Mota withstands the test of time

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Mota withstands the test of time

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Spring training is the time to writefeatures. That means feature interviews. And that means hearing this stock answerfrom teammates when they talk glowingly about each other: Hes the first toarrive and the last to leave."Unless youre asking about Guillermo Mota.
Motas daily arrival has become a celebrated event in camp.Thats because he pushes the boundaries of being on time. Some players showup hours before the 10 a.m. workout. Most stroll in by 9 at the latest. One recent morning, Mota walked in at 9:46.The next day, he sauntered into the clubhouse at 9:43. Why so early? one clubhouse attendant asked him.(No wagering, please.) Motas quick uniform change at his locker doesnt bother thecoaching staff. After all, in a sense, Mota is practicing for the season. Therewere several times when a starter got knocked out and he had to get ready in ahurry. Mota rescued the Giants every single time -- and not just for that night. A "Johnny Wholestaff" game has a way of wiping out a bullpen for an entire homestand or road trip.Before last season, Mota, 38, had spent 12 years in themajor leagues and never had an appearance last more than three innings. Heended up eclipsing that mark four times in 2011, including a 4 23-inningappearance against the Minnesota Twins. (That was the infamous game in whichMadison Bumgarner gave up nine hits to the 10 batters he faced.) He has a totally rubber arm, left-hander Dan Runzler said.So it was a no-brainer to bring back Mota on his thirdconsecutive one-year contract. He even gave the Giants a break, agreeing todelay the deal for several months while they juggled their 40-man roster space. Mota never seems to worry about a thing. If theres ever a guy who was a Steady Eddie, itsGuillermo Mota, said left-hander Javier Lopez. Hes been asked to wear a lotof hats, from long relief to setup, and hes never complained a bit. He doesntcomplain about getting the ball. He doesnt complain about being sore. He setsa good example for the guys, especially for the younger guys. Including the value of sleeping an extra hour?OK, maybe not, Lopez said. But he gets his throwing in.Hes always in the weight room. Hes out there doing his work. Hes got aroutine he likes, and whos to argue? When you look at his career, there arenttoo many better relievers in the league. You dont pitch a lot unless a manager has confidence in you. Aglance at the active leaderboard for appearances shows that a lot of managershave felt very comfortable putting Mota on the mound.He ranks sixth among active pitchers with 717 appearances. You've probably heard of the guys ahead of him: Mariano Rivera, (1,042)
Arthur Rhodes, (900)
LaTroy Hawkins (823)
Kyle Farnsworth (776)
Francisco Cordero (753)When Felipe Alou first heard of Mota, he was a newlyacquired shortstop yes, shortstop -- from the New York Mets system."They told me, 'Hey! We are going to convert this guy,'"said Alou, who was managing the Montreal Expos at the time. I remember thatguy was a better fielder than any other pitcher we had. We heard he was a gooddefensive shortstop. I dont know what the bat looked like. Maybe it wasn't too good.(If Mota were present for this interview, he surely wouldhave interjected that he hit a home run in his first big league at-bat.) But I knew the arm, Alou continued. We put him on themound and I believe in two years, he was in the big leagues.Mota is one of just 16 active big leaguers remaining who wore aMontreal Expos uniform. Several big names either havent signed or announcedtheir retirement in the past few weeks. Among them: Vladimir Guerrero, OrlandoCabrera and Javier Vazquez.(Getting off on a tangent, but in fact, the Giants coachingstaff is quite the Expos alumni club. Bench coach Mark Gardner, hitting coachHensley Meulens and first base coach Roberto Kelly all played for the club. AndAlou is a special assistant, of course.) Yet here is Mota, still pushing the boundaries of time. Inevery respect.A good career, you think? he asked me. Yeah, sure. Id say so.Me too, he said.

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.”