Urban: Giants' crowded outfield no problem


Urban: Giants' crowded outfield no problem

May 9, 2011

Brian Sabean and Bruce Bochy finally got some of the love they've long deserved as bright, creative, forward-thinking baseball men of the highest order when the Giants stunned everyone by steamrolling through the playoffs on the way to the first World Series championship in San Francisco history.The challenges are very different for both men as the Giants attempt to defend their title, but Sabean, the general manager, deserves credit for anticipating what some of those challenges would be. Now the onus is on Bochy, the manager, and the irony is that Sabean's vision makes Bochy's job a bit more challenging.
This is about depth. Knowing full well that the Giants cheated the reaper in a sense by remaining relatively healthy during 2010, and that the odds of another such season were slim, Sabean made sure Bochy had options. And sure enough, a steady stream of injuries have been spraying the squad since spring training in Scottsdale, Ariz.Now that the team is starting to get healthy again, though, the luxury of depth threatens to become a bit of a burden for Bochy.Everyone saw this coming, of course. It was one of the hottest topics of March. The Giants' outfield, in particular, was overcrowded. More players than roster spots. Someone, maybe two people, would have to go.Nate Schierholtz seemed like the most obvious candidate, just a tick below Aaron Rowand on the dispensable meter. The notion of getting rid of either, though, came with it a less-than-ideal component. In addition to being a valuable reserve on the world championship team, Schierholtz was out of minor-league options, so unless he were sent out in a trade, the Giants would have to put him through waivers and likely lose him to a wire claim and get nothing in return. Rowand's huge contract and lack of 2010 production made him virtually untradeable -- unless the team was willing to eat the bulk of the 24 million (total) that Rowand is due for this year and next.Yet as we're told so often, baseball has a way of working things out. An injury to Cody Ross ensured that both Schierholtz and Rowand broke camp with the club, and an early season injury to Andres Torres ensured that they'd see more playing time than anyone expected. And all that Schierholtz and Rowand have done in 2011 is prove to be two of the more reliable, consistent offensive contributors.URBAN: Giants Insider Notes: Nate the Great
Heck, they've been absolutely essential in keeping the Giants' heads above water while the bulk of the lineup has been drowning in the choppy waters of the Mendoza Line Sea.That Ross, a cult hero for what he did last October, was a wreck upon his return from the DL made the surprising production of Schierholtz and Rowand all the more noticeable, but with a clutch double during Friday's comeback win over the Rockies and a home run and all three of the Giants' RBIs in Sunday's sweep-clincher over Colorado, Ross looks poised to break out and go on one of his extended, club-carrying tears.Schierholtz seemed to benefit when Pat Burrell's hot start turned cold, but Burrell has had some big hits of late, too. And here comes Torres, said to be ready for activation from the DL on Tuesday, and Bochy on Sunday said he's inclined to throw his 2010 sparkplug right back into the fire.Where, exactly, does that leave Schierholtz and Rowand? They certainly won't lose their spot on the roster; Darren Ford is the no-brainer to be sent out to make room for Torres, and Ryan Rohlinger will be demoted to make room for Mark DeRosa, whose absence with Pablo Sandoval out for an expected 4-7 weeks (depending on whose Twitter feed nourishes you) was glaring.
But where, and how often, will Schierholtz and Rowand play? Bochy has hinted that Torres might be eased back in by playing on a corner, and there's no way that Ross doesn't start most games on a corner himself, so that would suggest that Rowand stays in center field for a while. But it's hard to see Bochy telling Burrell he's now primarily a bench player, even though Burrell is exactly the type of right-handed power presence off the bench that the Giants have been lacking all year. So maybe Burrell stays put in left, Ross handles center until Torres is deemed ready after a few games in right, and when he is, Ross and Torres trade places.RELATED: Is the Giant tide turning?
That would leave Schierholtz and Rowand out of the regular mix, and that seems both unfair and, given how they've played, just plain wrong.Oh, and we're conveniently forgetting that there's this kid down at Triple-A Fresno, absolutely killing Pacific Coast League pitching, who was recently told to get his outfield on. You can't stash him down there forever, can you?See the problem? Bochy could, very soon, have to every day settle on three starting outfielders among a six-some of Burrell, Torres, Ross, Rowand, Schierholtz and Brandon Belt. And as of right now, a decent case could be made for each of them as a starter.Now, baseball does indeed have a way of working things out. And as A's GM Billy Beane is fond of saying, "Having too many good players is not a problem." True, true. Depth is good, and that's why Sabean made sure Bochy had it.But having unhappy players is a problem and that's at least a possibility here.Is it a probability? Not if the 2011 Giants are as cohesive as the 2010 club, and there's been nothing thus far to suggest that it isn't. It's the same group of outfielders that celebrated on the field in Arlington last Nov. 1, with the obvious exception of Belt. WATCH: Cody Ross talks about his clutch hits
It's a lot easier to swallow your pride, though, when all that stands between you and a ring is a couple of weeks of biting your tongue. Bite that bad boy for four months or so and there might be blood.Fortunately for Bochy, he's banked some goodwill for the way he masterfully handled egos and pulled all the right levers last fall. His players truly respect and adore him. That's going to help. But it's not going to make those daily decisions any easier if, say, Torres' career year proves to have been just that, and Pat the Bat again turns into a strikeout Machine. Or if Ross is less Boss than workaday clock-puncher. In the meantime, now's as good a time as any for Giants fans to do something they might not think to do a few weeks down the road.If you happen to be as AT&T Park on Tuesday for the opener of a three-game series against the Diamondbacks, try to get down there within earshot of Schierholtz andor Rowand. Get their attention somehow. Just say, "Thanks."
Their proverbial days in the sun could be coming to an end very soon.

Instant Analysis: Five takeaways from A's skid-snapping win over White Sox


Instant Analysis: Five takeaways from A's skid-snapping win over White Sox


The A’s six-game road trip got off to a promising start Friday as they try to reverse their fortunes away from Oakland.

Jharel Cotton shined over five innings before leaving because of a blister on his right hand, and the bullpen took care of things from there to complete a 3-0 victory over the Chicago White Sox.

Considering the A’s came in just 9-25 on the road so far, this was the rare occurrence of them taking control early and staying in control while wearing the road grays. Now the A’s just hope the victory didn’t come with a steep price.

In addition to Cotton (5-7) leaving after a blister opened up on his right thumb, shortstop Chad Pinder left with a strained left hamstring. The severity of that injury wasn’t immediately known.

Here’s five things you need to know from the opener of this three-game series at Guaranteed Rate Field:

-- Davis hits No. 19: Khris Davis gave Cotton some early cushion with a two-run homer off Mike Pelfrey (3-6) to center field in the first. It was Davis’ team-leading 19th long ball, but just his third in 22 games this month.

-- Another solid outing for rookie: Coming off a strong 6 1/3-inning outing against the New York Yankees, Cotton again looked in control Friday before having to leave. The right-hander held the Sox to three hits over his five innings, striking out three and walking one. It’s unknown whether the blister will affect his availability for his next start, but the A’s learned with Rich Hill last season how nagging a blister can be for a starter.

-- Ninth-inning nerves: The final score didn’t indicate how tense things got for Oakland in the ninth. Closer Santiago Casilla gave up two singles to start the inning. After Avisail Garcia flied out, Todd Frazier hit a pop up behind first. Yonder Alonso couldn’t haul it in and the ball dropped, but Alonso alertly threw to second to get a force out. Then Matt Davidson sent a deep fly ball to center that Jaycob Brugman hauled in at the warning track.

--- Joyce powers up: In the fifth, Matt Joyce lit into a 3-2 pitch from Pelfrey and homered to center field to put the A’s ahead 3-0. It was the ninth homer for Joyce, who continues to provide some of the spark the A’s are looking for in the leadoff spot.

-- A double ejection: : White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson and manager Rick Renteria both were ejected for arguing a fifth-inning play after Anderson hit a dribbler near home plate that surprised him by being called fair.

Sharks' draft pick Norris possesses 'Logan Couture attributes'


Sharks' draft pick Norris possesses 'Logan Couture attributes'

CHICAGO – Sharks general manager Doug Wilson is typically restrained in his public praise for players in the system. “We don’t like to over promote our prospects” is a phrase he’s used countless times.

That’s what made his instant comparison of Sharks first round pick center Josh Norris to a current core player so unexpected.

“We think – I hate doing this, but I’m going to – [Norris has] a lot of the Logan Couture attributes to him,” Wilson said on Friday at United Center, shortly after presenting Norris with a teal sweater.

Wilson also made note of Norris’ confidence, which was evident in the 18-year-old’s media availability. Norris described himself as “a 200-foot player. I think I can give you a little bit of everything: power play, penalty kill, faceoffs, can chip in offensively. I think I kind of do a little bit of everything.” He added that he attempts to pattern his game to Maple Leafs center Tyler Bozak.

Like most players that aren’t top five selections, Norris isn’t likely to make the NHL roster in the fall. He’s set to attend the University of Michigan in the fall.

Still, Wilson suggested that it might not take long for the six-foot, 189-pound Oxford, Michigan native to make the leap.

“He’s a kid, the way he plays and the way he thinks, he potentially could fast track. So, we’ll see,” Wilson said.

Norris had some familial help on his journey to draft day. His father Dwayne had a few cups of coffee in the NHL with the Quebec Nordiques more than two decades ago, playing 20 career games from 1993-96.

Dwayne Norris was right there to congratulate his son, who was no sure thing to go in the first round as the 34th ranked North American skater, according to NHL Central Scouting.

“He just said how proud of me he was, and it was kind of a big moment we had that I’ll remember for the rest of my life,” Norris said about his conversation with his father.

Norris’ stats suggest he has an ability to create offense, as he posted 27 goals and 61 points in 61 games for the U.S. National Under-18 team last season, and added 12 goals and 26 points in 25 games in the USHL.

“I think I’m a little bit of a goal scorer and a playmaker,” Norris said. “I think I’m really good in my defensive zone. I think I have a lot of upside on the offensive side of my game that I’m going to continue to work on.”

Wilson said: “We think he’s a mature player.”

Norris had a strong showing at the NHL combine, leading all 104 draft-eligible players in attendance in five of the 14 fitness tests. Those results, along with a strong interview, made Norris an appealing target for San Jose.

“He’s arguably one of the most athletic guys in the combine,” Wilson said. “His interview was phenomenal. If you go back in his history in big games he’s stepped up in a big way, and that’s the type of guy we’re looking for.”

Norris, who played baseball as a shortstop until age 13, said: “I wasn’t too nervous going to the combine. … I just tried to make good impressions on teams. The physical testing aspect of it, I’ve always been a pretty good athlete.”

Barring any unforeseen circumstances, Norris will make his first-ever trip to California in early July to take part in the Sharks’ development camp.

* * *

Just before the Sharks’ contingent made its way to the stage to select Norris, Wilson was spotted talking with Washington general manager Brian MacLellan. After a brief exchange, MacLellan shook his head, and Wilson went back to the San Jose table and gathered his group to head to the podium.

Asked about the chat, Wilson said it was not about the 19th overall pick.

“We were actually looking at some other things, some other picks that we had,” Wilson said. “Some teams had reached out to us, and we’re planting our seeds a little bit for tomorrow already.”

The draft concludes on Saturday, with the second round beginning at 7 a.m. PT.