Refreshed Huff hits first homer of the spring

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Refreshed Huff hits first homer of the spring

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. Aubrey Huff hit his first home run ofthe spring Monday night, which could be a hopeful sign as he tries to turnaround a forgettable run in 2011.Then again, Huff led the team with six homers last spring. Thattotal was tied for most in the Cactus League, too. So choose your talismanscarefully.Its more about the feeling than the result for Huff, and hesays hes feeling much more refreshed -- especially between the ears.

Yeah, I feel great, he told me. Just let last year goand come out and try to have some fun again. Up there, I feel comfortable andrelaxed. Its spring training, but the goal is to bring that feeling into theseason.Last year, Huff was the Giants only starting positionplayer to remain healthy all season. Hard to believe, but he was the only Giantto post enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title.Not that he finished anywhere close.Huffs average fell from .290 to .246. His on-basepercentage plummeted even steeper as he drew barely half as many walks as theprevious season. In 2010, his .385 OBP was the 10th best in the NL.Last season, his .306 OBP ranked as the eighth worst.He was swinging at everything, and not to any positiveeffect.I wasnt getting into a loading position, Huff said. Myfirst movement was forward. Ive been working on getting a nice load back. Forsome reason, I lost it.By midseason, I was making so many changes. Its hard toget your front foot down when youre doing all that in the middle of a season.Im trying to work through that this spring, and so far, its working out.Huff's bat is looking quick so far. On Sunday, he hit what went down as a single in the box score -- but only because his line drive off the base of the right field wall was hit so hard.Huff is off to a good start in his competition with Brandon Belt and Brett Pill, both of whom will get plenty ofinnings this spring to show their readiness.In three games, Huff and Belt have started in the same lineup twice. Both times, Huff was at first base. Belt was either the designated hitter or played left field. Manager Bruce Bochy cautioned not to read anything into that, saying Huff will play plenty of left field this spring, too.(Belt is swinging it well, too. He hit a shot Monday night that died in the cooler air and was tracked down by Milwaukee center fielder Jordan Schafer after a long sprint. The ball likely would've been halfway up the berm in the daytime.)
But while unspoken, it's clear the first base position is Huffs to lose.Aubrey is part of this, Bochy said earlierthis spring. We need him.

Instant Analysis: Five takeaways from Giants dropping series vs Braves

Instant Analysis: Five takeaways from Giants dropping series vs Braves

BOX SCORE

SAN FRANCISCO — The kid who raced The Freeze on Thursday night blew a tire as he hit center field, hobbled for about 50 feet, and then went down for good. He still had a better night than the Giants. 

They blew all four tires in the fifth, giving up eight runs in a nightmare frame that turned a two-run lead into a 12-11 loss. The Giants finished 1-7 on the swing through Denver and Atlanta, and they have lost 18 of their last 23 games. 

But, let’s face it, you’re here already. So here are five more things to know from the night … 

—- Matt Cain was hanging in there until the fifth, and then … disaster. The inning started with Brandon Phillips’ solo shot that cut the lead to one. Then it went single, single before Cain was relieved by Bryan Morris. After that, it was single, single, single, sacrifice fly, homer, flyout, walk, single, pitching change, single. 

—- Morris had to wear it in the fifth because the bullpen is short, and boy, did he wear it. Morris gave up five runs on five hits and a walk. His ERA jumped two full points in two-thirds of an inning. 

—- Kyle Crick made his MLB debut in that horrendous bottom of the fifth. The Giants surely did not want to bring him in with runners on, but Bruce Bochy had no choice when Morris blew up. Crick’s first pitch was a 95 mph heater. After giving up a hit in that inning, he pitched a perfect sixth and perfect seventh. Crick topped out at 97 mph. Pretty, pretty good stuff there. He needs to get a long look the rest of this year. 

—- In the second, Buster Posey hit a ball that went 311 feet and had a hit probability of just six percent. Cain hit a ball 357 feet. Posey got a homer that bounced off the top of the wall; Cain just got a double. Baseball is such an odd game.  

—- On a positive note, Javi Lopez, who calls Brandon Belt “Sparky,” repeatedly referred to Posey as Gerald. He’s going to be good at this job. 

Why you shouldn't freak out in June about Cueto's opt-out

Why you shouldn't freak out in June about Cueto's opt-out

SAN FRANCISCO — There’s a very important fact you need to keep in mind when talk of Johnny Cueto’s opt-out comes up, as it so often will over the next six weeks: The Giants always expected him to opt-out after this season, from the moment the ink was dry on the six-year, $130-million contract. 

When you sign at the top of your game and have a chance to hit the market at 31 years old and cash out a second time, you take it. Those are just the rules of professional sports. On the day Cueto was introduced, his agent, Bryce Dixon, said the two-year opt-out was important because they felt Cueto didn’t get a totally fair shot at free agency. 

“Johnny, a little bit unfairly, had a lot of questions about his arm,” Dixon said in December of 2015. “I felt we could reestablish his actual value … He knows he’s as good as (David) Price and (Zack) Greinke, but his situation was a little different.”

The Giants were fine with this, too. The flip side of the opt-out is that if you have the chance to pay a dominant right-hander $46 million over two years, and then escape his mid- to late-thirties, you do it. Every time. You don’t even blink. 

So, here we are, in June of the second year of that deal, with reports that Cueto will opt out. You should take a deep breath because you should have already expected this. But if you didn’t, take comfort in this: By all indications, Cueto has not made a decision, even with the Giants having an unimaginably poor season. 

First of all, Cueto can't make a decision in June. What if the blisters return and he repeats his April ERA a couple more times? What if his elbow starts barking? There are no guarantees with pitchers, and until Cueto gets through the second season, there will be no finality with his decision. 

Aside from the fact that he really can’t make that decision, though, sources insist Cueto hasn’t made up his mind or even thought much about it. People familiar with his thinking continue to say the focus has been baseball all season long, from spring training through his last start. 

Cueto is said to be happy in San Francisco and he enjoys pitching in front of the crowd at AT&T Park. His biggest concern has been wins and losses, and in that respect, this has been a disappointing year for all involved. 

That record has brought the Giants to a crossroads, and this is where it gets interesting. The easy solution is to trade Cueto next month, avoid the opt-out situation entirely, and add prospects to a system lacking them. But, it’s complicated. The Giants do not intend a full teardown, and if they’re going for it again in 2018 — with their core of Buster Posey, Brandon Crawford, Madison Bumgarner, etc. locked in, that’s the plan — they’ll want that second ace at the top of the rotation. And if Bumgarner doesn’t return to form after an injury, they’ll need Cueto’s presence. 

The Giants have until July 31 to decide what to do with Cueto. He has until three days after the World Series ends to decide what to do with his contract. Here in June, by all indications, those decisions haven’t been made.