Urban: How much rope do Giants give Huff?

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Urban: How much rope do Giants give Huff?

July 27, 2011

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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.

Crowder on facing Cousins: ‘Step up to the test or you get run over’

Crowder on facing Cousins: ‘Step up to the test or you get run over’

BOSTON – There was a point in the fourth quarter when Sacramento's DeMarcus Cousins was fouled trying to score which brought about an automatic, intense and angry scowl from the all-star center. 

He raised his hand as he were going to strike back at the potential assailant. 

And then he saw the man was Jae Crowder.

Cousins, who had a game-high 28 points, then went to the free throw line, incident-free. 

“I’m not one those other cats he be punking,” said Crowder with a grin.

That moment was one of many throughout Friday night’s game when Crowder made his presence felt when the game mattered most, and wasn’t afraid to mix it up with whoever stood between him and helping the Celtics win – even Cousins. 

But as Crowder explained following Boston’s 97-92 win, that moment was about two physical players who have developed an on-the-floor rapport that speaks to their intensity and desire to win at all costs. 

“He’s going to bring the game to you; his physicality,” said Crowder who had 16 points on 6-for-12 shooting. “He’s a very physical type of guy. If he senses you’re not physical at all, he’ll let you know. He’s a dog down there; he’s a bull. I love to go against a player like that. He’s going to give you his best shot each and every night. You either step up to the test or you get run over.”

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49ers specialists get drenched in preparations for inclement weather

49ers specialists get drenched in preparations for inclement weather

CHICAGO – The 49ers trained for the expected low-30s temperature and snow at Soldier Field with a week of workouts in the 80-degree heat of Florida.

However, the team’s specialists got some practice handling wet footballs during the 49ers’ final practice in Orlando, Fla.

Special-teams coordinator Derius Swinton and his assistant, Michael Clay, made a game of it. Long-snapper Kyle Nelson had to execute 10 perfect snaps to holder Bradley Pinion for field goals. Then, Pinion moved back to punt formation, where another 10 in a row were required.

But they had to be perfect while Swinton and Clay squirted water on the ball and at the hands of Nelson and Pinion, who also received a blast of water in his ear hole at one point.

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“We always look up to see if there’s a chance of rain or snow, and we go, ‘Wet-ball drill,’ ” Nelson said. “They (Swinton and Clay) get to have fun, squirting water on us and use the water bottles.

“They make it as bad as possible.”

Nelson and Pinion teamed up to execute perfectly on all 20 field goals and punts.

“If I can do this, in a game it’s going to be even easier,” Nelson said. “They make it a lot harder in practice than it is in a game, so when we get to a game, everything is not as fast.”

The weather conditions on Sunday against the Chicago Bears will likely challenge Nelson, Pinion and kicker Phil Dawson as much as anyone. Dawson has been tracking the weather forecasts for more than a week to get mentally prepared for what he might face.

“Soldier Field is notorious for being a tough place to kick because of the wind and the field itself,” Dawson said this week on the 49ers Insider Podcast. “The footing is pretty poor. So when you add snow and moisture to the equation, it’s going to be one of those days.

“You need to have conversations with your coaches and let them know – be honest with them – about the difficulty. But you have to do that without it affecting your confidence to go out and get the job done.”

Said Nelson, “It takes more focus in bad weather. The snaps have to be a little more perfect. Bradley has to focus more on catching the ball, and Phil has to concentrate on the approach and be more cautious.”