Pagan, Cabrera and Blanco turning out to be terrific outfield trio

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Pagan, Cabrera and Blanco turning out to be terrific outfield trio

SAN FRANCISCO They met in center field and leapt inunison. Angel Pagan gloved the final out in the Giants 4-3 victory over theChicago Cubs, then he collided with Melky Cabrera and Gregor Blanco for acelebratory, triple-hip check.

There was nothing choreographed about it.
RECAP: Baggs' Instant Replay -- Giants 4, Cubs 3

Yes, the Giants starting outfielders are having as much funas it appears. Thats easy when youre breaking records, setting the table fora productive offense and whacking one pitch after another to the wall. But itseven better when theyre all doing it together.

Oh my God, its the best, Pagan said after Fridaysvictory. To me, weve got three center fielders running around. I dont thinkthe pitchers mind that, either. Definitely, you have fun playing with thoseguys. Were getting to know each other more and more.

Whats not to like about these three first-year Giants?

Cabrera, fresh off a 51-hit May, kicked off June withanother multiple-hit game. He singled and tripled to fuel scoring rallies inthe first and third innings. He leads the majors with 80 hits, 26 multiple-hitgames and seven triples.

His .376 average is the highest in the NL.

And its the highest by a (qualified) Giant on June 1 inalmost two decades. Barry Bonds, fresh off signing his record contract in 1993,had a .394 average on June 1 of that season. (Hat tip to the amazing DaveFeldman for crunching those numbers).

Cabrera even found a way to smile through some rather personalpain in the fifth inning, when he chopped a foul ball off his manly parts.Credit Cubs catcher Steve Clevenger with some solid bro points; he made a moundvisit to give Cabrera some time to gather his considerable thoughts.

The most important ball of the night belonged to Pagan, whoblooped a single in the third inning to enter the Giants record books. Heextended his streak to 25 consecutive home games with a hit. Its the longestin franchise history, or at least dating to 1918 when data is available tocheck such matters.

Pagan secured the ball from the hit and clubhouse managerMike Murphy also made sure to save him the lineup card. Pagan received waves ofhugs and handshakes upon returning to the dugout.

Hes hitting .356 at AT&T Park and he hasnt gonehitless since the home opener here. Thats quite an accomplishment in a parkthat causes mostly grumbles from hitters especially for Pagan, who endured awretched spring and had to hear whispers about losing a regular gig even beforethe season began.

We didnt start the best way I wanted, but every day I findsomething to do to help the team, said Pagan, who didnt know about the recorduntil hitting coach Hensley Bam Bam Meulens told him about it earlier Friday.

He said, Youre going to break a record today, Pagansaid. It feels good. Its not something Im looking to do, but it means Imdoing my job. Im getting on base. Its good. It feels good, the vibe from yourteammates, when they support you for what you do.

The Giants have a pretty good team vibe going right now.They have nearly cut their NL West deficit in half in five days, takingadvantage of the Dodgers four-game losing streak to creep from 7 out to fourout. Its the closest theyve been to first place since May 8.

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Blanco is a big part of that resurgence ever since becomingthe clear, everyday leadoff hitter. He entered with a .401 on-base percentageand led off the first inning with a walk, then scored on Ryan Theriots double.

Bochy credited Blanco with setting the tone for a lineupthat still lacks power, yet is taking the field with greater confidence.

You see the energy we have here, Pagan said.

Pagan had one more reason to be excited after the game. Hisfriend and former teammate Johan Santana, became the first pitcher in New YorkMets history to throw a no-hitter. Pagan said he was about to send acongratulatory text.

Johan is one of the best teammates Ive ever had, Pagansaid. I want to congratulate him because hes come a long way from hisinjuries. Thats a good thing. He competes and hes a horse. Weve got a lot ofthose guys here, too.

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.”