Ron Wotus

Christian Arroyo already showing ability to grow into new position

Christian Arroyo already showing ability to grow into new position

LOS ANGELES — It took Christian Arroyo about five minutes to convince his mom that a call to the big leagues was real. He had considerably more success the first time he tried to convince the coaching staff to challenge the play.

Manager Bruce Bochy has had some trouble in recent years with players who believe they’re never on the wrong side of a potential review, but Arroyo was right on the money when he pointed at the bench and asked for a second look at third base in the sixth inning Tuesday. More importantly, he showed he’s a quick learner. 

On Saturday, Arroyo didn’t keep a tag on Will Myers long enough at second, which cost the Giants an out. Three days later, he stayed with the play and tagged Austin Barnes on the finger as he desperately tried to dive back into a base he had gone past. Arroyo said Hunter Pence and Brandon Crawford talked to him Saturday and reminded him that replay will often back up a big league infielder on those plays. 

“The first time it happened it was just really weird because Myers didn’t even slide (on the stolen base attempt). I went to tag him and I thought he was out anyway, and I went to show the tag and that I had him out, and (the umpire) called him safe and he was flying past the bag,” Arroyo said. “It was just kind of one of those awkward plays, a first experience with replay, and I had really never dealt with replay before. With replay, they told me to make sure you keep it on them. 

“As soon as I got that throw from Hunter (on Tuesday) I saw that Barnes was running pretty hard and he was going to have a late slide. I figured that maybe we had a chance and I tried to hold (the tag) on the bag, and he came off.”

The adjustment was minor, but that’s been the case with everything the Giants have asked of Arroyo defensively. His bat got him up here, but the glove has been right there in terms of impact through 10 games. Arroyo has made a pair of flashy barehanded grabs and he showed a spectacular diving stop Tuesday. Ron Wotus, who coaches the infielders, said he hasn’t felt the need to adjust much since Arroyo was called up and put at a relatively new position.

“There’s nothing glaring that he needs to do,” Wotus said. “We talk every day about learning the league and learning our pitchers, but right now there’s more of that taking place. Everything else is just minor technique stuff. If you can play shortstop you can play anywhere on the field and he’s shown that. Being closer to the batter (at third), I’ve seen some infielders have a difficult time with that adjustment, but we haven’t seen any signs of that with him. I like what I’ve seen.”

Some scouting reports on Arroyo in the minors noted that his arm might be a little short for third, and a few dipping throws in spring training concerned coaches. But Arroyo has made an adjustment, saying he’s working on “staying on my legs and staying low when I throw to prevent errors and getting sink on the ball.” 

That’s one area Arroyo focuses on. The other will simply improve with time. 

“It’s just about getting more comfortable with positioning,” he said. “At third, because I haven’t played it that much, I don’t really know the extent of my range, so I don’t really know necessarily how far I can go right or how far I can go left. I think that’s probably the biggest thing.”

The Giants aren’t concerned. In time, Arroyo will fully learn the spacing at a new position. He was drafted a shortstop and he has just 58 professional starts at third, but he looks more than capable of settling in there and giving them another strong glove on the infield. 

"He’s got good hands, good quickness, a good arm," Bochy said. "He’s a nice defender and he probably doesn’t get credit for how good he is defensively because there’s a lot of talk about him offensively. With time, I think he’ll get the credit he deserves.”

Giants continue April trend, fail to give Bumgarner any run support

Giants continue April trend, fail to give Bumgarner any run support

KANSAS CITY — There are many ugly stats that sum up a 6-10 start to the season for the Giants, but the one that explains how they’re winless in Madison Bumgarner’s four starts might be the most vomit-inducing.

The Giants have scored five runs with Bumgarner on the mound this season. He has driven in two of them. 

The group that had given Bumgarner three runs of support through three winless starts was blanked on Wednesday by Jason Vargas and two Royals relievers. The Giants lost 2-0 in Bumgarner’s return to Kauffman Stadium, continuing a disturbing April trend. 

“The story was not him,” interim manager Ron Wotus said. “He did his job. We just couldn’t score a run.”

If there’s increasing frustration, Bumgarner didn’t show it. He blamed himself for not covering first quickly enough on the first run of the night. He said he missed quite a bit with his command, and he insisted he won’t press if this lack of support continues.

“I feel like there’s no chance of that,” he said. “I’ve been around and I’ve seen enough to know how this works and what I’ve got to do.”

The run that held up as the game-winner came on a play that is usually made, and that was part of the problem for Bumgarner. With a runner on third and two down in the fifth, Mike Moustakas hit a hard liner at Brandon Belt. The first baseman couldn’t field it cleanly and Moustakas slid in safely to first with an RBI infield single. Bumgarner was a beat behind him with the tag. 

“I got my feet tangled there and it’s easy to take Belt for granted because he’s such a good defensive first baseman,” Bumgarner said. “I should’ve been there a little sooner.”

Against Vargas, that would be the only play that mattered. The lefty lowered his ERA to a sparkling 0.44, baffling the Giants with well-placed fastballs and a devastating changeup. For the third time in four games, the lineup failed to put a runner on in the first three innings. Vargas threw well, but it’s not exactly a murderer’s row that has set the Giants down in those three games: Tyler Chatwood, Jason Hammel and Vargas. 

Wotus said he’s not concerned about the slow starts, noting that it’s a fluke of a long season. When you couple it with the Giants’ inability to come back late, however, it’s a bad marriage. 

Wotus will turn the big chair back over to manager Bruce Bochy on Friday, and perhaps two days watching on the couch have led to some new thoughts about how to jumpstart an offense that all too often bogs down. 

At the very least, the Giants appear close to making a change in the outfield. Michael Morse and Mac Williamson played a rehab game Wednesday in San Jose and both will join Triple-A Sacramento on Friday. Fresh blood can’t come soon enough. After Wednesday’s game, Gorkys Hernandez, Chris Marrero and Aaron Hill (who has played out of position several times) have nine hits in 83 combined at-bats.

Morse could be ready as soon as next week, team officials said Wednesday. Two other options aren't immediately in play. Justin Ruggiano was placed on the Triple-A DL and Melvin Upton Jr. was injured during an extended spring training game. 

Postseason star Gillaspie continues to work on becoming impact defender

Postseason star Gillaspie continues to work on becoming impact defender

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Conor Gillaspie will forever be remembered in San Francisco for his home run in the Wild Card Game and his ability to turn on an Aroldis Chapman fastball in the NLDS, but the skill that might mean the most for his career going forward was on display during a far quieter moment.

In the fifth inning of Game 2 of the NLDS, Addison Russell pulled a fastball down the line. Gillaspie backhanded the ball as it took an awkward and high bounce, and he quickly set his feet, one on the dirt and one on the edge of the grass in foul territory at Wrigley Field. He fired a perfect strike across the diamond, nailing the young shortstop by half a step. 

Once viewed as a potential issue at third base, Gillaspie was a steady presence when Eduardo Nuñez went down late with a hamstring injury. Throw in the quick, clutch bat and you’ve got a player the Giants will count on as a key member of the bench going forward. 

“He played a real nice third base for us,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “That was the knock on Conor and it got to the point where they were calling him a liability, (but last year) it got to the point where he played a nice third base and was solid over there.”

Advanced metrics consistently showed Gillaspie as a below-average defender in his first stint with the Giants and later years with the White Sox and Angels. According to FanGraphs, Gillaspie entered the 2016 season with negative 30 defensive runs saved. Among the 35 big leaguers who played at least 1,000 innings at third base in 2014 and 2015, Gillaspie ranked 34th in defensive runs saved and UZR (ultimate zone rating). Last season, he was worth five defensive runs saved in 304 innings, and the rest of his defensive metrics crossed over to the positive side of the ledger, too. After making 14 errors in 2015, Gillaspie had just two last season.

“The eye test tells the story, too,” said bench coach Ron Wotus, who works with the organization’s infielders. “He’s using his feet better than in the past. He figured out the best angles to throw the ball. The most important thing is confidence as a defender, and he’s worked extremely hard and he sees the benefit of him continuing to do those things. It’s gotten to the point this spring where I need to back him off a little. He loves to take grounders out there.”

Wotus has a well-earned reputation for his work with infielders. He has helped develop talented players like Brandon Crawford and Joe Panik into Gold Glove winners. His daily work with Matt Duffy helped turn a shortstop into a Gold Glove finalist at third base in a matter of months. The front office never worried about third base in the offseason in part because of a belief that Wotus can help Nuñez grow at the position.

In Gillaspie, Wotus has found a player who is every bit the grinder he is. Gillaspie is famous for the amount of work he puts in in the cage, and on a recent day in camp, unable to throw because of some minor soreness, he instead spent most his time breaking in a glove with a mallet-like instrument. Working with Wotus has been a perfect fit. 

“His willingness to go out and work every day is unsurpassed by anybody that I’ve ever been around,” Gillaspie said recently during an interview that runs in full on our Giants Insider Podcast. “It’s almost like he’s a player. He wants to do it every day with you and to help you and to answer questions.”

Wotus identified minor fixes when Gillaspie returned to the Giants last spring, after getting released by both the White Sox and Angels the year before. He thought Gillaspie was often in-between on his throws, and he didn’t have his feet lined up correctly. Gillaspie can still be prone to an extra step or two, but he continues to get smoother over time. Basic drills are a part of every day at the park. 

“The big thing we talk about is catch, set, and throw,” Wotus said. “You don’t want to be in a hurry. Just field the ball, use the fundamentals. He’s bought into it and you see the difference.”

Wotus and Gillaspie focus on doing the simple things right during drills. The rest is instinct, as Gillaspie showed while tumbling over the dugout rail for a stunning catch during the final week of the season.

Gillaspie’s natural instincts at the plate should again make him a key part of Bochy’s bench. For all the drilling and cage work, you can’t teach a player to turn on a 102 mph fastball. Months later, teammates still marvel at Gillaspie’s ability to pull a Chapman heater into Triples Alley for a go-ahead triple in the eighth inning of Game 3. 

“As a right-handed bat, to handle that kind of fastball is tough. But a guy from the left side, you don’t see it very often,” Bochy said. “It takes a quick swing. It takes a guy with confidence, who wants to go in there and mean business. He saved our skin, because we lost Nuney. As his confidence grew, he really started to get his swing.”