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.”

Giants fire base coaches Roberto Kelly, Bill Hayes

Giants fire base coaches Roberto Kelly, Bill Hayes

SAN FRANCISCO — Two days after a stunning collapse that ended the Giants’ season, the axe fell on the coaching staff. The Giants let go of first base coach Bill Hayes and third base coach Roberto Kelly.

Hayes, who turns 59 later this month, was in his 17th year in the organization and second at first base. Kelly, 52, spent two years in place of Tim Flannery. He was in his ninth year in the organization.

“We feel we need to grow our leadership on the field in terms of how we approach our base running and our overall efforts first-to-third, second-to-home,” general manager Bobby Evans said. “We want to look at some different leadership there and we feel like we can get stronger.”

Per FanGraphs, the Giants ranked 10th in the National League in BsR, a metric that tracks work on the bases. They were dead last in a division where games are usually not won with power. It is generally hard to make concrete judgements on the work of base coaches, but Kelly had several high-profile mistakes and was said to be in hot water behind closed doors all season long. The Hayes move was also rumored for several months as management looked for new voices. 

Evans said the rest of the coaching staff is expected to return. Team officials would not go into detail Thursday when asked about potential replacements, and Evans said it was too early to say if Kelly and Hayes would stay on staff in some other capacity. 

“We’re still in process with that now,” he said. “I can’t answer that in detail, we’re in process.”

The Giants are expected to look in-house for replacements. Shawon Dunston, Eli Whiteside and Steve Decker could be potential options, and popular Triple-A manager Jose Alguacil will surely be at or near the top of any list. Alguacil joined the staff after the minor league season ended in September, and he is the type of exuberant, positive personality that walked out the door when Flannery retired following the 2014 title. 

Flannery now works for CSN Bay Area and MLB Network, and he has said repeatedly over the past two years that he is happy with his new role and has no desire to return to coaching. 

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In other coaching news, Evans said one team has reached out about bench coach Ron Wotus, but it’s unclear if Wotus will actually interview for one of the remaining open managerial jobs. The Diamondbacks and Rockies are searching for new leaders. Wotus declined comment, saying he was still focused on the way the season ended. 

There’s one man who will certainly be back for years to come. Manager Bruce Bochy was hospitalized for a night in August, but he said that’s not an issue. Bochy signed a three-year extension in 2015 that kicks in next season and carries through 2019.

“I’m fine, trust me. I’m fine,” Bochy said. “My health really has nothing to do with the stress of this game. I did happen to get a bad gene from my dad and I’ll thank him for that when I see him. I work out every day. It’s not a situation where I’m thinking I need to take a break. No, I’m hungry. I’m hungry to get back to the World Series and win another one.”