Programming note: Giants Insider Andrew Baggarly is in Arizona; check back for his coverage throughout spring training and watch SportsNet Central nightly at 6 and 10:30 p.m. for all the day’s MLB news.
TEMPE, Ariz. – You cannot measure satisfaction without considering the expectations. Ryan Vogelsong is often dissatisfied with himself because his expectations are always high, bordering on impossible.
That’s what makes this season so potentially interesting for the Giants’ intense, 36-year-old grinder of a right-handed pitcher.
He will occupy the No. 5 spot in the Giants rotation. Madison Bumgarner will follow him, with the promise of deep outings and a minimum of relief needed. And it’s no surprise how this usually works: When the fifth starter gets in trouble, the manager’s hook tends to be quick and Vaudevillian.
The quality start – three runs in six innings – is a thing of beauty for a fifth starter. Sometimes even less than that makes a fine payout. Put another way, managers don’t expect much from No.5 starters. So they’re satisfied to get the bullpen involved at the first sign of strife.
Vogelsong sees one way to come to terms with this.
“Go out and throw the ball till he takes it from me, and not worry about it,” said Vogelsong, who has a 9.00 ERA after allowing four runs on eight hits in four-plus innings against the Angels at Tempe Diablo Stadium on Monday.
“All I can do is go as hard as I can while I’m out there. I’m a team guy. Obviously, I want to be out there but I want to win the game. I’ll take it when he gives it to me and when I’m done, I’m done.”
It’s hard to know what the Giants expect from Vogelsong after an up-and-down spring ended with a thud: 12 earned runs on 19 hits in 6 2/3 innings over his final two Cactus League starts.
It wasn’t as bad as the linescore looked Monday. Vogelsong went six up, six down in the first two innings, striking out Albert Pujols after brushing both sides of the plate with his fastball. He threw a beauty of a changeup to strike out Erick Aybar and strand a pair of runners in the third.
The Angels’ three-run fourth inning should have yielded just one run, but Chris Iannetta wasn’t rung up on a checkswing. Vogelsong thought the pitch was a strike, too. Iannetta ended up walking after laying off a competitive 3-2 curve, and J.B. Shuck followed with a two-run double.
A bit more disconcerting was the double-single-double that the Angels employed to greet Vogelsong in the fifth, ending his afternoon – and demonstrating again that he’ll have to prove his stamina along with his stuff this season.
“You could tell he hit the line there,” said Giants manager Bruce Bochy, “but I thought today was much better. I was encouraged.”
It’s fair to surmise that Vogelsong’s struggles, along Tim Lincecum’s recent rough outings, are influencing the Giants’ current leaning to carry Yusmeiro Petit and David Huff, two long relievers who are out of minor league options.
But there’s a difference between an escape hatch and a jettison button. Bochy chafed a bit when asked if Vogelsong’s No. 5 starter job could be in jeopardy.
“These are the guys going out there,” the manager said. “Leave it at that. We’re not going to talk about what we do until we do talk about it – if we even do. We’ve had a lot of pitchers not pitch well.”
Translation: Vogelsong isn’t some 22-year-old kid up from Double-A. He was signed to be in the rotation, he’s done marvelous things for the organization, and a guy of that stature doesn’t lose his job after a couple of rutted starts on Arizona’s concrete-hard fields.
Vogelsong has one more tuneup, in Saturday’s Bay Bridge exhibition at Oakland, before he pitches a game that matters. And what a game it will be. Vogelsong gets the opener of a tone-setting, three-game series against the archrival and heavily favored Dodgers.
He expects to be ready.
“This is a normal spring training for me,” Vogelsong said. “This is why I don’t think I’m panicking. … I feel I’m going in the right direction and that’s what we’re here for. It’s why spring training is this long.”