Quakes-Vancouver --what to watch for

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Quakes-Vancouver --what to watch for

Programming note: Catch the Earthquakes (3-1-0) vs. Vancouver Whitecaps (2-0-2) at 4 p.m. Saturday on Comcast SportsNet California.

Joe Washington
CSNBayArea.com

SAN JOSE -- Joe Cannon returns to Buck Shaw Stadium Saturday evening with an opportunity to help his Vancouver Whitecaps (2-0-2) set an MLS record for longest shutout streak at the start of a season. The longtime Earthquake still holds franchise records for appearances and shutouts and will be facing an Earthquakes team that is off to its best start since its return to San Jose five years ago.

Reports from the San Jose Mercury News said that chief rabble rouser and target forward Stephen Lenhart shut it down midway through practice Thursday with a tight hamstring and will be re-evaluated as to whether or not he will be able to play Saturday.

After missing half of last season with bereavement issues, Lenhart has progressively kicked more and more of the rust off his game and has become more and more of a factor. He's constantly in the middle of every dustup and relentlessly getting on the nerves of his opponents. Last week, he earned a penalty kick away from the ball by inducing a frustrated defender into tripping him in the penalty area 45 feet away from the ball. Chris Wondolowski proceeded to convert it for the games only goal.

Should Lenhart be unable to play, his absence should not have as drastic an impact as it did last year. In fact, it may make the Quakes even more dangerous. This could give coach Frank Yallop an opportunity to put a more skilled group on the field. It will be interesting to see if Tressor Moreno and Simon Dawkins will get an opportunity to play together. Neither saw significant minutes last week but have tremendous skill. Yallop could also call upon Turkish striker Sercan Guvenisik, who did some really impressive things in the preseason, especially when teamed with Wondolowski.

In eight combined matches this season, San Jose and Vancouver have yet to yield a goal in the run of play. The Quakes' lone goal came off a foul by goalie John Busch (and yes, it was a foul). Captain Ramiro Corrales came out of last weeks game in the second half with a sprained ankle. Yallop chose to replace him in the middle with veteran defender Jason Hernandez and move Justin Morrow to the outside left position. Many fans are eager to see Ike Opara on the field despite his struggles with the national team in the Olympic qualifiers, especially in the 2-0 loss to Canada.

In most sports, this is when the players or coaches would declare, somethings got to give, but in soccer, thats not necessarily true. The teams could play to a 0-0 tie and continue to prove their defensive prowess. My prediction is a 3-1 victory for San Jose. Goals by Dawkins, Moreno and Wondolowski.

Whats your prediction?

News and notesDefense key to early success
Four matches into the 2012 season and the San Jose Earthquakes have surrendered only one goal; and that off a penalty kick. They are proving to themselves and the rest of the league they are going to be a factor in the quest for the 2012 MLS Cup. Each year there is turnover on the roster, but the moves made this off season as a whole are the best management has made since the reformation of the team, especially on the defensive side of things.

Position by position, Frank Yallop has more quality players to choose from. The Quakes now have flexibility and options based on their opponents strengths which they have not shown in previous years. With the support of an aggressive combination of midfielders, it took most of the night for the explosive Seattle side to generate much offensively and the Quakes sent home about 40,000 Sounder fans unhappy.

San Jose has turned a massive weakness into one of its strengths. Through a series of moves and non-moves, management has put together a beautiful blend of developed young talent and veteran experience.

Victor Bernardez, the Honduran national team member, has been everything the Quakes said he would be and more. His tenacious attitude, size, strength, and fearlessness on the back line has virtually eliminated the seemingly weekly heartbreaks and bouts of bad luck that cursed the teams central defense last season. He is a closer defensively and is the main reason why the Quakes have held on to both of their 1-0 victories.

Equally impressive has been the growth of a couple of former mid-fielders on the back line, Justin Morrow and Steven Beitashour. Morrow has been an Earthquake for a while biding his time on the reserve unit. The left footer has the speed to track down any striker in the MLS and has developed his decision playing in reserve matches over the years to the point now where he has the full confidence of his teammates in either a central or left side defender. He has good ball skills which also helps the Quakes build their attack from the back. Morrow waited a long time to get a chance to play and has not faltered in any of his chances. He has been truly impressive.
Beitashour steps up
Steven Beitashour is in his third season with the Quakes and the San Jose native has made the right back position his own. He has become a lock down defender on the right side, consistently making good decisions on when to pressure and how to jump the passing lanes, especially on long balls. His speed and ball skills have helped create many scoring opportunities for the Quakes as well. In 2011, he led the team with 7 assists in 22 games. The end-zone angle of his run in the Toronto on March 24th, which created Shea Salinas goal in the 56th minute, perfectly displayed his speed, sense of timing, elusiveness and touch with the ball.
Opara ready
Waiting in the wings for his opportunity to crack the line up is Ike Opara who has spent a lot of the early season busy with the US National U23 team. Over the course of the long season, the Quakes could present the leagues most athletic back four if Opara comes in to the middle with Bernardez and Morrow plays left while Beitashour anchors down the right side. It would be difficult for any club to match that groups ball skills or speed or athleticism.

Finally, there are the two veterans who are extremely important to this equation. Ramiro Corrales started the first 4 games as the left back, suffered an injury in the Seattle game. If the injury is not serious, he will continue to be a solid option for coach Yallop. Jason Hernandez took his place after the injury. Hernandez has started 99 matches for the Quakes and played in his 100th match for Frank Yallop when he went in for Corrales. He is a smart and solid alternative at central defender and should one of the others need to sit for any reason, he will do an admirable job.

The Quakes' turnaround from a truly miserable campaign in 2011 is built on a firm defensive foundation as sturdy as Victor Bernardez on the ball. Too many times last year San Jose gave up late goals that cost them points in the standings. To a man, most of the team feels like last years squad would have squandered the 1-0 victories they have this year and they are thrilled with the new pieces that are preserving their hard work.

Joe Washington is a coordinating producer with Comcast SportsNet Bay Area and Comcast SportsNet California.

Manaea felt 'little sharp pain', but status of shoulder not immediately known

Manaea felt 'little sharp pain', but status of shoulder not immediately known

ANAHEIM — Sean Manaea is hopeful his left shoulder injury isn’t serious, but the A’s likely won’t have a full read on the starter’s condition for a couple days.

As of Wednesday night, no MRI was scheduled after Manaea left after just two innings of an eventual 8-5 defeat to the Los Angeles Angels with tightness in his shoulder.

“I felt it a little bit in the bullpen,” Manaea said. “I thought it was just one of those days where it took me longer to warm up, and that just wasn’t the case. It’s just really unfortunate.”

Just as the A’s are about to welcome Kendall Graveman back to the active roster Thursday, when he starts the series finale at Angel Stadium, and just as it appears Sonny Gray might be ready to come off the disabled list following one more rehab start, the A’s are hoping they don’t see Manaea subtracted from their rotation for any period of time.

Manager Bob Melvin said it was the top of Manaea’s shoulder that was bothering him.

“The velo was down, and it didn’t make sense to have him keep pitching,” Melvin said. “But we won’t know anything probably for a day or two, how he feels.”

Once he started throwing in the game, Manaea said he felt “kind of a little sharp pain. I mean, it’s nothing serious. I’ve dealt with it before and it only took me a few days to get back on the mound. To me, I’m not really worried about it.”

The pitcher added that he experienced a similar situation with his shoulder while a minor leaguer in Kansas City’s organization, toward the end of spring training, and he missed minimal time.

Things didn’t get better for the A’s (10-11) after Manaea exited, as they struck out 13 times and played sloppy defensively in dropping their third in a row. Catcher Stephen Vogt couldn’t handle Ryan Dull’s glove flip to the plate on a seventh-inning squeeze play, ending a streak of six errorless games for Oakland, but Melvin can live with occasional physical misplays. More problematic were occasions when right fielder Matt Joyce and center fielder Jaff Decker both seemed caught by surprise to see Angels runners take off for an extra base. Whether it was a lack of communication from infielders or the outfielders themselves needing to be more aware, the A’s can’t afford those kinds of mistakes.

“As a group, we can’t let that happen,” Melvin said. “We talk about it in advance meetings the way these guys run the bases. It’s not something we can do and expect to beat this team.”

Added Vogt: “We were on our heels quite a bit. This was obviously not the prettiest baseball game we’ve played.”

Morse, Arroyo stun Dodgers, lift Giants to thrilling comeback win

Morse, Arroyo stun Dodgers, lift Giants to thrilling comeback win

SAN FRANCISCO — This spring, Hunter Pence briefly tried to cut back on his coffee intake. The experiment did not last long for a player who is pure caffeine on and off the field, but even Pence is occasionally in need of more than a large cold brew. 

Pence tried to stay upbeat throughout a sluggish start to the season, but around him was a clubhouse in need of energy. Christian Arroyo walked through the door on Monday. Two days later, Michael Morse arrived.

“That’s quite an energy jolt,” Pence said of Arroyo. “Morse, it’s been an energy jolt as well.”

The two recent River Cats sent a pair of jolts through a stadium that was sold out for the 499th consecutive time. Arroyo hit a two-run homer in the seventh, his first in the big leagues. Morse went deep in the eighth for his first big league hit in two years and first homer as a Giant since the 2014 NLCS. 

Pence is close friends with Morse and and admirer of Arroyo, the 21-year-old who has taken a locker a few feet away. He made sure neither jolt went to waste, hitting a walk-off sacrifice fly in the 10th to give the Giants a thrilling 4-3 win they hope they can build on.

“That was a shot in the arm,” Morse said.

The big slugger was just that earlier Wednesday. Morse agreed to terms on a minor league deal at Pence’s wedding last winter and he was on track for opening day before a hamstring injury. He was so excited by Wednesday’s call back to San Francisco that he beat Bruce Bochy to the park. The manager tried to lower expectations before the game, telling reporters that Morse would not be a regular starter, especially in left, where the Giants have watched a black hole open. 

Morse was here for the late innings, for the moment when Bochy looks at him and says simply, “Get ready, Mo.” For most of Wednesday’s game, it looked like that big moment wouldn’t come. Alex Wood took a no-hitter into the sixth but he was pulled in the seventh by a Dodgers staff trying to protect his arm. Sergio Romo entered and soon faced a kid who was 19 the first time he walked into Romo’s clubhouse. 

“He’s been doing the same thing in the big leagues with good results for a long time,” Arroyo said. 

Arroyo got the slider that’s always coming, low and away, and he drilled it deep to left-center. He hit only three homers last year but Giants management felt the 36 doubles at Richmond showed a developing power bat. The strength has come quickly, and the ball carried into the first row of seats. 

“I looked up and saw the ump waving and I was like, ‘I’ve got to slow down,’” Arroyo said, smiling. “I tried to slow down and take it all in.”

As Arroyo crossed the plate and looked to the sky, his family shared hugs — without spilling a nacho — in a section overlooking the home dugout. The ballpark roared. A 3-0 deficit had been nearly erased. 

“Now it’s a one-run game,” Bochy said. “Anything can happen.”

Even by that standard, Morse’s blast was improbable. This is a player who didn’t have a hit last season before being sent home by the Pittsburgh Pirates. A player who, at 35, was having a poor spring before he announced to a reporter one day that he was going to hit a homer -- and then promptly did. On a rehab assignment over the past week, Morse had a .250 average and no homers, but he insisted to general manager Bobby Evans that his swing was ready. 

Evans believed, and Morse rewarded him with a moment that had everyone in the park throwing it back to 2014. Just as in the deciding game of the NLCS against the Cardinals, Morse was sent up as a pinch-hitter in the eighth. Sidewinding Pat Neshek was replaced by fire-balling Pedro Baez, but the approach was the same. 

“Swing hard,” Morse said. “Just in case you hit it.”

Baez kept pumping fastballs and Morse turned on one at 97 mph. He raised his arm the same way he did three years ago, an inning before Travis Ishikawa’s heroics. 

“I’m not going to lie,” Bochy said. “I was thinking about that game against St. Louis.”

All the Giants were. 

“You kind of just sit there and shake your head a little bit because it was very similar to his last homer here,” Posey said. “Even his excitement out of the box was similar.”

Morse said he didn’t intend to strike the same pose. 

“I was like, ‘I hope I didn’t strike out and I’m just running around the bases,’” he said, laughing. “It was cool, man. Not only for me, but for the team.”

For four innings, the surging bullpen made sure the homers would not be a fun footnote to another loss. Gorkys Hernandez kicked off the winning rally in the 10th with a single. He was pushed along by a stolen base, walk and bunt. Pence stepped in with no outs and engaged in one of the strangest battles of a career full of them. 

Ross Stripling, a starter with a deep repertoire, kept pumping 94 mph fastballs up near Pence’s eyes. Pence swung through one, fouled off five, and took three more for balls. Only one of the pitches he saw was in the strike zone. In the dugout, Posey shook his head in amusement. 

“It was kind of hard not to laugh,” Posey said. “He’s probably the only guy who can do that.”

Some Giants couldn’t hold the laughter in, even in a tense spot.

“He had that ‘Thou shall not walk’ going in that at-bat,” Bochy said. “He probably expanded as much as I’ve ever seen. If he would have walked it would have gone down as one of the more amazing walks with all the balls he swung at.”

On a night full of so much energy, a walk would have been an anticlimactic ending. Pence, who had been expecting a curveball the whole at-bat, lofted a 10th fastball deep enough to left to score Arroyo and send the Giants streaming out of the dugout. 

Arroyo, the youngest of them all, went sprinting across the infield. Morse followed, and soon he had Pence wrapped in a hug. Hours earlier, he had promised that at the very least, he would bring energy to the clubhouse. He delivered more than anyone could have imagined.

“To do that is one of those special moments that can change a season,” Pence said. “It was electric ... Morsey being Morsey.”