SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. Brian Wilson hasnt blown one cutfastball past a major league hitter. So its too early to say hes back to hisold self on the mound.But after another promising bullpen session Monday morning,Wilson sure sounded like his old, confident and quirky self while meeting withreporters.And he left no doubt: Hell be ready to burst through thatbullpen gate on April 6.I know theres speculation, but if theres a saveopportunity on opening day, Ill be saving the game, he said. Im ready.This was not the evasive, gloomy Wilson who didnt giveinterviews in August and September when he couldnt pitch because of a soreright elbow. It wasnt even the clipped, somewhat standoffish Wilson whoreported to camp a week ago.He was back to his glib self, smirking as he offeredone-liners. And he made it clear his spirits match the way he feels on themound.I started the season on the DL and I ended the season(injured). I know theres much concern, Wilson said. Im just letting you knowthere wont be any concern once the season starts. Everybodys excited because Im pitching pain-free, but to me it was another bullpen. Thats how I pitch. Im not going to be surprised when I do well. Im going to take the mound and dominate. Any pitcher should feel like that. I know Ill pitchpain-free and Ill get the same three outs Ive always gotten.He paused as he stared me down, stifling a smile.And it will be exciting, Baggs.Wilson plans to throw another bullpen session in two days,then throw live batting practice. Hes on schedule to make his Cactus Leagueappearance March 11 or 12, and said he should be able to get in 10 to 11innings before the Giants open the season at Arizonas Chase Field.Thats good enough, Wilson said.Giants manager Bruce Bochy confirmed Wilsons timetable, andcalled Mondays session his best of the spring for the All-Star closer.Hes got his velocity back and his cutter, said Bochy, whoreceived reports from pitching coach Dave Righetti and trainer Dave Groeschner.Theres doubts that will creep into every pitcher or hitters mind after beingoff for several months. But hes got to feel good with where hes at rightnow.Wilson said he's able to stride a half-step further than the previous year, when his hip and back forced him to stiffen up his delivery. The elbow soreness probably came from compensating for the back. Wilson said he's learning to pitch with the longer stride length, but he didn't believe it would be a major adjustment.He worked with bullpen catcher Taira Uematsu to simulate pitches to right-handed and left-handed batters, taking extra time between pitches as he tried to lock in his location. The session was more than just a pitcher gripping and ripping.Tim Lincecum watched Wilson throw and also came awayencouraged. As Lincecum spoke to reporters, Wilson came over and offered him achocolate chip cookie.Its delicious, Wilson said.Lincecum laughed.Thats the way everybody wants Willie light and full ofenergy, he said. Its tough to see him when hes not like that. To see himhealthy and worry free is good for us and good for the team.Lincecum understood why Wilson went into a shell. Thetwo-time Cy Young Award winner felt the same way when he went 0-5 in August,2010.It changes a player to the point where hes not himself,Lincecum said. When I was going through that August, it was probably awkwardfor people to be around me. It was similar with Wilson. I feel hes back tobeing himself this year. Hes like, I feel good. My pens are going good. Youget excited about that on a day-to-day basis. I saw his bullpen. I saw him lift. Hes back to beingWilson.The Giants dont just feed off Wilsons ability to savegames. They also feed off his special brand of confidence and mirth. Thosequalities are beginning to reemerge along with his stuff.Weve got some fast baseball players, some veteranhitters, Wilson said. Thats all we need. Weve got cats who keep it loosehere. Weve got (Aubrey) Huff. I dont know about the Rally Thong. He mightbring it back.If we play the way we did in 2010, not talent-wise but as ateam, well do fine.One more important question: Wheres the Machine?I dont know, Wilson said. Thats a good question. Canthe Machine retire? I dont think thats possible.Wilson wouldnt confirm the secret identity of thatmysteriously masked mascot from 2010, largely believed to be Pat Burrell.Instead, Wilson deadpanned that there was a Machine bobblehead giveaway day inthe works.Guaranteed sellout, he said.Wilson looks ready for that sellout-crowd stage again.There were times he was miserable, when he didnt feel heshould be shut down, Bochy said. Now that hes back, its got to be better.Hes right on schedule and hell get enough innings, go back-to-back days, allthe boxes we need to check off with him.Wilson said he didnt think of himself as a rehabbing playerany longer.Its a different type of confidence, he said. I know whoI am and what Im capable of doing. My mechanics are right. I dont have thefeeling in my arm or my hip that I did last year. I know there are checklists,Is Brian progressing? But Im not looking at it that way. I plan on going outthere every day and being ready.This is an awesome team and were looking forward toanother journey. Weve got this pitching staff back together and were ready torock.Another long pause.And thats going to be fun to write about, Baggs.
SAN FRANCISCO — Over in Cleveland earlier Friday, Brandon Moss hit a three-run homer for the visiting team and five other players chipped in a pair of hits. The Royals had six runs, which meant that when Jim Johnson closed the Giants out a few hours later, what has seemed true all season became officially true. The Giants have the lowest-scoring lineup in the majors.
At 3.32 runs per game, they have dipped below the equally-disappointing Royals (3.38). They are capable at the moment of making any pitching staff look dominant. A 2-0 shutout was the first of the year for the Braves, who previously had just two games this season where they allowed fewer than two runs.
“Six runs in (the last) four games … I thought we would come home and get some rips in tonight, but it didn’t happen,” Bruce Bochy said.
The manager’s frustration showed late in this one. After the only rally of the game — a two-run single by opposing pitcher Jaime Garcia — Bochy took his cap off and rubbed his forehead. He dipped his head and briefly stood as if he was going to fall asleep on the rail. The bats were equally still.
The Giants had just four hits, all of them singles against Garcia, who is a nice pitcher but hardly one of the league’s best. One was an infield single by Eduardo Nuñez, another a single through Garcia’s five-hole, and a third a generous ruling by the official scorekeeper.
“It comes down to, you’ve got to get some hits and create opportunities, and we’re not doing it very often,” Bochy said. “It’s just a matter of guys getting somewhat hot. We did, we had some success, and we won some games. The thing you like to see is some good cuts and I didn’t think we got enough of those tonight.”
That run, which spanned the last homestand and small parts of two road trips, has come to a screeching halt. The Giants have lost five of six. It seems silly to scoreboard-watch in May, especially when a team is playing like this, but it’s worth noting that the teams the Giants eventually need to catch keep winning. They fell 12 games back of the Rockies and 11 back of the streaking Diamondbacks. They are 9 1/2 back of the Dodgers, who might be the best team in the whole league.
Matt Cain did his part to allow the Giants to keep pace. He got beat just once in seven sharp innings. The Giants intentionally walked Dansby Swanson to get to Garcia, who bounced a single into left. Brandon Belt had a play at the plate, but his throw was short and hit the runner. A second run scored.
“That’s tough,” Cain said. “(Garcia) was throwing the ball really good and that’s what it comes down to, you’re looking for that one hit and he did it. He’s a good hitter. We’ve seen it in St. Louis. But it definitely is tough when the pitcher does that … it just stinks on my part to give up a hit to the opposing pitcher.”
SAN FRANCISCO — The return to AT&T Park was a huge boost to Matt Cain, who has wild home-road splits this season, but it did predictable things to an already-limp Giants offense.
The Giants entered the night as the lowest-scoring team in the National League and they got blanked 2-0 by Jaime Garcia and the Braves. Garcia out-dueled Cain and provided the only offense of the night, as well. The Giants have dropped five of six.
Here are five things to know from AT&T Park, where they keep having Star Wars Night but they’ve never once celebrated Super Troopers …
--- Cain entered the seventh with a 0.94 ERA at home this season, but the opposing pitcher busted him. With one on and two outs, the Giants intentionally walked Dansby Swanson to get to Garcia, a career .145 hitter. He bounced a single into shallow left and it looked like Brandon Belt had a play at the plate, but his throw home hit the runner. That allowed Swanson to race home for a 2-0 lead.
--- Cain’s final line: seven innings, one earned run, one walk, three strikeouts. Yep, that’s a Caining.
--- Justin Ruggiano is here for the opportunity he was given in the sixth. Ruggiano has always crushed lefties, and Bruce Bochy put him behind Buster Posey on Friday night. The Braves intentionally walked Posey to load the bases for Ruggiano, who grounded out to third. Even the platoon splits are failing the Giants.
--- If you need a little perspective on Christian Arroyo’s struggles, look across the field. Swanson, the former No. 1 overall pick, is batting .198. The shortstop slashed .302/.361/.442 as a rookie but his numbers are way down across the board, and he’s nearly two years older than Arroyo. These things take time. Having said that, Arroyo’s hole is pretty deep. He’s hitless in his last 21 at-bats after an 0 for 3.
--- There were three no-pitch intentional walks. I hope you used the extra ninety seconds wisely.