For Giants, Saturday sucked a very great deal

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For Giants, Saturday sucked a very great deal

BOX SCORE

SAN FRANCISCO -- Brandon Phillips saw his starting pitcher Johnny Cueto shut down after eight pitches. He heard the crowd at the Thing On King roar their delight. And he copped to the feeling of despair that washed over the one part of the ballpark that wasn't populated by Giants or their faithful customers.

"When Johnny went down, I was like, 'Oh gosh. Oh no. We're done. Why? Why?'" the Cincinnati second baseman said. "It sucked a little bit."

Well, it sucked more than a little bit for the Reds. But as time went on, it started to suck less and less until it didn't really suck at all, except for the Giants. For them, Saturday sucked a very great deal.

BAGGS' INSTANT REPLAY: Reds beat Cain, Giants in Game 1

Phillips was one of several Reds who gave the Giants that general feeling of suck in Game 1 of this National League Division Series. He turned on a delicious and nutritious Matt Cain curve ball to give the Reds a 2-0 lead, he drove in an insurance run in the ninth with a two-out single, he dove to save extra bases on a leadoff single by Giant right fielder Hunter Pence, and he verified what he claimed after the game:

"I'm good on TV."

RELATED: Phillips shines under bright lights

But lots of Reds were good on TV, including manager Dusty Baker and pitching coach Bryan Price. Between their jerryrigging a solution to Cueto's first-inning back spasms, Mat Latos' four-inning relief performance, Jay Bruce's homer, Ryan Ludwick's defense, and mostly from relief pitching, the Reds took a 1-0 lead in the series that feels a lot more like 2-0 or 3-1, and in doing so, they saw to it that the only Giant that looked good was Buster Posey.

In other words, they brought home the suck.

There is no truly elegant alternate way to put it, for this was not an elegant game. It was more a white-knuckler on a 20-seat plane through bad weather and turbulence, and though the box score suggests that the Giants were dominated, what they really endured was a night of vertigo. Cueto to Sam LeCure to Latos to Sean Marshall to Jonathan Broxton to Aroldis Chapman is enough to make anyone's head wobble on its axis, and even though Broxton and Chapman seemed most vulnerable to offensive coercion, the Giants did too little too often to have it matter.

And therein lies the difficulty they face going into Game 2. The only quality at-bat they got with runners in scoring position all night was Cain's line-out to Bruce to end the second. Posey's home run off Latos was the one at-bat that brought the sellout crowd of 43,492 out of its torpor, but it was followed by nothing of substance.

The Giants' offense forced Cain to be perfect, which is not unusual for him or them. But it happened on a night when he plainly wasn't. He missed spots, he left curve balls like the one to Phillips in hittable places ("If he throws a fastball or a cutter, I'm back in the dugout with everyone else"), and he was not dominant on a night when dominance would have barely broken him even.

Suddenly, the onus of the series is squarely on San Francisco. A split is barely tolerable, but it is all the hope the Giants have, and they need Madison Bumgarner to be what Cain was not -- masterful. The Reds, who looked to be in shambles after eight pitches, may still have Cueto for Game 3 against (in all likelihood) Ryan Vogelsong, in which case they have lost nothing at all from a night that looked so . . . well, suckworthy halfway through Marco Scutaro's first at-bat.

Cueto said he feels fine, and Baker said, "You know how back spasms are. When it lets you go, it lets you go when it wants to."

But that's too far away for the Giants. They have to navigate another of Cincinnati's nasty starters, Bronson Arroyo, Sunday or go to Ohio needing a sweep in a park that is not kind to their kind of pitcher, whether it be Vogelsong, Barry Zito or Tim Lincecum.

In short, and with all apologies to the gods of strained metaphors, the suck is already on the other foot.

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."