EXTRA BAGGS: Pagan helping Giants' cause, and his own

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EXTRA BAGGS: Pagan helping Giants' cause, and his own

LOS ANGELES Angel Pagan moved back into the leadoff spoton Aug. 3.

In 18 games since then, he has a .343 average and a .424on-base percentage. He has hit two home runs, six doubles and three triples. Hehas scored 20 runs and knocked in 12.

RELATED: Angel Pagan career stats 2012 game logs
And he, along with the rest of the Giants, have beenbetrayed by Melky Cabrera.

Its a bit misleading to say Pagan has responded toCabreras 50-game drug suspension by playing his best ball of the season. Paganalready had begun to blister the baseball before the news broke last week.

But this much is true: he hasnt let the controversy surrounding his formerlocker mate distract him.

Pagan is playing with edge and intensity, and his performancein Tuesday nights 4-1 victory at Dodger Stadium might have been his bestall-around effort of the season. He hustled to avoid the tag on a ground ballto first base. He turned a ground single up the middle into a double. And hethrew out a runner at home plate.

We all know how important these games are, Pagan said.Youre playing the guys
who want to take your spot. Im just going out thereto play hard, play hard for my teammates, and try to win some ballgames.

Said Bruce Bochy: Since hes assumed the leadoff role, hesreally turned up his game a notch. Hes just playing great baseball on bothsides. He has his ups and downs, but he deals with them and hes playing asgood ball as anyone right now.

Those downs, particularly through July, made it seem as ifPagans stay in San Francisco would be brief. He will be a free agent after theseason. So will Cabrera, who had won over everyone with his relentlessly greatplay. The Hunter Pence trade, and his impending salary in arbitration, seemedto make it official: The Giants couldnt bring back all three outfielders. Pagan would go somewhere else.

But things change quickly in this game. Cabrera almost certainly will neverbe a Giant again, his level of deception too deep to forgive. And Pagan isplaying inspired baseball again.

Its still far from a guarantee Pagan will be back in 2013. Itmight be something less than a coin flip. But say this: its a far greater possibility thanit was eight days ago.

Most importantly, Pagan appears driven by the here and now,and this pennant race.

Ive been feeling awesome, said Pagan, who credited themove to leadoff with helping him hit his stride. Thats helped my approach andits helped my confidence. So far, I feel the best I have the whole season.

I just hope to keep getting on base and scoring early runs,because thats going to be so important for us, for our pitching staff.

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Pagan is not known for his arm, but his throw to the platein the fifth inning had enough on it and a little luck to nail A.J. Ellisat the plate.

Pagan said he just wanted to keep the throw true so that itdeither be cut off, possibly leading to one of the back-end runners being hungout to dry, or the ball would make it cleanly to catcher Hector Sanchez so the otherrunners couldnt advance.

Just make sure we get one out or we keep the double play inorder, he said. I was just trying to clear the mound, not have it bounceaway.

It hit the mound in the perfect spot on the downslope and that allowed it to pick up speed. Sanchez did the rest by blocking theplate, and first baseman Buster Posey made the decision to let the throw gothrough.

I dont know if you guys saw me, said Tim Lincecum, but Iscreamed my head off when he made that play.

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Sanchez had an eventful night. He lost track of the outs in the second inning,making a dash for the dugout after Ellis struck out. The odd thing is thatLincecum only faced two batters in the inning, and struck them both out. So it's hard to fathom how Sanchez got confused.

Lincecum had to laugh.

Because Ive been in a similar situation, he said,smiling.

Sanchez said he'll survive the embarrassment. But he's bracing for the unavoidable roastthat awaits him on Kevin Millars Intentional Talk show on the MLB Network.

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Im going to predict a big game soon for Pablo Sandoval. Hehit two line drives that seemed to be rising as Matt Kemp caught them in centerfield. They were both absolutely scorched.

He told me hes really encouraged and he is seeing the ballthe best he has all season.

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Hunter Pence was 0 for 4, dropping his average to .200 inhis first 20 games as a Giant. But its not panic time. Hes putting the ballin play in RBI situations and getting runs in, which is what the Giants signedhim to do. Hes not striking out in big spots, which has been a problem for somany others this season.

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After getting Andre Ethier to ground out on a sinker to endMondays game, Javier Lopez said he would have to invent something new toretire the Dodgers All-Star outfielder the following day.

Well, the following day arrived, and Lopez was summoned toface Ethier again. He got a ground-ball double play to end the game.

On asinker.

What happened to all that invention talk? Was that the seedhe wanted to plant?

Well, yes, Lopez said, in jest. Exactly right.

Actually, Lopez mixed sequences and went for astrikeout with a two-strike slider. When Ethier didnt bite

Just try to go down in the zone, Lopez said. Im aground-ball pitcher. Thats always what Im looking for. I was fortunate andgot ahead yesterday, and got ahead again today.

And tomorrow: eephus.

Or another sinker.

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Hard to tell what was a better sign for the bullpen: JoseMijares striking out Ethier to strand two of Lincecums runners in the sixth orSantiago Casilla needing 19 pitches to get six quick outs in the seventh andeighth.

Having Mijares is big for the Giants because they can saveLopez for a spot later in the game, and keep Jeremy Affeldt in more of aone-inning role.

But I'll go with Casilla. He was such a force in the first half. Getting himback on the beam could be the key to this whole committee thing having a chanceat working.

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Some national columnists are already boiling down the NL MVPvote to Andrew McCutchen and Buster Posey. Im sure Major League Baseballofficials are just hoping both of them stay hot to the finish.

RELATED: Buster Posey 2012 game logs Andrew McCutchen 2012 game logs

McCutchens average is down to .350 barely ahead of thedisgraced Melky Cabrera, who was at .346 when the league handed down its suspension.

Cabrera was one plate appearance short of qualifying for the batting title, butplayers who fall a few at-bats short can have them added to their total. Iftheir adjusted average is still higher than anyone else, as was the case once withTony Gwynn, then they are considered the batting champ.

Remember, this is not some award that can be taken away. Its based on an officialstatistic, and Cabreras average is in the books. When you add one extraat-bat, hes still hitting .346.

As for Posey? Hes third in the NL, with a .327 average.

Bud Selig had his hands in his pockets when Barry Bonds hithis 755th home run. Youd
better believe he is rooting for McCutchento stay above .350, and for Posey to get there, too.

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The other day I mentioned that Madison Bumgarner and ClaytonKershaw had faced each other just one other time before Monday night on April12, 2011.

Last season, in other words.

As a side note, here are the six batters atop the Giantslineup that day: Miguel Tejada, Freddy Sanchez, Aubrey Huff, Buster Posey, PatBurrell and Aaron Rowand.

Five guys who are done, if you count Huff. And then you havePosey.

It always amazes me how quickly things turn over in thisgame and how good you must be to endure.

Giants spring training Day 7: Rule change should help Bochy

Giants spring training Day 7: Rule change should help Bochy

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — On one of the many nights last season when his bullpen imploded, Bruce Bochy nearly put a catcher on the mound. Trevor Brown ended up playing an inning of third base on June 28 as the Giants gave up eight runs over the final two innings in a brutal loss to the A’s, and he said this week that he was told he was the next man up on the mound. 

That night was an odd one, as a tired bullpen was waiting for Sergio Romo to get activated off a rehab assignment and trying to get by without long reliever Chris Stratton, who had thrown 57 pitches out of the ‘pen the night before. The bench was also short because Joe Panik was about to be put on the concussion DL.

Bochy hopes he doesn’t have to deal with such a situation this season, and not just because the bullpen should be much improved. The disabled list lasts 10 days now, not 15, and Bochy is thrilled with the new rule.

“The DL thing, I really like it,” he said. “You get caught in that gray area so often.” 

Bochy met with league officials on Saturday to go over some of the rule changes. DL stints can now be made retroactive just three days, but it’s still a vast improvement overall. 

“With (position) players and pitchers it’s going to make it easier to DL guys,” Bochy said. “If you’re looking at (starting) pitchers, they could miss just one start.”

The Giants have often played a man or more short, trying to get by day-by-day to give a position player or starter time to heal. Around camp, this could be called the Angel Pagan Rule, as the former Giants outfielder often missed a week or so before officially going on the DL. At times, Bochy has been patient with players like Buster Posey and Hunter Pence, knowing that even if they missed a week, keeping them off the DL could still earn the Giants seven or eight games with a big bat back in the lineup. If a future diagnosis is that a player will miss a week, it’ll be much easier to swallow putting him on the 10-day DL than it was for the 15-day. Likewise, the Giants will take advantage of the change if a pitcher will have to miss a start. 

Bochy has said often that he would like every reliever to go on the DL during the season to freshen up. That’ll make more sense now, and it should keep the Giants from having to play as many games where the bullpen is gassed and a backup catcher is preparing to pitch. For guys like Stratton — a versatile pitcher on the 40-man roster — it should also lead to increased trips up to the big leagues to fill gaps. 

INJURY UPDATE: Pence (side muscle) took 25 swings during a live BP session in the cage and Bochy said he’s doing much better. That was about the only significant activity Sunday. Once again, the workout was rained out. Bochy said the Giants have enough time to get guys ready for the Cactus League opener on Feb. 24, but they’ll likely hold some big-name pitchers out of the early games. Brandon Crawford and Posey will get plenty of early starts to prepare for the WBC. 

PROSPECT WATCH: If the early games are turned over to prospects, Dan Slania will be an interesting guy to watch. Slania is listed at 6-foot-5 and 275 pounds, so he always had the look of an imposing reliever. But his greatest success last season came after a surprise move to the rotation. 

Slania, a 2013 fifth-round pick out of Notre Dame, got a call on his 24th birthday telling him to prepare to start because of an injury in Richmond’s rotation. He had not started a game since high school, but his four-pitch mix worked. He had a 5.32 ERA out of the bullpen but it dropped to 1.48 in 10 starts for the Flying Squirrels. In two Triple-A starts, he struck out 14 over 13 innings while allowing just eight hits and two runs. The Giants put him on their 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft. 

“He had a great year last year,” Bochy said. “He’s in camp for a reason. He’s got great stuff and a good makeup.”

RULE CHANGE: One more thing that came out of that rules meeting: Managers who are out of challenges now have to wait until the eighth inning to ask an umpire to look at a play.

QUOTABLE: “We know he’s better off taking some days. We talked about it (with him). He agrees that it’ll help him.” Bochy on Pence’s workload. The right fielder is coming off two injury-marred seasons, and the Giants have no intention of even trying to get him back to his Iron Man days. 

Tomlinson still a fit as Giants put bench together

Tomlinson still a fit as Giants put bench together

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The “options game” can be a cruel one. It can also be one of the most important parts of spring training. 

If two players are relatively even at the end of camp but only one can be optioned to the minors, he’s usually the man left out. Giants officials have already made reference to this several times in discussing left field, where Jarrett Parker — who is out of options — would surely be claimed off waivers if the Giants try to sneak him back to the minors before Opening Day. Mac Williamson, on the other hand, can be shuttled back and forth. 

The same holds true for Kelby Tomlinson, and while it was easy during the first week of camp to see him as the odd man out, manager Bruce Bochy said that’s not the case. What do all the veteran infielders mean for the young one already in-house?

“It hasn’t affected anything for Kelby, really,” Bochy said. “It’s all about competition for spots on this team.”

Tomlinson played 54 games in 2015 and 52 a year ago, but the Giants put a clear emphasis this offseason on finding backup infielders. Jimmy Rollins, Jae-gyun Hwang, Orlando Calixte and Gordon Beckham were among those brought in before camp, and Aaron Hill arrived on the fourth day. Sure, Ehire Adrianza — who was seemingly perpetually out of options — is no longer around, but if the Giants carry just two backup infielders, one of them will almost certainly be Conor Gillaspie. 

Tomlinson isn’t bothered by the offseason of additions. He said he can take knowledge away from six weeks spent with guys he grew up watching.

“Rollins’ prime was right in my later high school years,” he said, smiling. “I’ve got a lot of guys to learn from and watch. It’s a little of both (a competition and learning experience). We’re all fighting for the same job, but we’re still on the same team and we’re all trying to learn from each other and help each other.”

Tomlinson is the incumbent, and the Giants certainly know all about his speed and ability to play all over the field (he continued to take fly balls this winter, just in case). They also now know that Tomlinson adds something that’s needed on any bench. Last season, he emerged as one of Bochy’s most reliable pinch-hitters. 

Tomlinson’s seven pinch-hits were tied for second on the team after Gillaspie’s 11. He was 7-for-17 in a pinch, adding three walks. Tomlinson’s simple swing and up-the-middle approach have proven perfect for important spots. He’s a .315 career hitter with runners in scoring position, a .373 hitter in situations baseball-reference deems “late and close,” and a .367 hitter in “high leverage” spots.

“I’m just trying to compete up there every at-bat, especially in that pinch-hitting role,” Tomlinson said. “It’s a grind, but that makes it fun when you give the team a quality at-bat. Even if it’s not a hit, you go up there and try to see five pitches and have a good at-bat.”

Tomlinson has given the Giants plenty of them over parts of two seasons. With Brandon Crawford headed for the World Baseball Classic, he is sure to see increased time this spring, and while the options game or non-roster list might catch up to him, the Giants haven’t forgotten what they already have. 

“He gives us versatility,” Bochy said, “So he’s in the mix, too.”