Sharks notebook: McLellan's lucky line change


Sharks notebook: McLellan's lucky line change



BOSTON -- Sometimes it takes a little luck to find the right chemistry. Sharks coach Todd McLellan admitted as much on Sunday, when he could have easily branded himself a genius for putting Ben Eager, Kyle Wellwood and Logan Couture together for the 2-0 win against the Bruins on Saturday. Although it didnt generate any even strength goals, the trio was the most effective line of the afternoon in terms of putting pressure on a very good Boston defense corps. Thats no small feat, as the Bruins allow the fewest goals-against per game in the NHL.RECAP: Niemi skunks Bruins, Sharks 2-0 on road trip
The only reason they were together, though, was due to Coutures recent illness, McLellan said after practice on the campus of Boston University. The star rookie was seeing his first action since a two-game absence with a devastating flu bug, and McLellan wanted to monitor his minutes.I was concerned about his energy level and the ability to play more minutes than he normally would, McLellan said of Couture. We put him with Ben because Ben has some energy, and Kyle can play the middle and the wing. It was more a way to protect Logan coming off the flu than it was to alter our lines.Its safe to say that he was happy with the resulting effort.As it turns out it was one of our better lines, and we may just keep it that way for awhile, he said.Ever the good soldier, Couture doesnt seem to care who hes playing with or on what line. His power play goal in the first period, which ended up as the game-winner, is evidence that he is still going to find a way to contribute no matter who he is skating with five-on-five.Couture considered playing with Eager, especially, to be advantageous.It seemed like we had some chemistry, he said. Hes a big body, protects pucks well, and creates space for Welly and me on the ice. When the D-men see him coming down the ice theyre not so sure they want to go get the puck. I enjoyed playing with him.Eager, who arrived on Jan. 18 in a trade with Atlanta, had what was probably his best game in a San Jose uniform against Boston. He was skating well and was up and down the ice all afternoon at TD Garden, throwing his 235 pounds around and causing a commotion in front of the goal crease. Although his incidental contact with Bruins goalie Tim Thomas nullified a goal in the second period, thats exactly the kind of play that McLellan wants to see out of the hulking winger.In fact, Eager has already been rewarded for his strong play by the coach.Ben Eager came in as a guy that we penciled in on that fourth line, but hes played well enough and worked his way up to that third line now, said McLellan. Its his job to keep it. He did a really good job Saturday against the Bruins.Eager came to San Jose as a familiar face, having been with the Chicago Blackhawks for parts of three seasons, including last years Stanley Cup champion club. He benefitted in that he already knew two players on the Sharks roster goalies Antti Niemi and Antero Niittymaki. In fact, he won a championship with both, as Niemi was his teammate last year in Chicago while he and Niittymaki won an AHL Calder Cup. That came during the NHLs lockout year of 2004-05 with the Philadelphia Phantoms, then the farm team of the Flyers.His friends helped to ease his transition back into the Western Conference.They were great, said Eager. Me and Niitty stayed in touch throughout the years, and whenever weve played each other we always chat. Antti I was with last year, and it was nice to have them on the roster.Eager admitted that when the trade happened, he was a bit shocked. Fortunately, though, he knew what he was getting into in joining San Jose.Its been a new experience, but I played against them a lot the last couple of years when I was in Chicago. Its what I expected a hard working group of guys and theres a lot of skill in this room and character. Im happy to be here and its been a lot of fun so far.Whats likely making it even more enjoyable is that Eager has steadily seen his ice time increase, culminating in more than 12 minutes on Saturday.Yeah, it was good. I got to play, played some good minutes, and was playing with two good players. I just tried to keep it simple and I thought we did a good job.Super Bowl plansThe Sharks flew to Washington immediately following practice in Boston, where they had spent the last three nights adjusting to East Coast time. They should get to the nations capital in plenty of time to catch the Super Bowl between the Packers and Steelers.McLellan was asked if he had any plans for the game.Well watch the game, he said. I think its an exciting event. Theres a lot of build-up to it, but it will be fun to watch.

A's spring training Day 39: Melvin applauds team's hitting approach

A's spring training Day 39: Melvin applauds team's hitting approach

MESA, Ariz. — Gaudy run totals in spring training usually don’t mean a whole lot once the regular season hits.

For A’s manager Bob Melvin, it’s the manner in which the A’s are going about things offensively that’s encouraging to him.

Oakland jumped on another opponent early, scoring five runs in the first Friday and rolling to an 8-2 victory over the Chicago White Sox. Granted, Chicago scratched starter Carlos Rodon in the morning and had to piece the game together with its bullpen.

But that only takes so much luster off the way the A’s are going about their business right now. They’ve won four in a row, and over their past five games they’ve racked up 71 hits and are averaging more than eight runs per contest in that span.

“The good thing is it’s contagious throughout the lineup,” Melvin said. “In the first inning alone we had four situational at-bats and four situational plusses. That’s something Bushy (hitting coach Darren Bush) really has been stressing all spring. We’ve had a lot of games where we just pass it on to the next guy, and if we’re gonna be successful this year, that’s what we’re gonna have to do is get contributions throughout the lineup.”

It’s interesting to watch how Melvin utilizes Matt Joyce. Early on he said he prefers the right fielder batting third when he’s in the lineup. But Joyce also is drawing starts at leadoff, as he did Friday, and the No. 2 spot. Increasing on-base percentage is a big need for the A’s, and Joyce entered Friday tied for the Cactus league lead with 10 walks.

He singled to spark a five-run first that included RBI singles from Trevor Plouffe, Yonder Alonso, Mark Canha and Chris Parmelee.

ELITE COMPANY: Melvin threw out some big-time names when asked who young third baseman Matt Chapman reminds him of.

One was Melvin’s former Giants teammate, Matt Williams, a five-time All-Star and four-time Gold Glover.

“The defense, Matty was as good as anybody I've seen over at third base,” Melvin said. “The power, there are a lot of similarities. That’s probably the best comp I could think of.”

Melvin also mentioned current Rockies star third baseman Nolan Arenado, who has won four consecutive Gold Gloves and posted back-to-back 40-homer seasons.

Not a bad couple of guys to be compared to.

“That’s exciting,” Chapman said. “It’s always nice to have people speak well of you. Those are two guys that I’m aware of how good they are.”

NOTEWORTHY: It was another start Friday where Kendall Graveman seemed to be on auto pilot, retiring hitters with ease and holding the White Sox to one run over seven innings. All the more impressive was that A’s hitters put together some very long half-innings, where Graveman had to make sure he stayed loose.

He simply took it as a good challenge to prepare for all those cold night games at the Coliseum. Named the A’s Opening Night starter just a day earlier, Graveman also used this start to focus on his cutter, being that his sinker has been locked in.

“It was good to have some innings where you have to sit for a while and go back out there,” Graveman said.

His ERA is 2.29 through five starts. He has one more tune-up before the April 3 opener against the Los Angeles Angels.

HEALTH UPDATES: Outfielder Jaff Decker continues to progress from his oblique injury. Now the key is whether he can return to games in time to make a final push for the 25-man roster. Alejandro De Aza appears to be his biggest competition to be the fifth outfielder, if the A’s end up carrying five.

“It just depends on when he gets in a game,” Melvin said of Decker. “I mean, he’s done enough obviously to make a big impression on us. But whether or not he’s even healthy enough at the end, we’ll see.”

ODDS AND ENDS: Ryon Healy swatted his fifth homer of the spring, a two-run shot, in the second inning. Entering Friday evening, Healy was tied for the major league lead in RBI (16) with Boston’s Pablo Sandoval. … Plouffe is on a recent tear and has lifted his average to .395. … Parmelee, a non-roster outfielder, is impressing in under-the-radar fashion. The left-handed hitter is batting .367. … Melvin is having a heck of a time getting switch hitter Jed Lowrie at-bats from the right side. He purposely switched things up to have Lowrie face the lefty Rodon on Friday, only to have Rodon get scratched. The A’s face lefties each of the next two days, and Melvin also mentioned sending Lowrie over to face minor league lefties if need be.

Giants spring training Day 40: Belt continues domination of Rockies' home park

Giants spring training Day 40: Belt continues domination of Rockies' home park

BELT RIVER FIELDS, Ariz. — Earlier this spring, Brandon Belt moved his schedule around so he could get additional at-bats. That led to some random trips across the desert, but there was never any doubt Belt would be in Friday’s road lineup.

Belt demolishes the ball at Salt River Fields, spring home of the Rockies and Diamondbacks. After coming out of Friday’s win, he shook his head in mock disgust when talking about the day’s stats.

“One for four, you’ve gotta be kidding me,” Belt said. “That’s terrible.”

That one happened to be a homer, a three-run shot off Jon Gray, the likely opening day starter for the Rockies. Belt thought he crushed the ball but it ended up pretty high, so it simply dropped onto the berm in right. 

“It squeaked out,” Belt said. “Good mojo, I guess.”

The mojo kept his remarkable run going at Salt River. His updated career stats here: 22 for 35, with eight homers, four doubles, one triple and 18 RBI. Belt said he’s not quite sure why he turns into the flames emoji every time he steps onto this field. 

“I don’t know what it is, but I like hitting here,” he said. “Maybe it’s the batter’s eye?”

Salt River has a dark green batter’s eye with no distractions on either side, and the Giants certainly saw the ball well Friday. They had seven straight hits in the third before Gray was pulled with a sore foot. Belt hit second, and manager Bruce Bochy said that wasn’t simply because Joe Panik had the day off. Bochy will look at several different lineup permutations over the next week, and a Span/Belt/Pence/Posey/Crawford one-through-five is one option. 

“I like (that spot) a lot,” Belt said. “I feel good getting started and knowing I’ll get to bat in the first inning. It’s a good spot. I don’t think my approach changes that much: Get a pitch to hit and try to hit it hard.”

GAME RECAP: Jeff Samardzija was sharp in four innings, allowing just two hits and striking out three. He threw about 45 pitches on the field and then went down to the bullpen for 45 more. Samardzija certainly benefited from having Buster Posey back in the lineup. He said Posey noticed during warmups that Samardzija’s delivery was a little flat and his arm was dragging too low. 

“That doesn’t happen often,” Samardzija said of having a guy like Posey back there. “You have a lot of catchers who are afraid to say something.”

The rest of this one was a laugher until the ninth, when the Rockies rallied and brought the winning run to the plate. It hasn’t been a great spring for the bullpen.

STOCK WATCH: Chris Marrero hit a deep homer, his seventh of the spring. He also made a nice pick at first, where he looks much more comfortable. At this point, it appears it’s either Marrero or Kelby Tomlinson for that final bench spot.

TRAINER’S ROOM: The news on Will Smith was as expected. He will have Tommy John surgery next week. 

There is good news for Trevor Brown: The catcher, who has a sore ankle, took some swings and he’s feeling much better. Brown did not, as first reported, get hurt hiking on an off day. It happened during a game. Brown won’t be ready in time to return to Cactus League action, so he’ll likely stay here during the Bay Bridge Series and then travel home with Triple-A Sacramento. 

ICYMI: Brandon Crawford, Buster Posey and Mark Melancon are back in camp. Here’s a story on Posey’s WBC experience, with the catcher saying he’d like to play again in four years. Here’s Crawford on his month, which ended with him giving an NL West rival a slump-busting bat. 

ROSTER UPDATE: The Giants released David Hernandez, at his request. They have started to tell others that they’re not making the opening day roster, so there should be a series of minor transactions this weekend. (You know where to go.)

QUOTABLE: "I swung at a heater and a slider went right into my bat. I was happy to be able to track (pitches), and happy that the next time the bunt didn't go off my beautiful face." -- Samardzija, when asked about his double off the wall.