huge night helped give Blach an early lead. With the help of Ron Wotus and his shift charts, he also put on a show defensively.

--- We're trying something new right after the final pitch: Here are five quick takeaways from the 6-4 win.

--- The options game sent Kelby Tomlinson back to Triple-A on Wednesday when the Giants activated Melancon, but his latest stint in Sacramento comes with a twist. Tomlinson started his third consecutive game in center field on Monday. The Giants are getting a bit more serious about their longtime plan to make Tomlinson a super-utility player. 

“Tommy is a valuable guy in the majors and if we can give him some experience in the outfield, it gives you more flexibility and versatility,” manager Bruce Bochy said. 

This is not Tomlinson’s first foray into the outfield. He did work there in the offseason after the 2015 season and he has played 25 big league innings in left field the last two seasons. This is Tomlinson’s first real experience with center field, and while in the past he has said that the transition isn’t as easy as some might think, Bochy is confident Tomlinson can figure it out. He certainly has the speed to be a semi-regular in the outfield, and the Giants aren’t exactly brimming with quality center field options behind Denard Span, who is dealing with his second injury of the season. 

“It’s a little different now,” Bochy said when asked about Tomlinson’s past experiences in the outfield. “He’s in Sacramento doing it, and knowing there’s a possibility we could need help in the outfield.”

If the switch doesn’t come in handy this season, it could in 2018. Bochy compared Tomlinson’s infield-outfield ability to Eduardo Nuñez, who has found regular playing time in left but is a free agent after the year. 

--- Hunter Pence did some light running in the outfield before Monday’s game. Bochy said Pence is still about a week away from being an option.

--- Bochy has said it a few times now when asked about the standings, so it’s officially a new motto for a team that got off to a brutal start: “We’ve put ourselves in a great situation for a great story.”

--- They're starting to get a little grumpy around here with their team hovering around .500. Perhaps the Cubs thought they could fool a few on the way out of Wrigley.

Panik takes step in right direction, helps Giants build lead Cubs can't overcome

Panik takes step in right direction, helps Giants build lead Cubs can't overcome

CHICAGO — The Giants gave Mark Melancon $62 million to make sure they don’t have an NLDS repeat, and the closer did shut the Cubs down in the ninth Monday. There’s a far cheaper solution to those big problems, however: Score so much that a late-inning implosion doesn’t matter. 

The Giants gave up four in the eighth inning in their first meeting with the Cubs since that infamous Game 4 meltdown, but thanks in large part to Joe Panik, the cushion was large enough. Panik, back atop the leadoff spot with Denard Span aching, reached base four times and had three extra-base hits. He came into the game with a .172 average over his previous 14 games, but he took John Lackey deep to lead off the night. 

“The last couple of days in St. Louis I started feeling better,” Panik said. “I started feeling a little better and today it clicked. It’s definitely a step in the right direction. I felt good. The swing path felt good. It’s going back to staying on the ball and not trying to do too much.”

With the wind rushing out toward the bleachers, there was no need to try and muscle the ball. The Giants hit a season-high three homers and added four doubles. Brandon Belt and Justin Ruggiano also went deep as the lead was stretched to 6-0. After Ruggiano’s blast, a familiar feeling set in.

Ty Blach had been brilliant through seven, but Javier Baez took him deep in the eighth. Derek Law entered and gave up a two-run shot to Ben Zobrist. Just as in Game 4, Bochy started wearing out the track to the mound. Steven Okert faced one batter and plunked him as Hunter Strickland and Melancon started to heat up. Strickland got the call, and after falling behind in the count, he got Willson Contreras to ground into a double play, stranding a pair. 

“No lead is safe on a night like this,” Bochy said of the wind. “It’s not surprising when the other team answers.”

It probably wasn’t surprising to the players on the field. It did, however, bring back bad memories.

“You’re human,” Panik said. “You’re human, but with the bullpen we’ve got, we have confidence that they’ll shut it down.”

As the Cubs rallied in the eighth and again the ninth, a half-dozen key plays from earlier loomed larger. Panik was sent from second by Phil Nevin on a hard single to left and he cut the corner at third perfectly, scoring the second run of the night. Blach helped kill one potential Cubs rally by cutting behind Albert Almora in the sixth. The center fielder had dropped a one-out bloop into right and he made a hard turn. Blach followed him to first, fielded a throw from Ruggiano, and threw Almora out at second, eliminating a baserunner ahead of Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo.

“We work on that all the time,” said Blach, a former minor league Gold Glove winner. “I saw him rounding pretty hard so I tried to sneak in. We were able to catch a guy sleeping.”

Blach was being modest. It is not a play most pitchers make, not in a 5-0 game. It was simply one of many defensive highlights for the Giants, who did just about everything right until the eighth. When the bullpen started to wobble, the lead was large enough that it didn’t matter. 

The win was the eighth in 10 games for a team that’s threatening to get back into the postseason chase. For all that’s gone wrong, the Giants are just 3 1/2 games behind these Cubs. They’ll try to get another one back Tuesday in a reminder of what could have been: Johnny Cueto against Jon Lester.

Earlier this season, Panik would have hit seventh or eighth against Lester, but Bochy said he’ll get another night atop the lineup. The manager said Panik earned it with his first career night with three extra base hits. After the first leadoff homer of his career — and probably life — Panik doubled twice. That helped build the lead, but it led to some ribbing hours later. As Panik addressed reporters, Matt Cain snuck up behind the scrum.

“Ask him why he didn’t try for third on his second double,” Cain whispered.