Pill had thoughts of hanging 'em up last spring

685602.jpg

Pill had thoughts of hanging 'em up last spring

Programming alert: Tune into Comcast SportsNet Bay Area today at 1 p.m. as the Giants take on the A's!

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. When a career infielder is asked topatrol the outfield, there is nothing liberating about all that wide-open space.

More like terrifying.

This spring, Brett Pill is trying to cover it as best hecan. Despite all of two career games (and one chance) in the outfield over hissix-year professional career, the Giants are hoping Pill can flag down theroutine stuff in left field, adding to his versatility as hes being consideredfor a bench role on the Giants opening-day roster.

A solid defensive first baseman, hes also taking groundballs at third base and second base. And hes uttering nary a complaint aboutit.

Liberating? Terrifying? None of it matters when you figuredyoud be out of baseball in 2012.

I was off the (40-man) roster. I was going to Double-A,said Pill, considering his meager place at this time last year. I wasnthaving any fun.

I was taking it like it was my last year.

The background: Pill was not considered apremium prospect out of Cal State Fullerton, but the Giants added him to the40-man roster after a banner 2009 season (.298, 109 RBIs at Double-A) toprotect him from being snagged in the Rule 5 draft. It was the best and worstthing that happened to him. Being on the 40-man only made him anxious to provehimself worthy of a call-up that never came in 2010.

I beat myself up, Pill said. I saw my average on thescoreboard and I didnt let myself have fun at all. We had a really good team,actually, at Fresno and I shouldve been enjoying it. But I was too individual.I was trying to get called up and it didnt happen.

He had an unimpressive season in the hitter-friendly PacificCoast League, which might be permissible for a first-round pick but not aself-made prospect like Pill. So he found himself designated for assignmentwhen it was over, sacrificed so his roster space could go to someone else worthprotecting.

Any team couldve taken him. All of them passed.

In the spring of 2011, Pill found himself back in minorleague camp, a 26-year-old lockering next to teenagers. He was working out withthe Double-A group at Indian School Park a clear sign of what theorganization thought of him. He figured this would be his last hurrah beforefinding some other line of work.

Like what, exactly?

Ah, well, I didnt get that far, he said, with a laugh. Itried to get that out of my mind. I just wanted to play the year like I hadnothing to lose. Just take it back to playing baseball with my brother in thefront yard, swinging a Whiffle ball bat. I told myself, Thats when you playedbecause its fun. Do it for fun again.

Then something serendipitous happened. Outfielder Cody Rosspulled a calf muscle late in the spring while running after a fly ball at TempeDiablo Stadium. He began the year on the disabled list. As a result, the Giantsdecided to beef up their lineup by making Brandon Belt the opening-day firstbaseman.

The shuffle impacted Pill, too. He was about to get squeezedout of Fresno by Belt and journeyman DH Brad Eldred. Instead, suddenly, there was a place for Pill with theGrizzlies. And he made the most of it. Through August, he had a .312 average,25 home runs, 36 doubles, 107 RBIs and an .871 OPS.

Belt returned to Fresno in late April after scuffling in thebig leagues, but Pill didnt lose his opportunity to play. Fresno manager SteveDecker asked him to try taking grounders at second base. Its a thought thatwouldnt have popped into anyones head, except Pill was raking. Decker wantedto keep him in the lineup, somewhere.

I guess I dont really ask questions, Pill said. It wasmy most successful year and it was also the most fun I had. It was, Swinghard. What the heck? Even playing second base. I just said, Ill do this thebest I can. From my first at-bat, I was smiling.

He had plenty more to smile about. At the end of August, theGiants solved a roster logjam by eating millions. They cut Miguel Tejada andAaron Rowand, which freed up space to purchase Pills contract and promote him.

He pledged to have fun there, too. And he did. He became thefirst Giant in a quarter-century to hit a home run in his first major leagueat-bat.

Will the Thrill didnt homer in his second game. Pill the Thrilldid, becoming the 22nd player in major league history to go deep ineach of his first two big league games. They were two of the Giants' brightest momentsin an otherwise disappointing, saddening, injury-wrecked year.

Pill doesnt like to revel in his successes, but after theseason, his parents practically forced him to sit down in front of the TV withthem as they warmed up their DVR.

Sitting there and hearing Vin Scully talk about you, or JonMiller or Krukow and Kuiper wow, Pill said. Its cool to experience that.

Pill is back on the major league side this spring and he isvery much in the running for a key spot on the roster. The feather in his capis his right-handed power a commodity the Giants lack off the bench. Becausehis swing is so simple and easy to maintain, club officials believe he could beproductive in a reserve role.

And thats why were moving him around, to take a look atit, manager Bruce Bochy said. Whether its (Aubrey) Huff, Belt or Pill, werewanting them to look comfortable and make the average play. As a manager, youwant all the options you can get. I dont want to put someone out there if Idont know whether they can catch a routine fly ball.

Pill hasnt been tested thus far. In his first experience inleft field a week ago, he didnt receive a chance. On Thursday, he onlyretrieved a ground single through the left side. He also watched a Mike Carphome run fly over his head.

Playing second base wasnt too uncomfortable because yourestill on the infield, Pill said. But you go out there (to the outfield) andyou realize stuff. Like, Oh, there are fans behind you, and theyre alwaystalking.

The Giants front office is sure to keep talking, too. Tradesare part of spring training especially the final week. Perhaps anotherright-handed bat comes along. Or someone else gets injured and the Giantsdecide theyll need Pills roster spot to provide more coverage at anotherposition.

Pill has minor league options, so he could be sent back toFresno easily enough.

Well have to decide when we break camp, and it wont bedecided until then which way we may go with Brett, Bochy said.

Until then, Pill plans to go where hes told. Smiling allthe while.

Giants get blanked by Braves, now have lowest-scoring team in majors

Giants get blanked by Braves, now have lowest-scoring team in majors

SAN FRANCISCO — Over in Cleveland earlier Friday, Brandon Moss hit a three-run homer for the visiting team and five other players chipped in a pair of hits. The Royals had six runs, which meant that when Jim Johnson closed the Giants out a few hours later, what has seemed true all season became officially true. The Giants have the lowest-scoring lineup in the majors.

At 3.32 runs per game, they have dipped below the equally-disappointing Royals (3.38). They are capable at the moment of making any pitching staff look dominant. A 2-0 shutout was the first of the year for the Braves, who previously had just two games this season where they allowed fewer than two runs. 

“Six runs in (the last) four games … I thought we would come home and get some rips in tonight, but it didn’t happen,” Bruce Bochy said. 

The manager’s frustration showed late in this one. After the only rally of the game — a two-run single by opposing pitcher Jaime Garcia — Bochy took his cap off and rubbed his forehead. He dipped his head and briefly stood as if he was going to fall asleep on the rail. The bats were equally still. 

The Giants had just four hits, all of them singles against Garcia, who is a nice pitcher but hardly one of the league’s best. One was an infield single by Eduardo Nuñez, another a single through Garcia’s five-hole, and a third a generous ruling by the official scorekeeper. 

“It comes down to, you’ve got to get some hits and create opportunities, and we’re not doing it very often,” Bochy said. “It’s just a matter of guys getting somewhat hot. We did, we had some success, and we won some games. The thing you like to see is some good cuts and I didn’t think we got enough of those tonight.”

That run, which spanned the last homestand and small parts of two road trips, has come to a screeching halt. The Giants have lost five of six. It seems silly to scoreboard-watch in May, especially when a team is playing like this, but it’s worth noting that the teams the Giants eventually need to catch keep winning. They fell 12 games back of the Rockies and 11 back of the streaking Diamondbacks. They are 9 1/2 back of the Dodgers, who might be the best team in the whole league. 

Matt Cain did his part to allow the Giants to keep pace. He got beat just once in seven sharp innings. The Giants intentionally walked Dansby Swanson to get to Garcia, who bounced a single into left. Brandon Belt had a play at the plate, but his throw was short and hit the runner. A second run scored. 

“That’s tough,” Cain said. “(Garcia) was throwing the ball really good and that’s what it comes down to, you’re looking for that one hit and he did it. He’s a good hitter. We’ve seen it in St. Louis. But it definitely is tough when the pitcher does that … it just stinks on my part to give up a hit to the opposing pitcher.”

Instant Analysis: Giants bats silenced, losing streak now at four games

Instant Analysis: Giants bats silenced, losing streak now at four games

BOX SCORE

SAN FRANCISCO — The return to AT&T Park was a huge boost to Matt Cain, who has wild home-road splits this season, but it did predictable things to an already-limp Giants offense. 

The Giants entered the night as the lowest-scoring team in the National League and they got blanked 2-0 by Jaime Garcia and the Braves. Garcia out-dueled Cain and provided the only offense of the night, as well. The Giants have dropped five of six.

Here are five things to know from AT&T Park, where they keep having Star Wars Night but they’ve never once celebrated Super Troopers … 

--- Cain entered the seventh with a 0.94 ERA at home this season, but the opposing pitcher busted him. With one on and two outs, the Giants intentionally walked Dansby Swanson to get to Garcia, a career .145 hitter. He bounced a single into shallow left and it looked like Brandon Belt had a play at the plate, but his throw home hit the runner. That allowed Swanson to race home for a 2-0 lead. 

--- Cain’s final line: seven innings, one earned run, one walk, three strikeouts. Yep, that’s a Caining.

--- Justin Ruggiano is here for the opportunity he was given in the sixth. Ruggiano has always crushed lefties, and Bruce Bochy put him behind Buster Posey on Friday night. The Braves intentionally walked Posey to load the bases for Ruggiano, who grounded out to third. Even the platoon splits are failing the Giants. 

--- If you need a little perspective on Christian Arroyo’s struggles, look across the field. Swanson, the former No. 1 overall pick, is batting .198. The shortstop slashed .302/.361/.442 as a rookie but his numbers are way down across the board, and he’s nearly two years older than Arroyo. These things take time. Having said that, Arroyo’s hole is pretty deep. He’s hitless in his last 21 at-bats after an 0 for 3.

--- There were three no-pitch intentional walks. I hope you used the extra ninety seconds wisely.