Notes: Giants hopeful Cain takes final rotation spot

Notes: Giants hopeful Cain takes final rotation spot

SAN FRANCISCO — As the Giants gathered at AT&T Park on Friday morning, one player walked into a room and asked a reporter, “How many spots do we even have available this spring?” The answer is “not many,” but general manager Bobby Evans and manager Bruce Bochy did their best Friday to keep the spirit of competition going.

There will a battle in left field, of course, and the bullpen and bench need to be fully sorted out. Then there’s the fifth starter spot, and while Evans and Bochy said they’re open to competition, it’s not hard to read between the lines.

“In a perfect world, Matt Cain would be Matt Cain and he would take that spot,” Evans said. “That’s preferable, but we do have to allow an opportunity to evaluate everybody.”

Cain hasn’t often been that desired version over the last three or four seasons, but he will get a chance to keep his rotation spot, and he’ll enter camp as the frontrunner when pitchers and catchers report to Scottsdale Stadium on Monday. Ty Blach will get a chance to knock him off, but the clear preference is to have Cain — the longest-tenured Giant, and a player in the final year of a massive deal — lock up a spot. Blach, the young challenger, will be the next man up in Sacramento in management’s ideal world. 

“We have to give Matt Cain a nod relative to what he’s accomplished but we also can’t disregard what Ty Blach did last season as well as at the big league level, as well as other guys that will come in and compete and try to make their case for that fifth spot,” Evans said. “There is an element of competition there because we want to see who the best fit is.”

--- All is said to be good on the health front, although Evans was a little coy, signaling that some players might be held back early in camp. That’s the case every year, though. There are no significant tweaks or injuries, he said. Hunter Pence had to back off during some of his offseason workouts after feeling something in his side, but Pence said he’s fine. The tweak was not to the same side as an oblique injury he suffered two years ago. Expect the Giants to take it slow with Pence. He’s shown that you can pretty much drop him in the lineup when healthy and he’ll be Full Throttle. 

--- Josh Osich was one of the Giants who did have offseason issues. He had a minor procedure on his left knee and said it’s all set right now. Osich said the knee bothered him most of last season, but surgery would have been season-ending so he pitched through it. Remember, two years ago he was looked at as a possible closer. The Giants hope that version of Osich returns in 2017. 

--- Javier Lopez, who retired this week, will be in camp as a guest instructor. (He will teach Swag 101.) 

“As good a player as he was, he’s an even better person,” Bochy said.

--- No surprise here, but Evans said Derek Law, Hunter Strickland and Will Smith are the frontrunners to pitch the eighth. Law, by the way, is one of several Giants on a podcast I taped today. Look for that here or here in the coming days, and subscribe on iTunes if you haven’t already!

--- Evans was asked if Mike Morse is still viable in left field and he said the first priority will be making sure Morse’s bat speed is still there. If he shows that, the Giants will try to shoehorn him onto the roster. Evans reiterated that he would rather not see Brandon Belt play any left field, but it hasn’t fully been ruled out. 

--- Look, they’re not going to actually go through with that “put a runner on second in extra innings” plan, but it got headlines this week so players and coaches were asked about it. “I’m not a big fan of it,” Bochy said. “I probably never would be.” Bochy did say that he likes the concept in the minors since it saves young arms a bit. 

--- Here’s my story from earlier on the Giants who are playing in the WBC.  

--- Bochy on Sergio Romo choosing the Dodgers: “It’s always strange at first. We’ll probably see him in spring training. You’ve got to move on just like he did, and we have. It’s part of the game.” Crawford said he expects Romo to get a huge ovation the first time he returns to AT&T Park. After that, it’s probably a different ballgame. 

--- Nick Hundley was here, and he said he’s excited about his new role.

“If you get the opportunity to play for an organization like this one that’s all-in, you take it. You don’t get that opportunity often,” he said. “It’s a no-brainer. I always admired the continuity over here and the environment as a visiting player.”

Hundley has had plenty of time here with the Padres and Rockies. 

“As a visiting player, it’s invigorating,” he said of playing at AT&T Park. “I’ve been trying to beat the Giants for a long time without a lot of success.”

Crawford strains right groin in eighth inning of Giants' 2-1 loss to Dodgers

Crawford strains right groin in eighth inning of Giants' 2-1 loss to Dodgers

SAN FRANCISCO — Brandon Crawford was always going to miss the final two games of this series to attend the funeral of his sister-in-law. The Giants are now hoping an MRI result shows that Crawford won’t miss any time beyond his three days on bereavement leave. 

Crawford pulled up with a right groin strain as he rounded first on a base hit in the eighth. After jogging a bit in the outfield, he was pulled from the game. 

“It tightened up,” Crawford said. “I haven’t really felt anything like that before. I’ve never really had anything like this before. It just felt tight. I didn’t feel a pop or anything, and from what I hear, that’s good news.”

Crawford’s liner off Kenley Jansen sent Buster Posey from first to third. Cody Bellinger's throw went into third and Crawford was busting it for second when his leg shut down. He said he could feel the pain in his groin as he tried to run it off. 

“(Trainer Dave Groeschner) told me it wasn’t a great idea to try and push it,” Crawford said. 

Ordinarily, the Giants would send Crawford for an MRI on Wednesday, but he is flying down to Los Angeles for two days of services. Crawford originally told manager Bruce Bochy that he could be back in time for Friday’s game, but the Giants — already playing without Denard Span and with a short bench — were planning to put Crawford on the bereavement list and call up an extra position player. 

Eduardo Nuñez moved over to short in the ninth and he’s Crawford’s primary backup. Christian Arroyo, called up Monday, can also play the position. The Giants have Kelby Tomlinson and Orlando Calixte on the 40-man and one of them is likely to join the team Wednesday. 

--- Arroyo and Bellinger are two of the NL West’s top prospects, and they got their first big league hits on the same night. Arroyo got a first-pitch fastball at the letters from Clayton Kershaw and roped it into left field. 

“I figured he would come at me,” Arroyo said. “I said, ‘Hey man, see a heater and take a good swing at it.’ I just envisioned getting (a big league hit) but I didn’t think it would be off a guy the caliber of Kershaw. In the moment I was excited. That’s something you don’t forget.”

Arroyo’s family won’t forget it, either. His parents and two younger siblings were here and they went nuts as Arroyo rounded first. That’s always a cool moment. 

--- Ty Blach has three big league hits and all of them are off Kershaw. 

“Sometimes you just swing hard and get lucky, I guess,” he said. 

There’s only one active pitcher who has more hits against Kershaw than Blach. That’s Madison Bumgarner, who has taken him deep twice. A year ago, Bumgarner walked into the video room and asked Matt Duffy if he wanted advice on hitting Kershaw. On Tuesday, he gave Blach some advice. 

“Madison before the game came up and said he’s going to throw you up and in because he threw it low and away last (year),” Blach said. “I was looking for a pitch in that vicinity.”

Bumgarner knows Kershaw well. Blach got a fastball up and he knocked it over a drawn-in outfield for a double. 

--- We’re 10 paragraphs into this story without a score. The Giants lost 2-1, but it’s hard to dissect this one too much. When the Dodgers get 25 outs from Kershaw and Kenley Jansen, they’re going to win that game nine out of 10 times. 

Kershaw lowered his season ERA to 2.29. The Giants gave him a little bit of trouble early, but he turned it on in the middle innings. 

“He settled in and he was as tough as he normally is,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “The thing you hope is to create some chances. We had a couple.”

The eventual winning run came across on a strange play in the fourth. With runners on the corners, Adrian Gonzalez hit a bouncer to first. Posey looked Justin Turner back to third and then threw to Crawford at second for one out. Crawford spun and fired a strike home to try and get Turner, who had taken off. The throw skipped in the dirt and Nick Hundley couldn’t handle it. Turner made it 2-1, and that was that. 

Bochy said he had no problem with how that play went down. All the decisions were right, it was just a tough double-play to pull off. 

“I’d like to say I should have made a better throw but I got rid of it as fast as I could and I put as much on it as I could,” Crawford said. 

The Giants were a couple inches behind Turner on Tuesday. On Monday, they were just ahead of him, with Posey picking him off second to end the game. It’s been that type of series between these two.

--- I saw a lot of grumbling on Twitter about Yasmani Grandal pulling balls back into the strike zone in the late innings. Be careful what you wish for, Giants fans. Posey might be the best pitch-framer in the game. Any change that would keep guys like Grandal from fooling umps would hurt the Giants more than most.

 

Instant Replay: Kershaw quiets Giants again, Dodgers win 2-1

Instant Replay: Kershaw quiets Giants again, Dodgers win 2-1

BOX SCORE

SAN FRANCISCO — After taking the opener of this four-game series, manager Bruce Bochy said he felt the win was a huge one. 

“We’ve got our hands full tomorrow,” Bochy said Monday night. “We know it.”

Yes, as always with Clayton Kershaw, they did. 

The left-hander was once again dominant at AT&T Park, throwing seven sharp innings before turning the ball over to a bullpen that got four outs from Kenley Jansen. The closer wrapped up a 2-1 Dodgers win. As with Monday’s game, this one was a pitcher’s duel. 

Ty Blach threw 11 shutout innings against the Dodgers as a rookie and he opened up with three strong frames Tuesday. He also got the offense in gear, lashing a double over a drawn-in outfield in the third for his third career hit off Kershaw. Hunter Pence’s hustle turned a grounder to second into an infield hit, allowing Buster Posey to bat in the inning. Posey didn’t let his good friend’s effort go to waste, bouncing a single up the middle for the night’s first run. 

The Dodgers came right back to take the lead. Corey Seager opened the fourth with a walk and Justin Turner and Yasiel Puig singled. With runners on the corners and the game tied, Adrian Gonzalez hit a grounder right at Posey at first. He spun and fed Brandon Crawford for one out and Turner broke for home. Crawford’s throw came up a few inches short and Turner scored. 

Kershaw looked uncomfortable during an early at-bat, but he found his groove in the middle innings. He needed just seven pitches to get through the fifth and eight to set the side down in the sixth. After George Kontos left the bases loaded in the top of the seventh, Kershaw worked around a two-out single in the bottom of the inning. 

The Dodgers called on Jansen with two outs in the eighth and he immediately ran into trouble. Posey singled and Crawford followed with a liner into left that came with a price. Crawford pulled up as he rounded first and was removed with an apparent right groin injury. 

Starting pitching report: Blach’s return to the rotation: 5 innings, 4 hits, 2 earned runs, 1 walk, 2 strikeouts. Because he hasn’t started since spring training, a rising pitch count knocked him out a bit early.

Bullpen report: Kontos screamed and pumped his fist after blowing Andrew Toles away to end the seventh. Cory Gearrin had put a pair of Dodgers on and an intentional walk of Cody Bellinger loaded them up.

At the plate: Christian Arroyo’s first big league hit was a first-inning single off the best pitcher in the world. Kershaw threw Arroyo a first-pitch fastball at the letters and he smoked it into left. Arroyo’s parents and young siblings arrived in San Francisco in time to watch the moment. 

In the field: Crawford did Crawford Things, including a running catch way out in left field to rob Gonzalez of a bloop single. 

Attendance: The Giants announced a crowd of 41,329 human beings who tried the cell-phone-light rally with a runner on in the seventh. One pitch later, Pence grounded out. 

Up next: Johnny Cueto will try to get back on track. He had a 2.67 ERA in five starts against the Dodgers in his first season in the rivalry. Funky lefty Alex Wood goes for the other side.