In Game 2, Giants looked like ... the Giants

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In Game 2, Giants looked like ... the Giants

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SAN FRANCISCO -- The Bizarro Series settled down Monday night, to the great relief of all San Francisco Giants, most of all Bruce Bochy and Dave Righetti.

And they can pin all their newfound zen on Ryan Vogelsong, who in guiding them to a stunningly routine 7-1 win over St. Louis in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series, reminded them what Giant starting pitchers used to do back in the olden days.

Specifically:

Throw 100 pitches (106, to be precise).
Throw at least six innings (seven, to be pedantic).
Minimize hits and walks (four of one, two of the other).
Allow the defense to carry its end of the piano, most of all the often undertaxed infield (eight ground ball outs, which is high for any Giants pitcher).
Change the course of a series by stabilizing the bullpen (only Jeremy Affeldt and Sergio Romo pitched, and Guillermo Mota heated up once).
Make the Giants seem more like . . . well, more like the Giants.

Yes, Vogelsong did all this, simply by not running out of petrol too early, or getting spooked by the size of the stage. He controlled all facets of the Cardinal offense, save Chris Carpenter and Carlos Beltran, and he protected a 5-1 lead as Giant pitchers used to when they had an ultra-reliable rotation.

What they have now, of course, is two wings and a bunch of prayers. Or if you must, Vogelsong, Cain and pray for rain, to steal the old 1948 poem from Boston Post writer Gerald Hern, back in the days when poetry could be found in the sports section, and the Boston Braves were driving for pennant behind pitchers Warren Spahn and Johnny Sain:

First we'll use Spahn,
Then we'll use Sain,
Then an off day followed by rain,
Back will come Spahn,
Followed by Sain,
And followed, we hope, by two days of rain.

By the way, rain is in the forecast in St. Louis for Wednesday, in case your dj runs to that sort of vu.

In the interim, Vogelsong found the light and stood right in its midst for what he considered his finest start ever.

I think it was in the third right after Beltran hit that leadoff double, and something just clicked in mechanically. I threw a pitch (to the Cardinals villain du jour, Matt Holliday) and I went, That was it right there. I was able to run with that feeling right there and keep it going.

For sure, this is the best Ive probably thrown in a big league game after the third inning for sure. One thing clicked and I was able to sustain it.

His fastball, which topped at 94, rarely dipped below 92 (the RBI double he allowed to Carpenter was 89 and hittable, but an exception to the rule), and after relying mostly on the fastball early, he spent the rest of the night mixing in curve balls, sliders and changeups.

I just kept trying to mix it up, Vogelsong said. Theyre obviously a strong offensive team, and their numbers speak for themselves, so I kept trying to mix things up depending on the hitter, and tried to bounce the ball around the zone like I normally do.

The result of all this was that the Giants go to St. Louis with their bullpen rested in all the places that it needed rest, worked where it needed work (specifically, Romo, who would have been idle for five days had he not mopped up in the ninth), and in order for not only the Cain start in Game 3, but the chaos to follow.

With the series guaranteed to go at least five games now, manager Bochy will have to tackle his back-end starting pitching issues head-on for Games 4 and 5, where the conundrum of Madison Bumgarner has left Game 5 a muddle. Bumgarners mechanics have gone astray, as Vogelsongs had in early September, and it isnt widely believed that he can solve them before Saturday.

In short, the new question is whether Tim Lincecum starts Game 4 and Barry Zito or Bumgarner Game 5, or Zito starts 4 and Lincecum 5. And Bochy, an old campaigner when hes working with a two-man rotation, is going to make a jigsaw puzzle that cant possibly fit, fit.

More immediately pressing, though, is the hip injury to second baseman Marco Scutaro after a hard and tardy slide from Holliday in the top of the first. Scutaro injured his left hip and went to the hospital for tests and delicious food . . . well, okay, for tests.

NEWS: Scutaro leaves with hip injury, X-rays negative

But as is the Giants way in the postseason, they wont have an announcement on Scutaro until Tuesday at the earliest, and maybe not until Game 3 Wednesday in St. Louis. True, they have Ryan Theriot, who closed the game at the position, but Scutaro is plainly preferable, as his two-run single in the pivotal fourth inning indicated. By the time he left the game in the sixth, the result was safe, but his short-term future was murky.

The X-rays were negative, Bochy fumed, but were going to do an MRI on him tomorrow, I believe. And once we get to St. Louis, well see how hes doing and where hes at.

Bochy was unhappy with Hollidays slide, but there was little to do about it except what the Giants did, which was focus on the greater task getting out of California with a split.

Now comes the bigger picture, though. Cain and rain, the mystery starters in Four and Five, and the growing realization that the Giants from top to bottom are the hardest thing it is to be in a short series.

Day to day.

Giants spring training Day 41: Hwang wins award, hits game-winner

Giants spring training Day 41: Hwang wins award, hits game-winner

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Jae-Gyun Hwang’s day started with an ovation from teammates who had selected Hwang as the Barney Nugent Award winner. It ended in style, too. 

Hwang’s walk-off single in the ninth gave the Giants an 8-7 win and raised his spring average to .308. Barring an injury or sudden change, Hwang will not make the team out of camp, but he’ll travel to San Francisco for the Bay Bridge Series next week and the Giants expect him back at AT&T Park soon.

“He can keep the award now,” Bochy joked after Hwang’s walk-off. “Good for him. Players love him, and the way he’s come out every day and the effort he puts in. He’s been inspiring with how hard he has gotten after it every day.”

The Barney Nugent Award is given to the player in his first big league camp “whose performance and dedication in Spring Training best exemplifies the San Francisco Giants spirit.” It is meaningful in large part because the voters are teammates, trainers and coaches. Hwang was called to the middle of the clubhouse by trainer Dave Groeschner on Saturday morning to accept the award. 

“With this being my first time coming to spring training to play baseball, I wanted to work hard and show that I belong here,” Hwang said through interpreter Mark Kim. “I think my teammates have noticed how hard I’ve worked for the team.”

The rest of the Giants have also noticed how easy Hwang has made the transition look. He said that, outside of learning a new strike zone, the adjustment hasn’t been a difficult one. He has four homers this spring, but doesn’t necessarily view that as a shining positive. Hwang said he wants to show more of an all-around game, especially on defense, and a stint in Triple-A Sacramento should provide that opportunity. 

If the rosters play out as expected, Hwang should see most of the time at third base in Triple-A. He can also play first, and he’s eager to show that he’s viable in left field. 

“I want to show I’m a versatile player,” he said. 

GAME RECAP: Chris Stratton was having a good spring, but he got knocked around by the Padres early … Buster Posey and Brandon Crawford both hit deep homers in their second game back from the WBC … Mark Melancon still has not allowed a run this spring … Hunter Pence's March slump got a bit deeper with an 0-for-3 ... Bryan Reynolds, last year’s top pick, entered as a pinch-runner and flew home from first on a Gorkys Hernandez double off the wall. 

BULLPEN BATTLES: In the front office’s perfect world, Josh Osich would be the one to take over for Will Smith, giving the team a hard-throwing lefty capable of neutralizing lefties and righties. It’s been an up-and-down spring for Osich, but he was filthy Saturday, striking out a pair in his lone inning. 

George Kontos looked even better in his inning, striking out the side. Kontos has allowed just five hits in 10 innings this spring, with 15 strikeouts. He seems forever stuck in that sixth-seventh range, but given his splits have been just about even over the years, maybe it’s time the Giants see what he can do in a more high-profile role. 

Cory Gearrin followed the previous two with a perfect eighth. Neil Ramirez struck out one and allowed one hit in the ninth. In 9 1/3 innings this spring, Ramirez has struck out 16 and allowed just five hits and two runs. He has a real shot to take someone’s job in the bullpen next week. 

ICYMI: The big news from this morning: Michael Morse will stick with the team and try to rehab/play his way back to the big leagues. And from the early afternoon, Johnny Cueto had a ton of fun with a 19-year-old he faced in a minor league game. 

NOTABLE: Bochy said that all of the players left in camp are slated to head home on the team flight Tuesday, but some guys have opt-outs on March 30, so moves are coming. This would seem a great sign for Aaron Hill, who is due a $100,000 retention bonus on Tuesday. Hill has slumped late in camp, but he’s still in position to make the team. Also noteworthy: Tyler Beede is scheduled to start Saturday’s game in Oakland. The Giants surely want to knock some MLB-stadium-nerves off before Beede heads down to Triple-A to wait for a call-up.

 

Cueto toys with young prospect in Giants minor league game

Cueto toys with young prospect in Giants minor league game

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — There is no way to really ramp up the intensity when an All-Star pitcher makes an appearance in minor league camp, so Johnny Cueto instead found a way to have a bit more fun. 

While getting his work in against A-ball hitters, Cueto had a prolonged, smile-filled battle with 19-year-old Jasrado Chisholm, one of the Diamondbacks’ top prospects. The sequence between Cueto and the shortstop from the Bahamas: 

  • Cueto just missed with a two-strike inside fastball, so he went right back to the same spot, freezing Chisholm, who smiled and nodded at Cueto, who laughed back. 
  • The next time up, Chisholm took two vicious hacks, trying to crank a homer onto Hayden Road. He missed both breaking balls by about a foot. 
  •  Before the third pitch, Cueto yelled something at Chisholm and smiled. “I was telling him to keep his eye on the ball,” Cueto said. “Because every time he was swinging, he was taking his eye off the ball.”
  •  The advice worked. Chisholm hung in on the third pitch, lining a single to left-center. Cueto laughed and pointed his glove at the teenager. He promptly picked him off of first base. “He probably doesn’t know I have a quick move,” he said. “I was having fun with a kid who wanted to actually hit against me.”

Nobody has more fun than Cueto, even on a sun-baked minor league field. He capped his day by standing in for an at-bat of his own, and he stood and watched as a young Diamondback struck him out.

The work on the mound was just what was needed: 7 innings, 85 pitches, 10 strikeouts, 0 runs. Cueto, who missed the opening weeks of camp, is ready for the season.

“I feel strong,” he said. “I feel really good."