Athletics

Spoilers? Kings look to do damage in Indy

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Spoilers? Kings look to do damage in Indy

March 25, 2011

KINGS (18-52) vs.
INDIANA (32-40)

Coverage begins at 4 P.M. on Comcast SportsNet California

INDIANA (AP) -- Tyler Hansbrough's return to the starting lineup has helped the Indiana Pacers build a sizable lead for the Eastern Conference's final playoff berth.

RELATED: NBA conference standings

It's Danny Granger, though, who has excelled in recent matchups with the Sacramento Kings.

The Pacers will try to take another step toward ending their playoff drought Friday night by topping the visiting Kings, who could get leading scorer Tyreke Evans back from injury.

Hansbrough's late season surge began during the Pacers' six-game slide earlier this month. To shake his team out of that slump, interim coach Frank Vogel inserted the second-year forward into the starting five March 9.

That move paid dividends four days later as Hansbrough scored a team-high 29 points in a 106-93 win at New York. He followed with a career-best 30 in the finale of a home-and-home series, and he's averaged 21.0 points and 7.6 rebounds over the past 10 games.

REWIND: Granger, Hansbrough lead Pacers past Knicks

"He's given us a huge lift," Vogel said. "He's one of the big reasons why since I took over that I believe that this team can make a serious run. ... I've got a great deal of confidence in that young man, and he's shown that he can really play."

With Hansbrough's help, the Pacers (32-40) have won five of seven, and he scored 24 points in a pivotal 111-88 rout of Charlotte on Wednesday.

Granger led the way with 33 points as Indiana extended its lead on eighth place in the East to three games over the Bobcats and Milwaukee. Indiana also got some help from Sacramento, which prevailed 97-90 over the Bucks on Wednesday.

REWIND: Kings triumph over Delfino, Bucks

"We want to go into the playoffs as one of the hottest teams in the NBA," Vogel said. "We're excited about the last 10 games. These guys are hungry. They're motivated.

"We know how close we are. We all want it very badly."

With Granger's help, the Pacers could move closer to their goal. Indiana's leading scorer has averaged 34.5 points in his last four games against the Kings (18-52), and he had a season-high 37 in a 107-98 win in Sacramento on Nov. 30 despite suffering from the flu.

Evans missed 10 of 14 shots in that game while finishing with 16 points. He has been sidelined since Feb. 13 due to plantar fasciitis, but the 2010 rookie of the year might see action Friday.

"It will be great to have him back," guard Beno Udrih said. "It will be interesting to see how (Coach Paul Westphal) is going to divide up the minutes."

RELATED: Kings stats

Udrih scored 25 points and Marcus Thornton had a team-best 27 in Wednesday's victory, which came two days after a 40-point drubbing at Chicago.

Since coming over in a trade with New Orleans on Feb. 23, Thornton has averaged 21.8 points in 15 games with the Kings. He averaged 7.8 in 46 contests with the Hornets.

"Mixing Tyreke in there gives us a very strong backcourt rotation," Westphal said. "The way Beno and Marcus are playing, it shows we have a chance to have a really, really good backcourt."

Indiana is seeking its third consecutive win at Conseco Fieldhouse against Sacramento and fifth in six overall matchups.

A's rookie Olson stays humble during record-breaking power surge

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A's rookie Olson stays humble during record-breaking power surge

OAKLAND — Matt Olson is aware of the company he’s keeping in the A’s record books.

His reaction is a mix of reverence and a shrug-of-the-shoulders type humbleness.

That’s the personality of the A’s rookie first baseman. Even as the conversation about him and his awe-inspiring home run pace grows louder, he remains the same steady, grounded presence.

“I’m happy for him,” A’s hitting coach Darren Bush said. “The guy’s worked his butt off. He’s the same today as was when he first got called up.”

Olson cleared the fences once again Friday night, his two-run homer off Nick Martinez in the second inning helping the A’s to a 4-1 victory over the Texas Rangers. At this point, it’s much more newsworthy when Olson doesn’t homer than when he does.

He’s crammed 24 homers into just 57 games this season. Taking into account his first call-up last September, and Olson’s 24 homers over the first 68 games of his career are the second-most in the history of major league baseball over that span to open a career. The Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger also hit 24 and only the White Sox’s Jose Abreu, with 25, hit more over his first 68.

Olson’s 13 homers in September are the most by any rookie in major league history for the month, and there’s still eight games left in it. But Olson’s hot streak dates back to Aug. 27. He’s hit a major league-best 16 homers in 23 games since then.

Among rookies in A’s history, only Mark McGwire (49) in 1987 and Jose Canseco (33) in 1986 have hit more than Olson’s 24. But neither Bash Brother, nor any other player in Oakland history, ever hit 15 homers in a 21-game span as Olson recently did.

“It’s definitely an honor,” Olson said before Friday’s game. “I grew up with a Mark McGwire poster on my wall. It’s a little surreal.”

Who saw this coming?

Olson went 2-for-21 without a single RBI in his first taste of the bigs last September. Then he shuttled five times between Triple-A and the majors this season before getting called up once again Aug. 8 and being told he’d get a shot as the A’s regular first baseman with Yonder Alonso having been traded. The constant shuttling took its toll, though Olson never let on about that publicly to reporters.

“You could see (the frustration),” said Ryan Christenson, his manager at Triple-A. “When he walks in and you tell him ‘You’re getting sent up,’ and he’s like, ‘Well, how many days is it for this time?’ He wouldn’t voice it necessarily, but you could sense it.”

Olson, with help from Bush and others, made an adjustment coming into this season. He began holding his hands out farther away from his body to begin his swing. With his 6-foot-5 frame, Olson had found himself getting jammed inside. Then in trying to adjust to that, he couldn’t square up pitches on the outer half.

“Now, his hands are firing from where he wants them to,” Bush said. “He doesn’t have to fight. You want your hands to have a clean path. Now he can stay in there, stay behind the ball, let his hands work for him.”

Olson, a 23-year-old from Lilburn, Ga., takes this sudden burst of success — and attention — in stride.

“I’ve been hit with so many stats here in the past week, I can’t even keep track of who’s done what, and honestly what I’ve done,” he said. “I kind of try to ignore all that.”

That’s OK. Others are taking plenty of notice.

 

As Dodgers celebrate, Bochy turns eyes to franchise-altering talent

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As Dodgers celebrate, Bochy turns eyes to franchise-altering talent

LOS ANGELES — The Giants left their dugout quickly after Friday’s loss, escaping a celebration on the mound and a fireworks show in the sky. As Dodger Stadium shook with cheers, Bruce Bochy sat in the visiting clubhouse and smiled. He nodded at his laptop, which earlier had been used to pull up highlights of Japanese two-way star Shohei Otani. 

“He’s good,” Bochy said, laughing. “I absolutely would play him every day.”

Earlier in the week, when it became known that Bobby Evans and Jeremy Shelley were headed to Japan to scout Otani, Bochy said he couldn’t imagine a player pitching and then moving to the outfield between starts. What changed? 

Perhaps it was the tape Bochy saw. Otani throws 100 mph and hits homers with ease. Or perhaps it was the game he watched Friday. The Giants lost for the 94th time, with the big blow coming from a 22-year-old Dodgers star. Cody Bellinger’s blast was the difference in a 4-2 win, and the Giants don’t have a Bellinger, or anything close. Otani, 23, is a long shot for a team that very well could finish with the worst record in baseball. Still, he’s the kind of talent that could help pull the Giants closer in a hurry. He’s the  kind of talent they haven’t developed in years, and Bochy certainly sounded a bit wistful as he talked of the power Bellinger has put on display. 

“You call up a guy and he does that — that just doesn’t happen,” he said. “It’s a rare deal.”

The ninth inning of the Dodgers’ clincher reinforced that point for the Giants. They got a homer from Pablo Sandoval, but he’s playing only because Christian Arroyo — the Giants’ best prospect bet this year — is hurt. Ryder Jones, their 23-year-old prospect, struck out to end the night, dropping his average to .180. 

That set off a celebration for Bellinger and the Dodgers. They have won five straight NL West titles, with three of the last four clinched against the Giants. 

“Congrats to them,” Bochy said. “They’ve had a tremendous year across the board, and they’ve played great baseball. They brought some guys up that really did a great job for them. It’s well deserved.”

Bochy said it was not difficult to watch this one. The division has been wrapped up for months, with only a September slide keeping the Dodgers from clinching earlier. 

“We knew what we were facing here,” Bochy said. 

The Giants have two more against the Dodgers and then six more before a long winter. The Dodgers, on the other hand, will host an NLDS series here at Dodger Stadium. Both Bochy and starter Jeff Samardzija made the same observation, that the Dodgers will have a hard time cutting their deep roster down to 25 postseason players. 

That’s a nice problem to have. It’s a foreign one right now for the Giants, who have a serious talent gap and no clear solutions internally. It’s no wonder, then, that Bochy has all of a sudden become so intrigued by a wondrous talent overseas.