Runzler hopes to be a smooth operator

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Runzler hopes to be a smooth operator

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. How snakebitten were theGiants by injuries last season? Even when they were three innings away from along winters nap, they couldnt stay healthy. Dan Runzler providedone final instance for trainers to rush onto the field. In the seventh inningof the 162nd game, he strained a lat muscle in his side while throwing apitch.But a symbolic moment in a season gone awry turned into a blessing for Runzler.After completing his rehab work and getting married, he spent most of Januaryworking at AT&T Park with pitching coach Dave Righetti to smooth outthe many kinks in his delivery. Runzler had what scouts calla segemented delivery. Righetti chuckled when hearing that word. Toocharitable, he said. OK, then. Herkyjerky?

Go with that, Righetti said. With him, it is anissue and it has been. He got to the big leagues throwing more sidearm with aslurvy breaking ball. But it got away from him. He had trouble going through lineups,seeing hitters second time around, and blah blah blah. So weve tried to smoothhim out. Hes leading with his front arm, which is a bigkey. Even a casual observer could watch Runzler throw inthe bullpen this spring and notice the difference. I get soexcited, Runzler said. My emotions take over and its like I cannot wait todeliver the pitch. I end up overanxious to throw and I go too fast. Now Imworking on getting my front shoulder out there more. It works. The ball comesout really well and the command is a lot better when youre smooth. I feel thisis something I can repeat. Righetti was glad to hear thosecomments. Hell shake his head and say he understands andall that when we tell him things, but the game speeds him up, Righetti said.No question, Ive been there. Left-handed short men who throws hard they allcome out trying to overdo it. And he hasnt been able to settle in either,right? So its part of the deal when you try to break your waythrough. But hes on a good path. People forget, thatinjury is not just a little thing. Hes in great shape and coming out of (eachsession) good. The Giants have been excited about Runzersince 2009, when he got promoted four times while zooming up the organizationalladder. He began the season in Low-A Augusta with pitching coach (and formerbig league lefty) Steve Kline, and ended it with a 1.04 ERA in 11 big leaguegames. His upper-90s fastball and slider dominated hitters. ButRunzler, 26, hasnt been a dependable strike thrower in subsequent seasons. TheGiants spent almost 10 million to bring back left-handers Jeremy Affeldt andJavier Lopez in part because they didnt have faith Runzler would be physicallyor mentally ready to step into a highly leveraged bullpenrole. With Guillermo Mota and Clay Hensley in camp, Runzlerstands just an outside shot of making the opening-day roster. So hes goingabout his business this spring with the goal to improve his craft, not to win ajob. Its tough to stick in this pen, said Runzler, whoshould be allowed to face hitters within a day or two. Weve got six out ofseven guys who are all sewn up. Its the third year Im trying to make theteam, but I cant try to do it with every single outing. Instead,he is practicing the way he plans to pitch. Every repcounts, he said. Fix it in one pitch instead of three pitches. Thats what youhave to do in a game, so you might as well do it that way on the side. Imreally concentrating on that mental part of the game. Runzlerhas something to build upon. Although he ended last season with a 6.26 ERA in31 games, he strung together his best outings in September. In his last 11appearances, he didnt allow an earned run and walked two while striking outfive over 5 13 innings. His workload increased after Affeldt stabbed his handwhile trying to separate frozen hamburger patties.Did wemention the Giants were snakebitten last season?Boch likesto throw the hot hand, Runzler said of manager Bruce Bochy. Hell ride you aslong as youre doing well. When Runzler got to Scottsdale, he shook his headwhen he saw where clubhouse manager Mike Murphy set up his locker. Hes rightnext to Affeldt, who immediately put down strips of athletic tape on the carpetas lines of demarcation. He says my stuff always gets inhis way, Runzler said, trying not to roll his eyes. Hopefullythat stuff doesnt include a set of steak knives.

Giants lineup: Ruggiano moves up against lefty Lester

Giants lineup: Ruggiano moves up against lefty Lester

Bruce Bochy and Joe Maddon issued their lineups for Game 2 of the four-game series in Chicago:

Giants (20-26)
1. Joe Panik (L) 2B
2. Christian Arroyo (R) 3B
3. Brandon Belt (L) 1B
4. Buster Posey (R) C
5. Justin Ruggiano (R) RF
6. Brandon Crawford (L) SS
7. Eduardo Nunez (R) LF
8. Gorkys Hernandez (R) CF
9. Johnny Cueto (R) P (4-3, 4.50 ERA)

Cubs (22-21)
1. Ben Zobrist (S) 2B
2. Kyle Schwarber (L) LF
3. Kris Bryant (R) 3B
4. Anthony Rizzo (L) 1B
5. Ian Happ (S) CF
6. Jason Heyward (L) RF
7. Willson Contreras (R) C
8. Addison Russell (R) SS
9. Jon Lester (L) P (2-2, 3.57 ERA)

Giants notes: Blach shows resiliency; another option in center?

Giants notes: Blach shows resiliency; another option in center?

CHICAGO — John Lackey's night started with a leadoff homer. Ty Blach's night started with a 13-pitch battle. Neither one is a positive for a pitcher, but Blach didn't view it that way. He actually appreciated Ben Zobrist stretching him out.

"It's good to have a battle like that and get you locked in," Blach said. "It gets you focused and you'll be like, I can execute and get guys out. It's good. It's a good battle."

There, in a nutshell, is so much of what Bruce Bochy loves about his young left-hander. The Giants have found Blach's arm and resolve to be remarkably resilient. He wasn't bothered when they moved him to the bullpen and he didn't get too high when they moved him back to the rotation. He is the same after seven shutout innings or three poor ones. Bochy smiled when asked about the Zobrist at-bat, which ended in a strikeout looking. 

"How 'bout that?" the manager said. "He won that at-bat. It seems like the advantage goes to the hitter, seeing all those pitches. He kept his focus and got a called strikeout and here he is pitching in the eighth inning."

After needing 13 pitches for one out, Blach got the next 23 on 81 pitches. Bochy thought Blach tired a bit in the eighth, but the deep effort allowed Bochy to mix and match in the bullpen, and ultimately he found the right mix. Hunter Strickland and Mark Melancon closed it out and got Blach his second win.

--- From last night, Joe Panik's huge night helped give Blach an early lead. With the help of Ron Wotus and his shift charts, he also put on a show defensively.

--- We're trying something new right after the final pitch: Here are five quick takeaways from the 6-4 win.

--- The options game sent Kelby Tomlinson back to Triple-A on Wednesday when the Giants activated Melancon, but his latest stint in Sacramento comes with a twist. Tomlinson started his third consecutive game in center field on Monday. The Giants are getting a bit more serious about their longtime plan to make Tomlinson a super-utility player. 

“Tommy is a valuable guy in the majors and if we can give him some experience in the outfield, it gives you more flexibility and versatility,” manager Bruce Bochy said. 

This is not Tomlinson’s first foray into the outfield. He did work there in the offseason after the 2015 season and he has played 25 big league innings in left field the last two seasons. This is Tomlinson’s first real experience with center field, and while in the past he has said that the transition isn’t as easy as some might think, Bochy is confident Tomlinson can figure it out. He certainly has the speed to be a semi-regular in the outfield, and the Giants aren’t exactly brimming with quality center field options behind Denard Span, who is dealing with his second injury of the season. 

“It’s a little different now,” Bochy said when asked about Tomlinson’s past experiences in the outfield. “He’s in Sacramento doing it, and knowing there’s a possibility we could need help in the outfield.”

If the switch doesn’t come in handy this season, it could in 2018. Bochy compared Tomlinson’s infield-outfield ability to Eduardo Nuñez, who has found regular playing time in left but is a free agent after the year. 

--- Hunter Pence did some light running in the outfield before Monday’s game. Bochy said Pence is still about a week away from being an option.

--- Bochy has said it a few times now when asked about the standings, so it’s officially a new motto for a team that got off to a brutal start: “We’ve put ourselves in a great situation for a great story.”

--- They're starting to get a little grumpy around here with their team hovering around .500. Perhaps the Cubs thought they could fool a few on the way out of Wrigley.