SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Eli Whiteside will never beconfused with Buster Posey, nor should he be. Whiteside is a backupcatcher, an organizational asset and a member of the supporting cast. He isalso the only Giant in nearly four decades to catch ano-hitter. And like Posey, he hopes to be much healthierthis season. Coming out of last spring, we felt we couldmanage it, said Whiteside, glancing down at his right elbow. We could get bybecause I wasnt playing every day. Then Buster got hurt and well, it hungaround a little bit.
There is no comparing Poseyscatastrophic lower leg injury in May with Whitesides grinding, chronicallysore elbow. But in one respect, Whiteside had it worse. Although obviouslycompromised, he still had to go out and compete. Manynights, he couldnt throw to second base without short-hopping it. And scoutswere watching. It was pretty obvious teams saw I wasntthrowing the ball that great, Whiteside said. Theyre taking off every chancethey got. Mentally, its not a comfortable feeling. Especiallywhen you are the backup catcher. Your job isnt to hit home runs or play everyday. Its to provide continuity to the pitching staff on the days you start.Its to imbue the pitchers with confidence. Its to be someone they trust andwant to throw to. Although the pitchers were too gracious tosay anything, Whiteside knew with every ailing throw that some of theirconfidence must be draining away. (It became especially obvious that Giantsmanager Bruce Bochy didnt want to pair Whiteside with Tim Lincecum, whoalready had trouble holding runners.) By the Giantsaccounting, Whiteside threw out only 13 of 71 attempted base stealers -- an18.3 percent success rate that ranked far below the league average. ChrisStewart, who largely outplayed Whiteside behind the plate, threw out 22 runners(39.2 percent) despite catching almost 120 fewer innings. Throwingwell is something I always took pride in, Whiteside said. (The elbow) wasnothing that I felt was going to keep me off the field, but it was hard to havea lot of confidence. Sometimes it felt good. Sometimes it didnt, but I didntwant to let that keep me out of the lineup. After theseason, Whiteside had another MRI and traveled to Pensacola, Fla.,to have noted orthopedist Dr. James Andrews take a look at the films. Andrewsdiagnosed Whiteside with medial epicondylitis, which sounds worse than it is.Another name for it: Golfers elbow. Whiteside didntrequire surgery. Instead, he had a series of procedures to inject plasma-enrichedblood into his elbow. He had three treatments roughly a month apart, with thelast one in December. It helped, Whiteside said. From thefirst treatment on, it was getting better. Now it feels good. Im getting mystrength up to where it was in the past. Although theGiants did not offer Whiteside a contract through arbitration, the two partiescame to terms for 600,000 and he remained on the 40-man roster. Hell competewith Stewart for what should be one backup job, assuming Poseys ankle has nosetbacks this spring. Young switch hitter Hector Sanchez is likely to start atTriple-A Fresno, but club officials are remaining open-minded while evaluatinghim as well. Based on last season, it would seem an easychoice to take Stewart over Whiteside. But its no secret that Whiteside hasendeared himself to Bochy, a former backup catcher in his playing days whomight see something of himself in the gray-haired, soft-spoken man fromMississippi. Nobody in black and orange has forgotten how,just a few days after the Posey collision at the plate, Whiteside stood hisground -- became the aggressor, actually -- when Prince Fielder tried tosteamroll him in Milwaukee. It was a "we're not taking this lyingdown" moment that inspired the whole team. Then camethe day in August, when Ramon Ramirez hit Shane Victorino with a pitch and itbecame obvious a brawl would ensue. Whiteside bunny hopped like a tennis playerawaiting a 150-mph serve. It wasn't an act to incite violence. He wanted to beready to react and protect his teammates from whichever direction dangercame. If theres such a thing as an incumbent backupcatcher, Whiteside qualifies. Ive been here three yearswith these guys, Whiteside said. This is the fourth. This is where I want tobe. Its one of the best pitching staffs in baseball and its been a lot of funcatching them the last three years. I want to be that guythe pitchers want to see back there behind the plate. I want to be what theyneed back there.