The unsung influence behind the Giants' pitching dominance


The unsung influence behind the Giants' pitching dominance

DETROIT Long before Ryan Vogelsong went to Japan, beforehe had his elbow cut, before those years of misery in Pittsburgh or those twosets of Triple-A walking papers that forced him to look up to find the end ofhis rope

He went to lunch. With Mark Gardner.

Gardy and I were teammates, said Vogelsong, on the eve ofhis first World Series start. Thats how we met for the first time. I was justa young pup then, and Gardy was one of our starters and he took me under hiswing right away.

He was one of those guys I bounced questions off a lot, andnot just about pitching but making sure I was in the right place at the righttime in spring training, and going through the drills and everything.

Recalled Giants GM Brian Sabean: Looking back, Gardy shepherdeda lot of the younger guys, whether it was taking them to lunch or dinner. Youcould tell he was someone who would stay in the game after he was done playing.

Vogelsong still calls Gardner a friend, but not a teammate. Theformer right-hander from Fresno is the Giants bullpen coach now, although inpractice he is nearer to being a co-pitching coach along with Dave Righetti.

Righetti is getting another national upwelling of well-deservedaccolades, now that the Giants starting pitchers are punching up theirperformance once again with the baseball world watching. The Giants rotation is5-0 with a 0.55 ERA and a .195 opponents average over the past five games three elimination victories against the St. Louis Cardinals to burglarize theNL pennant, and then a pair of tone-setting wins at home against the DetroitTigers to set the tone in the World Series.

Barry Zito, Vogelsong, Matt Cain, Zito again and MadisonBumgarner have combined to issue just six walks and strike out 30 in 33innings. They havent allowed a single home run over that span.

Its a dominant run that club officials worried wouldnt bepossible, given the way so many of their arms lagged through September.Vogelsong was as lost as any of them, posting a 10.31 ERA over a seven-startspan from mid-August to mid-September in which opponents hit .366 against him.

But Vogelsong kept after the flaws that had crept into hisdelivery, and after finishing the regular season by flashing power stuff in hislast three starts, he has parlayed his hard, moving arsenal into a tremendouspostseason. Vogelsong is 2-0 with a 1.42 ERA in three playoff starts, includinga dominant effort against the Cardinals in Game 6 of the NLCS that kept theGiants alive.

He credits two people who have known him since the first dayhe stepped in big league camp as a wide-eyed kid.

I think they balance each other well, said Vogelsong, who rejoined the Giants on a minor league deal last year to begin his inspiring renaissance. Gardy,hell get into a lot of the mechanical stuff with you, and Rags is more on themental side. He does some mechanical stuff as well, but Rags is more of hesbeen through everything in this game that you can do as a pitcher. Hes closed,hes started, middle relief. Theres nothing as a staff we are going toencounter that this guy hasnt done in the game. That goes for Gardy as well,who relieved and started.

You know, I think they bounce things off each other all thetime, and they come up with what they think is the best solution if theres aproblem going on. I know I go to both of them because I want to try to get asmuch information as possible. They do a tremendous job with our staff.

Theyve been doing it a long time. How many bullpen coachesare on their third manager, instead of vice versa? And Righetti, with 13seasons, ranks as the longest tenured pitching coach with his current club, nowthat Dave Duncan has taken a leave of absence from the Cardinals.

Sabean is frustrated that Righetti, andbench coach Ron Wotus, have not received more interest on the major leaguemanagerial carousel. Then again, its not like he wants to see either man go.

On the pitching side, we have two guys who are verypatient, theyre good at their craft and also aggressive when need be when theyfeel adjustments need to be made, Sabean said. The players trust them. Theyhave confidence in their acumen in helping to turn them around, and the managercooperates and goes with their lead.

That was never more evident than this postseason, whenRighetti told Bochy that Zito would give them a chance to bring them back fromGame 5 in St. Louis. The left-hander responded with 7 23 shutout innings.

The Giants had to extend themselves to a seventh game tobeat the Cardinals, so they didnt have the luxury to set up their rotation forthe World Series as the Tigers did. The Giants faced a soft spot for Game 2,and Bumgarner already had been yanked from the playoff rotation after gettingbattered for an 11.25 ERA in two starts, including 15 hits and three homers injust eight innings.

But Gardner worked with Bumgarner on shortening up his torsorotation, Righetti helped him sharpen his slider just enough and the results inthree bullpen sessions were encouraging enough.

Righetti recommended that Bumgarner take the ball. Justbased on numbers alone, it would be like driving the jet fuel truck into astructure fire. But Bochy acted with faith, and Bumgarner rewarded it. TheTigers managed two hits in seven innings against the left-hander.

EXTRA BAGGS: Giving rope to Bumgarner, etc.

Now Righetti is getting the laurels. But save some forGardner, too.

Gardner is just happy he's seeing the starters perform to their capabilities.

We knew going into the playoffs the starting pitching wouldbe so important, Gardner said. You only go as far as they take you. AndSeptember, yeah, it was rough on them and you knew that going in. But therewere times the bullpen stepped it up for them, and now you see theyre doingit.

What gives Gardner such an eye for mechanics? Well, perhapsits because he was a shortstop at Fresno State who was learning pitching fromscratch. He didnt have to unlearn bad habits.

They had us work with another guy and watch them, observe,and I think it started then, Gardner said. You learn early on that everybodyhas their own style, but there are parts of a delivery you need to do. You haveto have an eye for it and try to pass it along.

Balance. Stride. Release point. Where you are when your foothits the ground. When your hands separate, and where they are at every point inyour motion.

Its all part of making a pitch, Gardner said. With theseguys here, all of them made 30 starts so you know every one of them is going tohave a rough spot. But weve been lucky with these guys. Theyve beenoutstanding and durable and they get their work done, so its easy to have guyslike that.

It wont be easy this offseason, though especially when itconcerns Tim Lincecum, who has been successful in a relief role this postseasonbut plummeted from one of the leagues most effective aces to a pitcher whoseshocking, 5.18 ERA was the highest among all qualified NL starters.

Itll be up toLincecum to tweak his mechanics and reinvent himself as a pitcher thisoffseason.

Hes just in transition, Sabean said. Hes going to have tolearn how to pitch with less velocity and hell have to get his arm or hisrelease point in a better spot to make pitches. Because its about throwingstrikes with consistency, and in his case hes not going to miss as many bats.So hes going to have to be resourceful and try to throw fewer pitches perat-bat and play to contact.

Lincecum tends to adhere to his own process and listen tohis own voices. But Righetti will lend his, and hell channel Gardnersthoughts along the way.

Who knows? Maybe a nice, leisurely lunch would help, too.

Cubs come alive behind Schwarber, Arrieta; World Series tied 1-1


Cubs come alive behind Schwarber, Arrieta; World Series tied 1-1


CLEVELAND -- Jake Arrieta made a teasing run at history, Kyle Schwarber drove in two runs and the Chicago Cubs brushed off a shutout to even the World Series with their first Fall Classic win in 71 years, 5-1 over the Cleveland Indians in Game 2 on Wednesday night.

Arrieta carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning, briefly invoking Don Larsen's name, before the Indians touched him for two hits and a run. However, the right-hander helped give Chicago just what it needed - a split at Progressive Field - before the Cubbies return to their Wrigley Field den for the next three games starting Friday night.

The Cubs hadn't won in the Series since beating Detroit 8-7 in 1945 to force Game 7.

The free-swinging Schwarber, who made it back for Chicago's long-awaited Series return after missing most of the season with an injured left knee, hit an RBI single in the third off Cleveland's Trevor Bauer and had another in the Cubs' three-run fifth - highlighted by Ben Zobrist's run-scoring triple.

Even the presence of star LeBron James and the NBA champion Cavaliers, sporting their new rings, couldn't stop the Indians from losing for the first time in six home games this postseason.

And Cleveland manager Terry Francona's magical touch in October finally fizzled as he dropped to 9-1 in Series games.

With rain in the forecast, Major League Baseball moved the first pitch up an hour in hopes of avoiding delays or a postponement.

It turned out to be a good call as the game went on without a hitch and ended after more than four hours as light rain was beginning to fall.

Arrieta and the Cubs provided the only storm.

The bearded 30-year-old coasted through five innings without allowing a hit, the first pitcher to get that deep in a Series game with a no-hitter since David Cone of the New York Yankees in 1998.

For a brief period, Arrieta looked as if he might challenge Larsen's gem - a perfect game - in 1956 before Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis, a die-hard Cubs fan as a kid, doubled with one out in the sixth.

Before that, Cleveland hitters had a couple good swings, and drew three walks, but couldn't mount a real threat. Arrieta has two career no-hitters, in fact, including the only one in the majors this year.

Cubs lefty Mike Montgomery replaced Arrieta and worked two scoreless innings before Aroldis Chapman came in and unleashed his 103 mph heat while getting the last four outs.

The teams will have an off day before the series resumes with Game 3 at Wrigley, which will host its first Series game since Oct. 6, 1945, when tavern owner Billy Sianis was asked to leave with his pet goat, Murphy, and a curse was born.

Josh Tomlin will start for the Indians, who will lose the designated hitter in the NL ballpark, against Kyle Hendricks.

Schwarber might also wind up on the bench after two days as the DH.

With a gametime temperature of 43, the weather was more fitting for the Browns and Bears to bang heads than the boys of summer.

The Cubs were the ones who came up thumping after being blanked 6-0 in Game 1 by Corey Kluber and Cleveland's shut-down bullpen.

Zobrist's one-out triple triggered the fifth as the Cubs opened a 5-0 lead, not that Arrieta needed it.

After Anthony Rizzo walked following a 10-pitch at-bat, Zobrist laced a ball off Zach McAllister that was going to be a double until right fielder Lonnie Chisenhall slipped and fell. Rizzo was waved around and Zobrist hustled into third.

Schwarber followed with his second RBI and reliever Bryan Shawn later walked No. 9 hitter Addison Russell with the bases loaded.

Unlike his start in Toronto on Oct. 17, when his stitched cut opened up and Bauer was forced to make a bloody departure in the first inning, his finger held up fine.

The Cubs, though, put a few nicks in him in 3 2/3 innings.

The drone accident has brought attention to the quirky Bauer, and one Chicago fan tried to rattle the right-hander by sending a smaller version of the remote-controlled, flying object that cut him.

Bauer posted a photo of it on Twitter, saying "I see the (at)Cubs fans love me! How nice of them to send me a gift!"

The Cubs, who were off balance from the start against Kluber, scored their first run in a Series game since `45 in the first on Rizzo's RBI double.

Bauer needed 51 pitches to get through two innings, and he was one strike from getting out of the third unscathed when Chicago turned a walk and to singles into a 2-0 lead.

Cubs: Hendricks is coming off his brilliant performance in Game 5 of the NLCS when he pitched two-hit ball for seven innings as the Cubs clinched their first pennant in 71 years. The right-hander went 16-8 during the regular season with a league-leading 2.13 ERA.

Indians: It will be an emotional night for Tomlin, who will pitch on 12 day's rest with his ailing father, Jerry, in attendance. The elder Tomlin became stricken with a spinal condition in August, when Tomlin was struggling on the mound. The right-hander more than recovered and rescued Cleveland's rotation in the postseason, winning both starts.

Giants catching prospect Garcia relishing reps in Arizona Fall League


Giants catching prospect Garcia relishing reps in Arizona Fall League

After the Giants selected him in the second round of the 2014 MLB Draft, catcher Aramis Garcia quickly opened eyes with his power. Garcia totaled 15 home runs between Rookie Ball and Short Season Single-A in only 28 games after the draft. 

The next year, Garcia equaled his 15 long balls and spent the majority of his first full pro season at High Single-A. He also improved overall as a hitter, raising his 2014 slash line of .225/.301/.343 to .264/.342/.431 in 2015. Garcia's promotion to the next rung in the farm system ladder -- the Double-A Richmond Flying Squirrels -- was derailed by a rough injury. 

He sustained a facial fracture in May while sliding into second base, taking a knee to the face in an attempt to break up a double play. The injury kept him out until the end of July and limited Garcia to 47 games in 2016.

When the chance to play in the Arizona Fall League for the Scottsdale Scorpions arose, Garcia jumped at the opportunity. 

"First thing I did was call my parents and let them know," Garcia told on Monday. "I was just really excited for getting the opportunity to play against guys who are extremely talented and obviously make up for reps, which are extremely important."

Garcia never did exactly find his rhythm after the injury and finished the season batting .257/.323/.340 with two homers in 41 games. In the first half, the 23-year-old hit .298/.359/.369 compared to a lowly .200/.273/.300 in the second half. 

The catcher known more for his offense than defense is off to a slow start at the plate while facing some of the top prospects in baseball. Through six games, he has gone 3-for-17 at the plate, good for a .176 average. But, Garcia acknowledged he's focusing heavily on his defense in the AFL. 

"I feel like when somebody tries to steal on me, I tend to take it a little bit personally," he said. "It's definitely something I take pride in, something I work on hard every day. There's a little routine I do with receiving and footwork, things like that every day."

Behind the dish, Garcia caught 38 percent of base runners looking to swipe a bag on him last season. Through his three years in the minors, Garcia has erased 34 percent of base stealers and owns a .993 fielding percentage.