Urban: How much rope do Giants give Huff?

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Urban: How much rope do Giants give Huff?

July 27, 2011

URBAN ARCHIVE
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Mychael Urban
CSNBayArea.com

PHILADELPHIA -- As Frank the Tank from "Old School" might tell some wide-eyed frat pledges, the Giants had a nice little Wednesday in Philadelphia. They picked up a big bat in Carlos Beltran to boost the anemic offense, and perhaps buoyed by news that said bat was en route to Philly, the anemic offense bulked up just enough to pick up a win over their newest and most fierce and frightening rivals.They had to overcome the oddity of catcher Eli Whiteside appearing intent on sabotaging Matt Cain's standard excellence, but key hits by former Phillie Aaron Rowand, recent pickup Jeff Keppinger and Nate Schierholtz -- not to mention a haunting reminder for the citizens of Citizens Bank Park from Brian Wilson -- got the job done. Alas, it was not a nice little Wednesday for Aubrey Huff, who went 1-for-4 without an RBI on the heels of a hitless, RBI-less Tuesday, and together the pair of unproductive days made it all too easy to forget that Huff showed some signs of life -- 5-for-9 with a walk -- last weekend at home against the Brewers.

Now that the Giants have likely concluded their July shopping spree -- Beltran and Keppinger for three minor-league arms -- it's time for the team to turn its focus inward, and it certainly can't like what it's seeing from Huff.Huff, of course, isn't alone among Giants who aren't pulling the same kind of weight they did last season. But he's alone in that only he got a two-year, 22-million deal for the weight he pulled on the way to the World Series, and as a projected middle-of-the-order banger who's banged so little that he's often been dropped from the middle of the order, he's the most visible problem in the lineup.That Beltran is as good as gone as a free agent this winter, and that the Giants so willingly parted with three pitchers said to be virtual locks as future big-league contributors (if not outright stars), makes it quite clear that the Giants are again going for all the marbles right now. They have the starting rotation, they have the bullpen, and with Beltran aboard they have the makings of an offense stout enough to support all that pitching and make another run deep into October.But only if Huff picks it up. And if he doesn't pick it up soon, change might have to be considered. On July 27 of last season, Huff was batting .306 with 19 homers and 60 RBIs on his way to a top-10 finish in the National League MVP voting. He entered Wednesday's game batting .239 with nine home runs and 37 RBIs. That's a pretty dramatic drop-off, and it's a realization of some well-founded fears. Huff, over the past several years of his career, has established a pattern of following a strong season with a weak one, and it's happening again before our eyes.So as Huff's struggles continue, the question is obvious: How long is Huff's rope?On one hand, you have every reason to believe the rope is as long as Rapunzel's locks. As a strong clubhouse presence and a respected veteran leader, he fits the mold of struggling players that Giants manager Bruce Bochy tends to stick with well past the milk turns sour. To wit: Randy Winn and Aaron Rowand in 2009, Bengie Molina in 2010, pre-trade.On the other hand, 2010 also offered evidence that Bochy -- maybe Giants GM Brian Sabean and ownership have a say in such matters as well -- had changed his tune in regards the aforementioned. Rowand and his big contract spent huge chunks of the season on the bench, and Barry Zito and his huger contract spent the entire playoffs on the bench.Might the Giants reach that point with Huff? It's not like they don't have a viable option in reserve. Rookie Brandon Belt is a better defensive first baseman, runs much better, appears to have more power at present, and he's at the stage in his career where he needs to play every day. Belt, who is batting .333 (4-for-12) with a homer, three RBIs and a game-winning double against the Dodgers since his most recent call-up to the bigs, escaped the reaper when it came time to creating roster space for Beltran. He is ready, willing and able to step in whenever Huff runs out of rope.
Could Huff "poison the well" were his playing time diminished? Unlikely. Way too good a guy. What he'd probably do is get right to work on trying to rediscover that gorgeous backspin-producing stroke that proved so instrumental last season. Meanwhile, Belt would be getting the playing time he needs and deserves.And if Belt struggles? Go back to Huff. Bochy's been juggling all year.He hasn't juggled much with Huff, though. It might soon be time to at least consider starting.

'The Kid' Arroyo continues wildly impressive first week with Giants

'The Kid' Arroyo continues wildly impressive first week with Giants

SAN FRANCISCO — In a quiet moment in the dugout Friday, manager Bruce Bochy tried to figure out a nickname for his new budding star. During a week where Christian Arroyo has made the game look so easy, this has turned out to be the most difficult part. 

Bochy briefly settled on “Yo” before that was scuttled because the team’s video coordinator is Yo Miyamoto. Joe Panik said some players have tried C.A. or YoYo, but admitted that neither is all that good. The team’s Twitter account spent a few days trying to make Boss Baby a thing, but Arroyo wasn’t thrilled with that one and the experiment appears to be over. In a back room of the clubhouse, there’s a printout showing Arroyo and Buzz from “Home Alone,” but that comparison is much better made with Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman. 

Perhaps the answer is as simple as the path Arroyo’s bat takes to a fastball. As he watched Arroyo field grounders during batting practice, Dick Tidrow was asked about the 21-year-old. Tidrow, the team’s senior VP of player personnel, has seen and worked with Arroyo since he was drafted. 

“We always just called him The Kid,” Tidrow said. “He would turn around when I called him Kid.”

The Kid is growing up quickly. Arroyo’s second homer of the week was the game-winner Friday, an eighth-inning blast that put a lead in Mark Melancon’s hands. The new closer made sure the new third baseman’s homer didn’t go to waste, clinching a 4-3 win that got the Giants out of the National League West’s cellar. 

The homer might have surprised Arroyo as much as anyone. He came here with a reputation as a mature and talented hitter, but power is not his calling card. 

“I’m not trying to hit a homer there,” he said. “Get the head out, see a pitch over the plate, barrel something, just keep the line moving. I got a good pitch, elevated it, and fortunately it went out.”

Arroyo already speaks like a hitting coach, but he is not afraid to admit that there are things he doesn’t know. It’s easy to get film on opposing starters, but there’s little a rookie can do to prepare for late-inning pitching changes. Arroyo consulted Buster Posey and Conor Gillaspie before facing Ryan Buchter, who has been in the division for two years. Gillaspie told him Buchter’s fastball has some late life and gets on a hitter. 

“I wanted to see it and the first pitch was a little low so I got a good read on them,” Arroyo said. 

The second one was right at the belt and Arroyo pulled it down the line for his second big league homer. He had just three last year in Double-A, but the Giants felt the 36 doubles showed that power was on the way. 

“He’s got pop,” Bochy said. “He’s not a guy trying to hit homers. He tries to put a good swing on it. But he drives balls and you saw it tonight. We see him more as a gap guy, but he’ll get more power as he gets older. We’re not asking him to hit homers, trust me, but it’s good to see him letting it go.”

The homer secured a win on a night when a lot went right. Jeff Samardzija was sharp, paying for one pitch to Ryan Schimpf that left the park but otherwise pitching seven strong. Panik and Brandon Belt ignited the offense early and Michael Morse came through with a game-tying sacrifice fly in the fifth. Derek Law and Mark Melancon closed it out, with Melancon getting help from Panik, who made a spectacular tumbling catch on a flare to shallow right-center. It was a big first out given that Melancon was pitching for the third straight day. 

“It was going to be in no man’s land,” Panik said. “You give it everything you’ve got. Fortunately the ball stayed in the glove.”

When it was over, the youngest Giant was in for another round of interviews to cap a hectic week. On Monday he made his debut and on Tuesday he picked up his first hit. Wednesday brought the first homer and Thursday was the first multi-hit game. What will the weekend include? Maybe a real nickname? 

For now, the Giants are fine with leaning on The Kid, because many of them didn’t even know how young the star of the week was until he was a couple of days into his big league career.

“I was thinking he was 23 or 24,” Samardzija said. “This has been really impressive.”

Vanderdoes out to 'prove people wrong,' show Raiders his very best

Vanderdoes out to 'prove people wrong,' show Raiders his very best

ALAMEDA – Eddie Vanderdoes knows his UCLA game tape is inconsistent. The powerful defensive tackle admits he wasn’t always at his best, especially after tearing his ACL in 2015. Before that, he was difficult to stop. Afterward, he wasn’t the same player. He doesn’t blame the knee.

He struggled with ankle injuries and weight issues in 2016, a lackluster campaign by his own standard. Since that season ended, Vanderdoes has returned to 100 percent. His ankles are fine. His knee is great. And he lost 40 pounds heading into the NFL scouting combine, preparing for a return to his old self.

The Raiders see great potential in the former Bruin and made him their third-round pick on Friday evening. The Auburn native was excited by the prospect, and believes the Raiders will get his absolute best. His voice was passionate, his determination clear even on a conference call with local press.

“I am going to be the player I was earlier in my career,” Vanderdoes said. “I had a bad season. That wasn’t me. That’s not the person that I am. That’s not the character that I hold. I’m definitely going to bring that to the Raiders’ defensive line. I’m going to bring that energy and I’m really happy to be an Oakland Raider.”

The Raiders will be thrilled if that’s true. They liked what he showed at the Senior Bowl and the NFL scouting combine, where he showed traits that should translate to NFL production.

“I am definitely back 100 percent, very confident with the combine, the Senior Bowl,” Vanderdoes said. “I got my explosiveness back. I got my speed back, my athleticism back. I am definitely at the top of shape right now, so I’m ready to get back to work and show them the player that they saw on the film and the player that they wanted to draft and I’m also looking to turn even more heads and do things that some people might expect that I couldn’t do.”

That includes rushing the passer, being a consistent three-down tackle in the Raiders scheme. He might be a rotational player first, filling the void created when Stacy McGee left in free agency.

“He’s a good, active defensive lineman that we think his best football is in front of him,” Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio said. “He had an ACL (injury) a couple of years ago. His weight has been up and down. We expect him to come in here and be a real professional and work hard with (head strength and conditioning coach) Joe Gomes and the strength staff and get himself ready to roll. He needs to come in here and add depth to our defensive line and give us a little interior push.”

Vanderdoes believes he can do more than that if he does things right. If his weight stays down, strength stays up and he learns the system well, he wants to compete for a significant role as a rookie.

“I’m coming in expecting to contribute and play right away,” Vanderdoes said. “That’s the mindset that I’ve always had. I’ve came with that mindset that I need to be the guy to step in and do what I do and dominate. I definitely think people slept on me a little bit this past offseason.

“I love the fact that (the NFL) slept on me, I think that’s what motivated me every morning waking up, knowing that I get to prove people wrong. I think I’ve done a good job so far of that, and I’m going to keep doing as well being an Oakland Raider because I know I’m at the bottom again. I have to work my way back up.”