The unsung influence behind the Giants' pitching dominance

925453.jpg

The unsung influence behind the Giants' pitching dominance

DETROIT Long before Ryan Vogelsong went to Japan, beforehe had his elbow cut, before those years of misery in Pittsburgh or those twosets of Triple-A walking papers that forced him to look up to find the end ofhis rope

He went to lunch. With Mark Gardner.

Gardy and I were teammates, said Vogelsong, on the eve ofhis first World Series start. Thats how we met for the first time. I was justa young pup then, and Gardy was one of our starters and he took me under hiswing right away.

He was one of those guys I bounced questions off a lot, andnot just about pitching but making sure I was in the right place at the righttime in spring training, and going through the drills and everything.

Recalled Giants GM Brian Sabean: Looking back, Gardy shepherdeda lot of the younger guys, whether it was taking them to lunch or dinner. Youcould tell he was someone who would stay in the game after he was done playing.

Vogelsong still calls Gardner a friend, but not a teammate. Theformer right-hander from Fresno is the Giants bullpen coach now, although inpractice he is nearer to being a co-pitching coach along with Dave Righetti.

Righetti is getting another national upwelling of well-deservedaccolades, now that the Giants starting pitchers are punching up theirperformance once again with the baseball world watching. The Giants rotation is5-0 with a 0.55 ERA and a .195 opponents average over the past five games three elimination victories against the St. Louis Cardinals to burglarize theNL pennant, and then a pair of tone-setting wins at home against the DetroitTigers to set the tone in the World Series.

Barry Zito, Vogelsong, Matt Cain, Zito again and MadisonBumgarner have combined to issue just six walks and strike out 30 in 33innings. They havent allowed a single home run over that span.

Its a dominant run that club officials worried wouldnt bepossible, given the way so many of their arms lagged through September.Vogelsong was as lost as any of them, posting a 10.31 ERA over a seven-startspan from mid-August to mid-September in which opponents hit .366 against him.

But Vogelsong kept after the flaws that had crept into hisdelivery, and after finishing the regular season by flashing power stuff in hislast three starts, he has parlayed his hard, moving arsenal into a tremendouspostseason. Vogelsong is 2-0 with a 1.42 ERA in three playoff starts, includinga dominant effort against the Cardinals in Game 6 of the NLCS that kept theGiants alive.

He credits two people who have known him since the first dayhe stepped in big league camp as a wide-eyed kid.

I think they balance each other well, said Vogelsong, who rejoined the Giants on a minor league deal last year to begin his inspiring renaissance. Gardy,hell get into a lot of the mechanical stuff with you, and Rags is more on themental side. He does some mechanical stuff as well, but Rags is more of hesbeen through everything in this game that you can do as a pitcher. Hes closed,hes started, middle relief. Theres nothing as a staff we are going toencounter that this guy hasnt done in the game. That goes for Gardy as well,who relieved and started.

You know, I think they bounce things off each other all thetime, and they come up with what they think is the best solution if theres aproblem going on. I know I go to both of them because I want to try to get asmuch information as possible. They do a tremendous job with our staff.

Theyve been doing it a long time. How many bullpen coachesare on their third manager, instead of vice versa? And Righetti, with 13seasons, ranks as the longest tenured pitching coach with his current club, nowthat Dave Duncan has taken a leave of absence from the Cardinals.

Sabean is frustrated that Righetti, andbench coach Ron Wotus, have not received more interest on the major leaguemanagerial carousel. Then again, its not like he wants to see either man go.

On the pitching side, we have two guys who are verypatient, theyre good at their craft and also aggressive when need be when theyfeel adjustments need to be made, Sabean said. The players trust them. Theyhave confidence in their acumen in helping to turn them around, and the managercooperates and goes with their lead.

That was never more evident than this postseason, whenRighetti told Bochy that Zito would give them a chance to bring them back fromGame 5 in St. Louis. The left-hander responded with 7 23 shutout innings.

The Giants had to extend themselves to a seventh game tobeat the Cardinals, so they didnt have the luxury to set up their rotation forthe World Series as the Tigers did. The Giants faced a soft spot for Game 2,and Bumgarner already had been yanked from the playoff rotation after gettingbattered for an 11.25 ERA in two starts, including 15 hits and three homers injust eight innings.

But Gardner worked with Bumgarner on shortening up his torsorotation, Righetti helped him sharpen his slider just enough and the results inthree bullpen sessions were encouraging enough.

Righetti recommended that Bumgarner take the ball. Justbased on numbers alone, it would be like driving the jet fuel truck into astructure fire. But Bochy acted with faith, and Bumgarner rewarded it. TheTigers managed two hits in seven innings against the left-hander.

EXTRA BAGGS: Giving rope to Bumgarner, etc.

Now Righetti is getting the laurels. But save some forGardner, too.

Gardner is just happy he's seeing the starters perform to their capabilities.

We knew going into the playoffs the starting pitching wouldbe so important, Gardner said. You only go as far as they take you. AndSeptember, yeah, it was rough on them and you knew that going in. But therewere times the bullpen stepped it up for them, and now you see theyre doingit.

What gives Gardner such an eye for mechanics? Well, perhapsits because he was a shortstop at Fresno State who was learning pitching fromscratch. He didnt have to unlearn bad habits.

They had us work with another guy and watch them, observe,and I think it started then, Gardner said. You learn early on that everybodyhas their own style, but there are parts of a delivery you need to do. You haveto have an eye for it and try to pass it along.

Balance. Stride. Release point. Where you are when your foothits the ground. When your hands separate, and where they are at every point inyour motion.

Its all part of making a pitch, Gardner said. With theseguys here, all of them made 30 starts so you know every one of them is going tohave a rough spot. But weve been lucky with these guys. Theyve beenoutstanding and durable and they get their work done, so its easy to have guyslike that.

It wont be easy this offseason, though especially when itconcerns Tim Lincecum, who has been successful in a relief role this postseasonbut plummeted from one of the leagues most effective aces to a pitcher whoseshocking, 5.18 ERA was the highest among all qualified NL starters.

Itll be up toLincecum to tweak his mechanics and reinvent himself as a pitcher thisoffseason.

Hes just in transition, Sabean said. Hes going to have tolearn how to pitch with less velocity and hell have to get his arm or hisrelease point in a better spot to make pitches. Because its about throwingstrikes with consistency, and in his case hes not going to miss as many bats.So hes going to have to be resourceful and try to throw fewer pitches perat-bat and play to contact.

Lincecum tends to adhere to his own process and listen tohis own voices. But Righetti will lend his, and hell channel Gardnersthoughts along the way.

Who knows? Maybe a nice, leisurely lunch would help, too.

Giants spring training Day 44: Marrero caps huge spring with eighth homer

Giants spring training Day 44: Marrero caps huge spring with eighth homer

MESA, Ariz. — The Giants went 0-62 last season when trailing after eight innings. Chris Marrero wasn’t around for any of that, but it’s a stat that could help Marrero as he tries to lock up a bench spot. 

The first baseman/left fielder crushed a three-run shot in the ninth inning Tuesday, wiping out a two-run deficit against the Cubs. Marrero also has two walk-off homers this spring. 

“This kid, you see it when he goes up there. He’s got great focus,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “It’s intensity and determination. From day one, you could see it in his at-bats. Late in the game, he seems very comfortable. He wants to go up there.”

Tuesday’s homer, which shot out to right-center, was the eighth of the spring for Marrero. That ties him with a guy named Bryce Harper for the MLB lead, and the vast majority of Marrero’s bombs were no-doubters. 

“It’s been a great spring for him,” Bochy said. “The last game here, it seems fitting that he would do something like that. He’s already done it a couple of times. This kid has done all he can. I love his swing and the work that he’s put in.”

With Michael Morse down, Marrero is the best remaining option as a power right-handed bat off the bench, a glaring need a year ago. Justin Ruggiano, another one in the mix, followed Marrero’s shot with one of his own. The homer was Ruggiano’s second of the spring. 

Ruggiano is a better fit defensively in the outfield, but Marrero has been solid at first and Bochy said he’s fine with what he’s seen in left field. “He’s still working on it,” Bochy said, noting that Marrero will play left field during the Bay Bridge Series. 

LEADING OFF: Denard Span saw a wild pitch bounce off the bricks behind home plate, and he never slowed down. Span sped around third in the second inning and slid in ahead of the throw. The notable part of the play wasn’t that a quirky bounce allowed Span to take 180 feet on a wild pitch. It was that his legs did. The 33-year-old has been a different guy in his second spring with the Giants. Last year, Span was coming off hip surgery. This spring, his old game has returned.

“I’ve just been able to do the things I’ve always been able to do,” Span said. “I have more control of my body. I’m stronger. I had a full offseason and a full spring training to get my legs up under me. The last couple of weeks, I’ve felt much better and more confident.”

A healthy and spry Span would be a big boost to a lineup that often looked flat in the second half last season Span showed off every aspect of his game Tuesday. He blasted a leadoff homer on Jake Arrieta’s second pitch, and during their second matchup, he put a perfect bunt down the third base line for a single. Span stole second easily before his race home. 

“He’s playing terrific baseball and he’s been a real inspiration, being our leadoff hitter,” Bochy said. “That’s what we needed — energy at the top of the order.”

TRAINER’S ROOM: Eduardo Nuñez (shoulder) is feeling much better, and Bochy said he’ll play third base during the games at AT&T Park before getting four or five innings at shortstop on Saturday. Joe Panik (drilled in the back on Monday) said he’s feeling fine. 

POSITION BATTLES: Here’s the latest on Matt Cain, and here’s an update on Aaron Hill and Jimmy Rollins. 

ICYMI: Big news today from NBC Bay Area. Matt Williams, Javier Lopez and Cody Ross have joined out pre- and post-game shows. You can find stories about those guys on our homepage here. Those shows will also now be an hour long on both ends of the game, adding an extra hour of Giants coverage to your day. Which is good. 

That’s all on the way during the regular season. If you missed any of our spring coverage, you can find a bunch of features here, and podcasts here (spring pods included Mike Morse, Matt Cain, Mac Williamson, Jimmy Rollins and others, with one more coming this week). And in case you’re new to our coverage, the Twitter account is here and the Facebook page is here. Next stop, San Francisco … 

 

Giants appear to have decided between Hill or Rollins for roster spot

Giants appear to have decided between Hill or Rollins for roster spot

MESA, Ariz. -- Aaron Hill didn't play in the final Cactus League game, but he didn't need to. By simply being on the flight to San Francisco on Tuesday, Hill got good news. 

The veteran infielder was due a $100,000 bonus on Tuesday, and while the Giants haven't formally announced their roster, you don't pay a man that much money to come play three exhibition games against the A's. Hill appears to have made this club as a second backup infielder, along with Conor Gillaspie. Another veteran, Jimmy Rollins, got the news that the Giants are headed in a different direction. 

Team officials spoke with Rollins this week about their future plans. He was not on the travel roster Tuesday and did not attend the game against the Cubs. 

"We're waiting to hear back from him," manager Bruce Bochy said. "He knows the scenario and the situation. We're waiting to hear back."

Rollins, 38, showed the Giants that he can still handle shortstop defensively, and he was a quick learner when he moved to second. But he hit just .119, falling behind Hill, Kelby Tomlinson and others in the mix for bench spots. It would seem unlikely that Rollins would want to get additional at-bats in Triple-A, but that feeling hadn't been fully conveyed to team officials Tuesday. There was a hope that Rollins, an East Bay native, might join the team for the Bay Bridge Series, which finishes Saturday in Oakland. Rollins grew up an A's fan.

Rollins and Hill were part of a crowded infield group at the start of camp. Gordon Beckham also had a retention bonus and he asked to be released when he was told he wouldn't make the opening day roster. David Hernandez, the third player due a bonus, also was released. He promptly signed with the Atlanta Braves.