Protection for Posey key to Giants' chances

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Protection for Posey key to Giants' chances

BOX SCORE

Well, weve finally gotten the answer to the question that has nagged for nearly two weeks: Your Game Four and Five starters for the San Francisco Giants are . . .Not as important as we thought.Oh, sure, Tim Lincecum is important, and getting the ball for the Giants in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series creates with it a few tweaks to a lineup that needs all the tweaks its skin can endure. And Barry Zito is certainly an interesting notion for Game 5, insofar as it means that Madison Bumgarner is out, at least for the moment.In other words, Hector Sanchez catches, which means Buster Posey goes to first base, which means Brandon Belt sits and, more likely than not, Hunter Pence moves down a spot in the lineup to break out of what has become the teams most noticeable slump.But as Bruce Bochy picked at his food in the Managers office after Wednesdays rain-engorged 3-1 win by the St. Louis Cardinals, he knew what the real problem is. And though he couldnt say it aloud, he could think it.He doesnt have enough difference-making players.Melky Cabrera is being missed, not so much in left field but certainly in the three-hole in the batting order. And Pablo Sandoval isnt hurting the team all that much in the three-hole, but he is a better five-hole hitter. And Pence, who is a better sixth-place hitter, is stuck in the five-spot unless Bochy decides that semi-desperate times call for semi-desperate measures.This all matters because the Cardinals, unlike the Cincinnati Reds before them, have decided that Buster Posey is not to see a hittable pitch in this series. Period. And there is no second Posey in the order to make the Cardinals think otherwise.This is a long-standing Cardinal philosophy the other guys best player is not to be the instrument of your death. It was a staple of Tony La Russas managing and Dave Duncans pitching philosophies, and it remains so with Mike Matheny and Derek Lilliquist.They dont walk him outright, although he had two Wednesday night. But they give him so little to work with because (a) they have no fear of Pence, Belt or Gregor Blanco behind Posey, (b) the bases are not crowded when Posey bats, and (c) hes seen eight different pitchers in three games, none more than twice in situations where he was actually allowed to hit.In short, St. Louis is ahead in this series, two games to one, in significant part because they dont believe the Giants have enough hitting to force them to pitch to Posey.In Game 1, he batted once with a runner in scoring position and Joe Kelly walked him. In Game 2, he batted once with a runner scoring position again, in the bottom of the eighth with the Giants already ahead, 6-4, and was struck out by Marc Rzepcynski in a what-the-hell situation. And in Game 3, his one chance with a runner in scoring position ended in another walk, from Kyle Lohse.You may not remember it because, well, it was before the rain delay.The point is, in sum, that while we have exercised our mighty brains wondering about the level of Marco Scutaros health, the relative darkness of Matt Hollidays soul, the identities of the Giants fourth and fifth starters and the whereabouts of Pence, the Cardinals have been making the Giants beat them without their best hitter in play.And except for the fourth inning of Game 1, the fourth and eighth innings of Game 2 and the third inning Wednesday, they havent.So, while it is invigorating in some sense to know that Lincecum and Zito are pitching games Four and Five and Madison Bumgarner is being reduced to a role as the new Lincecum, the real issue is offense, and more specifically which player or combination of players is going to force the Cardinals to break programming and face Posey in a difficult situation.In other words, Lincecum can do a lot of things, but he cant win a game with Matt Cains run support levels, and neither can Zito for that matter. Pitching will not save the Giants if they cant solve the more fundamental problem. Losing 2-1, 6-1, or 11-1 is the same thing when youre the guy packing the 1.And while it seems like every day presents a different reason why Bochy picks at his postgame meal and curses the events of the day, so much of it has to do with one thing.The Cardinals have not been forced to face Buster Posey straight up. Until they are, all the other nuances of the series will be rendered moot.

Bumgarner allows two runs, Giants start spring training with walk-off homer

Bumgarner allows two runs, Giants start spring training with walk-off homer

BOX SCORE

At Scottsdale, Arizona, Chris Marrero hit a three-run homer in the bottom of the ninth and drove in four runs as the Giants rallied after Madison Bumgarner gave up two runs on two hits in the top of the first.

Marrero, a 2006 first-round draft pick of the Nationals trying to revive his career as a non-roster invitee, had an RBI single in the fifth.

Kevin Shackelford, the seventh Cincinnati pitcher, walked Orlando Calixte to open the ninth and Christian Arroyo blooped a single into left field before Marrero hit a line drive over the wall in left centerfield.

Patrick Kivlehan had a two-run single off Bumgarner in the first and Hunter Pence doubled in a run off Reds starter Rookie Davis. Davis, acquired from the Yankees in the Aroldis Chapman deal, is likely to open with Double-A Pensacola this year.

Giants spring training Day 12: Pence hits early, Marrero crushes walk-off HR

Giants spring training Day 12: Pence hits early, Marrero crushes walk-off HR

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Bruce Bochy thought he might take it slow with Hunter Pence this spring. Pence, of course, had other ideas. 

Pence, who was held back by intercostal soreness during the first week of workouts, insisted on playing the Cactus League opener. He drove in the first Giants run of the new year with a double off the wall in the bottom of the first inning. 

“I just like to be out there Game 1,” Pence said. “It’s a message. It’s good to be out there. I have every intention of being ready to play every game of the season, so getting out there Game 1 is important to me.”

Bochy played plenty of regulars on the first day, but they were long gone when this one was decided in dramatic fashion. Chris Marrero, a non-roster invitee, hit a three-run walk-off homer as the Giants topped the Reds 6-4.

Marrero, 28, was one of the lead targets for a scouting staff that has made a habit of finding non-roster gems. The former first-round pick hit 23 homers for Boston’s Triple-A team and the Giants went after him hard when he became a minor league free agent. Marrero said his agent got a call within the first five minutes. It was an easy decision, in part because of the non-roster history here and in part because Marrero never got a call-up despite minor league success with the Red Sox. 

“If this team wants you, it’s a good thing,” Marrero said of the Giants. 

Marrero plays first base and the outfield, and while there are plenty of longtime big leaguers in camp, he certainly made a statement on the first day. The slider he hit went out to left in a hurry. 

“He’s a right-handed bat with power,” Bochy said. “He threw out good at-bats on the first day. We’re excited he signed with us. He’s going to get some at-bats here.”

THE ACE: Bochy gave Madison Bumgarner the option of skipping this game and making his debut next week, but Bumgarner — who typically doesn’t throw off a mound until he gets to camp — wanted to face hitters. “I thought it’d be good to get out there and get my feet wet,” he said. Bumgarner worked with Nick Hundley, who made some friends the first time out. 

PROSPECT WATCH: Clayton Blackburn delivered a bit of a message with two perfect innings: Don’t forget about me. 

Blackburn has been bumped down the depth chart by Ty Blach and Tyler Beede, but he was sharp while striking out three. “He was right on, wasn’t he?” Bochy said.

Blackburn was a big story last spring, coming off a season where he led the PCL with a 2.85 ERA. He had a 4.36 ERA last season and that led to some offseason changes. Blackburn said he threw off a mound 10-12 times before coming to camp last year, but he limited it to a handful of sessions this year, instead focusing on flat-ground throws into a net.

“You only have so many bullets,” he said, noting there was some fatigue last season. “You can’t waste them all in the offseason.”

Blackburn was called up last season but never got into a game. 

“There’s definitely a lot more hunger,” he said. “It’s always cool to get called up, but it was disappointing not to get in and not see any more time the rest of the year. It’s disappointing, but it’s part of the game.”

With a few more outings like Friday’s, Blackburn will get that second shot. His peripherals were just about the same across the board in 2015 and 2016, with the glaring difference being 12 additional homers in a hitter-friendly league. If he cuts back on the home runs, there’s no reason why Blackburn can’t get back in the mix here. 

NOTEWORTHY: Jimmy Rollins was 1-for-2 in his Giants debut, with a run scored … Wynton Bernard, the speedy outfielder plucked from Detroit’s system, scored on a double and two wild pitches … Jae-gyun Hwang didn’t have the best debut. He struck out twice and stumbled (for an error) on a slow roller to third ... Healthy Joe Panik had two hits in two at-bats ... Orlando Calixte played second and short and Bochy lit up when talking about his versatility. Calixte will see time in the outfield this spring, too. 

FAMILIAR FACES: It was 2010 Day at the ballpark, as Freddy Sanchez, Bengie Molina and Jeremy Affeldt were all on the field during BP. Molina and Affeldt were part of broadcast teams, but Sanchez was here with his under-9 travel ball team. Per Sanchez, the team is the best U9 team in Arizona. 

QUOTABLE: “We feed off each other and I know he feeds off of me. Hunter is a special cat. He’s the most positive person you’ll ever come across, but it’s hard because he plays with the team-first mentality and he puts himself second and sometimes that gets really hard on a person and can weigh a person down. I like to be there with him and bounce things off of him and try to keep him light and energetic. I’m not saying I take anything away from him, but don’t let him carry this big burden. Be that guy for him. He can be Batman, I’ll be Robin.” --- Mike Morse during an interview that airs on my podcast this week. You can stream it online here or download it on iTunes here.