Morse calls his shot before first spring training homer back with Giants

Morse calls his shot before first spring training homer back with Giants

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — After pulling up film of his previous at-bats, Michael Morse sunk into a clubhouse chair to watch the top of the seventh inning of a game against Puerto Rico. As he looked up at the TV, Morse smiled and shook his head.

“You know what’s ironic?” he said. “I always have great springs. I think I have like 100 career RBI in spring training.”

It was actually 103 at the time, with 32 homers and a .326 average. But Morse entered Wednesday’s exhibition game with .214 average, and no home runs or extra-base hits in his bid to go from non-roster invitee to the Opening Day roster. It was pointed out to him that this is the one spring where he actually needs to put up huge numbers, and he nodded as he got up for the bottom of the inning.

“Let me go hit a homer,” he said, laughing.

Five minutes later, Morse finally got on the board. He went deep to left-center, bringing his good friend Hunter Pence trotting in from third. When Morse walked back into the clubhouse, he raised his arms.

“I didn’t miss!” he yelled. “It was like, ‘Yes, he’s going to score. Oh, I am, too!’”

Nobody is having more fun than Morse this spring, even with the slow start. He came to camp wearing cheap cleats he had ordered because his equipment deal ran out when he stopped playing last season. He wore high socks with four stripes on them Wednesday, a nod to Pence. He said they made him feel faster.

For days before Wednesday’s game, Morse insisted his swing felt locked-in. He just wasn’t seeing results.

“I feel great and I wouldn’t be here trying to make the team if I didn’t,” he said. “That’s how much respect I have here for these guys.”

Morse is part of a crowded pack of non-roster invitees trying to make an impact. Chris Marrero has four homers, but for the most part, it’s been a quiet spring for Giants bats. Morse said that’s led to an interesting dynamic for the veterans. He found himself in the video room with Aaron Hill before that homer, and they marveled at the fact that they are treating every at-bat like it’s the middle of the season. There’s a lot at stake. 

“A lot of us are in the same situation,” he said. “It’s a new situation for pretty much all of us. We’re fighting every day for a chance to break camp with these guys. I have a new appreciation for the guys who come in this way every year. At the same time, you try to have fun. It’s baseball. Anything can happen.”

Morse showed that in 2014 when he returned from a significant oblique injury to help the Giants win the World Series. Giants officials hope he can have a similar impact off the bench this season, and they've given no hint one direction or the other on where Morse stands. All involved said not to read too much into the fact that Morse hasn't played left field in a game yet. 

"It's challenging because we've got two guys out there battling for a spot with (Mac) Williamson and (Jarrett) Parker, but it'd be nice to get him out there," manager Bruce Bochy said. 

Morse takes fly balls in the outfield every morning and he said the Giants should know what he can do out there. He is realistic, pointing out that "I'm not a burner, I'm not super-fast out there." He is still powerful, and he hopes to keep showing it. Bochy said Morse's batting practice session Wednesday morning was his best of the spring, but if that doesn't keep translating into games, Morse won't feel a burden. He is playing pressure-free no matter what. 

"I wish I could have played my whole career like this," he said. "At the end of the day, it's a win-win. They could come up to me at the end of this and say there's no room, and you know what, I'd say 'I'm happy for you guys.'

"For me, there's no pressure. I'm having fun."

Giants lineup: Ruggiano moves up against lefty Lester

Giants lineup: Ruggiano moves up against lefty Lester

Bruce Bochy and Joe Maddon issued their lineups for Game 2 of the four-game series in Chicago:

Giants (20-26)
1. Joe Panik (L) 2B
2. Christian Arroyo (R) 3B
3. Brandon Belt (L) 1B
4. Buster Posey (R) C
5. Justin Ruggiano (R) RF
6. Brandon Crawford (L) SS
7. Eduardo Nunez (R) LF
8. Gorkys Hernandez (R) CF
9. Johnny Cueto (R) P (4-3, 4.50 ERA)

Cubs (22-21)
1. Ben Zobrist (S) 2B
2. Kyle Schwarber (L) LF
3. Kris Bryant (R) 3B
4. Anthony Rizzo (L) 1B
5. Ian Happ (S) CF
6. Jason Heyward (L) RF
7. Willson Contreras (R) C
8. Addison Russell (R) SS
9. Jon Lester (L) P (2-2, 3.57 ERA)

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.