Reds present tough puzzle for Cain, Giants

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Reds present tough puzzle for Cain, Giants

SAN FRANCISCO Matt Cain lost only five starts all season,and two of them came against the Cincinnati Reds.

Angel Pagan had one of his finest moments against the Reds,hitting a game-winning home run in the ninth inning at Great American Ball Parkin April.

None of it matters now.

Its the playoffs. Everything changes, said Pagan, whenasked his thoughts about facing the Reds in an NL Division Series that beginsSaturday night at AT&T Park.

Whatever happened in the season is in the past. We start fromzero. But the way were playing, I like the way were keeping the intensity up.I think were ready ready to go and win this thing.

In what ways do the Reds pose a challenge?

Good bullpen, good starting rotation and good hitting,Pagan said. Theyre a good team. Thats why they won the Central. But webelieve were good too, so they should be asking the same questions about us.

The Giants knew theyd be getting a quality opponentregardless of whether it ended up being the Reds or Washington Nationals. TheReds entered their final regular-season game already at 97 victories theirmost in the regular season since the tail end of the Big Red Machine days in1976.

They have left-handed power in Jay Bruce, right-handed powerin Ryan Ludwick and threats on the bases in almost everyone else.

They do some other things right too, said Cain, who willthrow the first pitch at 6:37 p.m. PDT. Theyve got guys who can run.(Brandon) Phillips can run. (Zack) Cozart can run. (Drew) Stubbs can run. (Joey)Votto will run if you dont pay attention to him. Its not just that theyll godeep. They take the extra base when they can.

Cain will face right-hander and 19-game winner Johnny Cuetoin Game 1. The Reds plan to throw right-hander Bronson Arroyo in Game 2 onSunday. Giants manager Bruce Bochy knows his Game 2 choice, but wont announceit until after Thursdays workout. It would be a shock if its not MadisonBumgarner, who threw a one-hit shutout June 28 to beat Cueto at AT&T Park.

Thats just one game, said Bumgarner, who threw off amound Tuesday and plans for one more side session. It can help yourconfidence, but you dont hold back just because you did good against them onetime. Its the same mentality. You cant give in to one of the best teams inbaseball.

The Reds plan to send right-hander Mat Latos to the moundwhen the series shifts to Cincinnati for Game 3 and might turn to Cueto onshort rest in Game 4. That tells you how well theyve been pitching; they arewilling to bypass right-hander Homer Bailey, who threw a no-hitter last week.

The Giants havent mapped out their rotation yet, but thecurrent leaning is toward Tim Lincecum and Ryan Vogelsong in some combinationfor Games 3-4.

Although Barry Zito wouldve been a lock for the rotation ina series against the Washington Nationals, the Reds are seen as a lessappealing matchup for the finesse lefty. As for Lincecum, there is a thoughtthat he might benefit from pitching on the road, where he has won five of hislast six outings. Plus he might gather more focus and fuel from a hostile roadcrowd than pitching at home, where the stands at AT&T Park are laden withexpectations.

It all begins with Cain, who is 16-5 with a 2.79 ERA thisseason but 0-2 with a 5.54 ERA in two starts against the Reds. Cain allowedthree runs in a 9-2 loss April 24 at Cincinnati and got knocked around a littleharder for five runs on 11 hits in a 5-1 loss June 29 at AT&T Park. Hepitched into the seventh inning both times, though.

The first time in Cincinnati I threw the ball well, I justmade a couple of really big mistakes, said Cain, who gave up a two-run homerun to Brandon Phillips in the first inning of that start. The game at home, Iremember I felt fine. I missed over the plate a little more than I wanted, andthey did a good job. They put some good swings on pitches.

You cant worry about that. Its totally different from theseason to the playoffs. Youre just worried about getting each out, and I feelwere a lot better than last time (they faced the Reds). I feel were doingmore things right on offense, on the basepaths and defensively.

The Giants need to do those things early. They don't want to be tasked with coming back against the Reds, whose 2.66 bullpen ERA is the best in the major leagues. Closer Aroldis Chapman throws a 102 mph fastball and has struck out a cartoonish 122 in 71 23 innings.

The Reds officially became the No.2 seed -- and the Giants' opponent -- when Washington wonWednesday afternoon to clinch the NLs top spot.

Its hard to believe it came down to the last game, Bochysaid. Theyre pitching very well. Theyve got good starters and a goodbullpen. A very good defensive ballclub. Theyre solid. Thats why they had theseason they had.

Theyre just well balanced. They execute well. Theyre nota team thats going to beat themselves.

Thats the mark of a good manager, and theres your othermajor subplot of this series: Dusty Baker will return to San Francisco stillseeking the first World Series title of his managerial career. He was releasedfrom the hospital Sept. 24 after spending four days under observation afterbeing diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat and a mild stroke.

Im glad to see him back in the dugout, said Bochy, whoonly trails Baker and Detroits Jim Leyland in victories by an active manager. Wevebeen thinking about him. Its great to se him back on the field doing what heloves to do.

Giants spring training Day 10: Bochy on board with new rules

Giants spring training Day 10: Bochy on board with new rules

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — During his season managing Barry Bonds, Bruce Bochy watched the slugger get intentionally walked 43 times. 

“There were (managers) who had the (signal) up before he even got to the batter’s box,” Bochy said Wednesday. 

That’s part of the reason Bochy is completely on board with a new rule stating that managers only have to signal for an intentional walk. The elimination of the four pitches has been approved by MLB and the MLBPA, with the caveat that a manager can change his mind in the middle of the plate appearance. 

“I’m fine with it,” Bochy said. “I know a few pitchers are happy because they kind of have a thing about throwing (those pitches), not on our team, but last year it happened to us and we didn’t go. I’m fine with it.”

It’s rare that an intentional ball would go to the backstop, but the Giants experienced it last year against the Yankees. Dellin Betances threw wide as he tried to put Brandon Crawford on and Angel Pagan didn’t react quickly enough to score from third. 

Bochy met with league officials last week to go over some of the new rules and ideas, and he said he wants MLB to keep pushing to cut the time of games. 

“We talk about it so much but we really haven’t done a lot,” Bochy said. “I’m all for (limiting mound visits). I’m all for it, I am. It’s gotten more and more popular in the game. It used to be the catcher, and now it’s the catcher and infielders, and they go to the mound and come back and then the pitching coach goes out there.”

EXHIBITION SCHEDULE: Bochy said Madison Bumgarner is currently slated to start Friday’s Cactus League opener, with Matt Cain also throwing an inning. Ty Blach will start Saturday, Matt Moore and Tyler Beede will pitch Sunday, and Jeff Samardzija will start Monday. It’s possible that 18 or 20 different pitchers will take the mound over the first two days since almost all of them will be scheduled for just three outs. With the exception of Will Smith, every projected Giant should see the field this weekend. Hunter Pence is the only guy who has been held back at all, but his intercostal issue has cleared up. Pence put several on the left-field berm during BP on Wednesday.

“Hunter wants to (play Friday). He's ready to go,” Bochy said. “I’ll make that call tomorrow once I talk to the staff, but Hunter assured me he’s a full go with no limitations, and he really wants to play.”

PROSPECT WATCH: Bochy took the van over to the minor league facility to watch some of the projected Triple-A players take part in live BP. Jae-gyun Hwang hit a homer off Jose Dominguez during his session. 

“He’s a guy that rotates (well) and he’s got good power,” Bochy said. “He can go the other way. He’s got some bat control. He’s got a nice swing.”

Over on the main field, Gorkys Hernandez hit an impressive homer to left-center. 

ICYMI: From this morning, Smith is being held out of workouts. Reporters spoke to him in the afternoon and he said there’s no concern. Also, here’s a podcast with Derek Law and Josh Osich. Subscribe on iTunes if you haven’t … there’s a very popular Giant coming soon.

QUOTABLE: Smith missed time last season because he tore a knee ligament while taking his shoe off, so this spring’s speed bump is somewhat easier to take. He had a message for the trainers: “I said I’m going to sit down every day this spring,” when I take my shoes off.

MLB players’ union agrees to pitchless intentional walks

MLB players’ union agrees to pitchless intentional walks

NEW YORK -- There won't be any wild pitches on intentional walks this season.

The players' association has agreed to Major League Baseball's proposal to have intentional walks without pitches this year.

"It doesn't seem like that big of a deal. I know they're trying to cut out some of the fat. I'm OK with that," Cleveland manager Terry Francona said.

While the union has resisted many of MLB's proposed innovations, such as raising the bottom of the strike zone, installing pitch clocks and limiting trips to the mound, players are willing to accept the intentional walk change.

"As part of a broader discussion with other moving pieces, the answer is yes," union head Tony Clark wrote Wednesday in an email to The Associated Press. "There are details, as part of that discussion, that are still being worked through, however."

The union's decision was first reported by ESPN .

"I'm OK with it. You signal. I don't think that's a big deal," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "For the most part, it's not changing the strategy, it's just kind of speeding things up. I'm good with it."

There were 932 intentional walks last year, including 600 in the National League, where batters are walked to bring the pitcher's slot to the plate.

"You don't want to get your pitcher out of a rhythm, and when you do the intentional walk, I think you can take a pitcher out of his rhythm," Girardi said. "I've often wondered why you don't bring in your shortstop and the pitcher stand at short. Let the shortstop walk him. They're used to playing catch more like that than a pitcher is."

Agreement with the union is required for playing rules changes unless MLB gives one year advance notice, in which case it can unilaterally make alterations. Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred expressed hope Tuesday that ongoing talks would lead to an agreement on other changes but also said clubs would reserve the right to act unilaterally, consistent with the rule-change provision of the sport's labor contract.

Some changes with video review can be made unilaterally, such as shortening the time to make a challenge.

"I know they were thinking about putting in a 30-second (limit) for managers to make a decision," Francona said. "I actually wish they would. I think it would hustle it up and if we can't tell in 30 seconds, maybe we shouldn't be doing it anyway."