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Giants’ Denard Span eyes better year after an ice-free offseason

Mon, 20 Mar 2017 04:13:32 UT

Giants’ Denard Span eyes better year after an ice-free offseason SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Life is good when baseball players can do baseball things in the offseason. Life is good for Denard Span, who seems to be approaching the 2017 season like it’s 2014. [...] the Giants’ center fielder and leadoff hitter said the offseason was free of rehab for the first time since the offseason leading into the 2014 season. With the Washington Nationals, he hit .302 with a .355 on-base percentage, a league-leading 184 hits, 94 runs and 31 steals. The 2015 season was a step backward as Span underwent three surgeries and was limited to 61 games. The Giants signed him afterward for hree years and $31 million, and he didn’t exactly play to his standards in his debut season in San Francisco. “It wasn’t easy not playing up to my capabilities at times,” Span said. Not being able to do the things I’ve been able to do throughout my career. The year prior, it seemed every time something bothered me, something surgically needed to be done. Psychologically, it was difficult having three surgeries in a nine- or-10-month span. Coming off hip surgery, I didn’t trust my hip. Fast forward to last year, it took me a while to trust that I was strong and OK. For me not to have that, I felt I was behind the eightball. Span, 33, played 143 games last season and stayed off the disabled list, but his numbers were down across the board from 2014, except home runs — he hit a career-high 11. The offseason was a delight, and not just because he got married in January, to Anne Schleper, a hockey player who won a silver medal with the U.S. women’s team in the 2014 Olympics. Span spent time conditioning for baseball, not rehabbing from surgery. “I feel 10 times better coming into camp than I did last year,” Span said. Regaining his stroke at the end of 2016 was a momentum boost heading into the offseason and 2017. “I feel like I’m up to speed with everybody else at this time of year,” Span said. The spring training numbers aren’t good (.161 in 31 at-bats), but more important is being in a groove for Opening Day on April 2. Span opened Saturday’s game with an infield single and scored on Joe Panik’s double, and he later tripled to drive in a run. “The main thing was getting back to my mind-set before I was hurt and remembering the player I was — and still am,” Span said. John Shea is The San Francisco Chronicle’s national baseball writer. Email: Twitter: @JohnSheaHey Setting the table Denard Span’s year-by-year offensive statistics: Twins Twins Twins Twins Twins Nationals Nationals Nationals Giants

Giants’ Christian Arroyo: next piece of homegrown infield?

Thu, 16 Mar 2017 23:36:22 UT

Giants’ Christian Arroyo: next piece of homegrown infield? Last summer, they traded for Eduardo Nuñez, who had played mostly shortstop during his career but played third after Duffy was traded to Tampa Bay. Heck, even Buster Posey played shortstop in college. No wonder the Giants’ top hitting prospect is a shortstop. Not that Christian Arroyo is targeted to play the position in the big leagues, not with Mr. Crawford in the house. “For me, they stressed the value of versatility,” Arroyo said at his Scottsdale Stadium locker. Arroyo was the Giants’ top draft pick in 2013 — he was salutatorian at Hernando High School in Brooksville, Fla. — and he signed after turning down a scholarship from Florida, where he would have studied architectural engineering. Unlike Duffy, Arroyo’s good friend who predominantly played short in the minors, Arroyo already is moving around the infield. “He’s already capable of handling all three positions,” general manager Bobby Evans said. Meantime, Arroyo will be one of the youngest players in the Pacific Coast League as he was in the Eastern League last year when he hit .274 with a .316 on-base percentage, three homers and 49 RBIs. “The front office guys were telling me power is the last tool to come for a high school guy and not to worry about it, just stay with my approach,” Arroyo said. Evans didn’t rule out Arroyo playing in San Francisco this year, under the right circumstances, but the emphasis is succeeding at the Triple-A level.

Giants’ Michael Morse making roster decisions tough

Thu, 16 Mar 2017 05:00:15 UT

Giants’ Michael Morse making roster decisions tough Morse, who was invited to spring training by team officials at Hunter Pence’s wedding, is making a serious run at the Opening Day roster. Morse’s latest hits were an RBI double in the sixth inning and tie-breaking single in the eighth in Wednesday’s 7-4 win over the Angels. Afterward, Morse spoke highly of the Giants’ talent and team chemistry, which he said reminded him of the championship season of 2014, to which he mightily contributed. Morse, whose carefree attitude seems to be a benefit, has gotten more productive by the week and remains in the running for a bench role. By being relaxed and trusting my abilities and knowing I was just a click away, it really helped. Matt Cain, competing for the final rotation spot, will bring a 9.58 ERA to the mound when making his fifth appearance Friday. Ty Blach, who’s in competition with Cain, pitched in relief Wednesday and gave up hits to his first five batters before retiring the final six men he faced. Bruce Bochy made a couple of intriguing lineup moves, batting pitcher Madison The Giants faced lefty Tyler Skaggs, and Bochy inserted his usual second hitter, Joe Panik (who swings left-handed), in the seventh spot and said it’s something he’ll further consider. ... Mac Williamson, competing for the left-field job, doubled in four at-bats. ... Steven Okert threw another scoreless inning and maintained his 0.00 ERA through five outings.

Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto on different paths to season

Thu, 16 Mar 2017 02:28:40 UT

The Giants’ aces were in separate places for different showcases. While Madison Bumgarner was pitching six scoreless innings in front of a packed crowd at Scottsdale Stadium on Wednesday, Johnny Cueto quietly threw 32/3 shutout innings in front of a few dozen folks at the Giants’ minor-league complex. “Really, all it comes down to is getting your arm in shape to throw 100-plus pitches and making sure everything’s starting to get sharp,” Bumgarner said after shutting down an Angels lineup featuring Mike Trout and Albert Pujols. The plan for Bumgarner, in his fifth start, was to throw five innings or 80 pitches, but he was so efficient that the Giants ended his stint after 70. Cueto’s path is slower after he arrived late to spring training because of his father’s health issues. Wednesday’s was just his second outing, and he faced a group of Arizona Triple-A players at the Jim Davenport Field in Indian School Park, 2 miles from Scottsdale Stadium. “The first inning, I was opening up too much,” Cueto said. From the second inning on, I felt my pitches coming to life a lot better. Because he hasn’t built up his workload, Cueto isn’t pitching for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic’s second round, saying, I’m sorry.

Giants’ Jarrett Parker making case for left field

Wed, 15 Mar 2017 04:55:35 UT

Jarrett Parker is putting up nice numbers in his bid to win the Giants’ left-field job, or at least to platoon there. “He’s shortened things up, he’s got better plate discipline, he’s laying off some tough pitches,” manager Bruce Bochy said. Parker has McCovey Cove power, but his high strikeout rates have been a concern: 35 percent of his minor-league at-bats and 37 percent in the majors. In spring training, it’s 19 percent. Parker homered and singled in his first two at-bats Tuesday, giving him five straight hits over two games. “I think it’s repetition and practice and understanding the situation a little better,” said Parker when asked about laying off pitches he might have swung through in the past. Parker leads in RBIs 10-2 and walks 7-2 and also walked and singled in three trips in the game last Wednesday against Puerto Rico, which doesn’t count in Cactus League stats. Williamson has options, meaning he could be optioned to Triple-A Sacramento without needing to clear waivers. If you sit there and are consumed with it, what good could come of that? I know what I’m capable of. Parker said he has learned about plate discipline by watching the approaches of Buster Posey, Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt and Hunter Pence. Albert Suarez, who could wind up as the long reliever, got his first start and surrendered two runs on six hits and two walks in 22/3 innings. Suarez started 12 games for the Giants last year and appeared in relief 10 times, sporting a 4.29 ERA. John Shea is The San Francisco Chronicle’s national baseball writer. The Giants had five extra-base hits in the first inning: Kyle Crick was optioned Monday, but he returned to big-league camp for a day to pitch 21/3 innings. Parker on Michael Morse’s recent homer that cleared the batter’s eye in center field at Scottsdale Stadium, which is 430 feet from the plate and 30 feet high.

Buster Posey’s absence means more work for Giants’ backups

Tue, 14 Mar 2017 05:35:52 UT

Buster Posey’s absence means more work for Giants’ backups Life without Buster Posey continues for the Giants’ pitchers. Meantime, backup catcher Nick Hundley is getting extra work with the pitching staff, probably a good thing for the newcomer who signed a one-year deal in January. The right-hander worked his pitch count to 76 but gave up seven runs (five earned) on eight hits and two walks in 32/3 innings against the Rangers. The big hit was Carlos Gomez’s grand slam in the second inning. In an earlier at-bat, Samardzija struck out Gomez on a 3-2 slider, one of his four strikeouts. Even if the U.S. advances to the final game, March 21 in Los Angeles, the Giants will have another week of exhibitions in Arizona and three against the A’s in the Bay Area. The Giants cut 12 players, optioning infielder Miguel Gomez and pitchers Kyle Crick, Ian Gardeck, Chase Johnson, Reyes Moronta and Daniel Slania. Michael Morse exited after two plate appearances because his wife was in a minor automobile accident. Reliever Will Smith, who is overcoming elbow inflammation, threw to hitters Monday and will make his Cactus League debut as early as Friday. Bochy on a screen that was placed in front of the coaches during the game, permitting them to sit in their usual spot outside the dugout. Surprise Stadium is where coach Jose Alguacil sustained multiple injuries when hit in the face by a foul ball March 4.

Giants’ Joe Panik getting his offensive groove back

Tue, 14 Mar 2017 03:48:20 UT

Giants’ Joe Panik getting his offensive groove back The ball was hit high in the Arizona sky, and no fewer than three Giants defenders drifted behind second base and were in range of making the catch. Shortstop Jimmy Rollins called for it. After his bummer of a finish in 2016, Panik is in good spirits this spring and in a nice groove. Panik hit .215 his final 57 regular-season games but produced in the Division Series, going 6-for-10. After the series loss to the Cubs, he rested several weeks before returning to baseball conditioning. Despite going 0-for-4 against the Royals on Monday, Panik is making good contact in spring training with eight hits — and several line-drive outs — and two strikeouts in 27 at-bats and seems determined to play like it’s 2014 or 2015. Panik’s injury was one reason the Giants, a majors-best 57-33 at the All-Star break, weren’t the same in the second half (30-42). The three-time All-Star shortstop and 2007 MVP with the Phillies is playing some games at second and eventually will get a look at third. Panik, who was raised in New York a Yankees fan, recalled seeing Rollins when attending a game in Philadelphia with a couple of buddies his senior year in high school. “I don’t want to make him feel old, but it’s pretty cool because I watched him growing up,” Panik said. Turning double plays is far different as a second baseman, from positioning to footwork to arm angles to avoiding the runner. [...] he’s returning to form offensively, which hasn’t gone unnoticed among teammates, including the fellow who beaned him last summer.

Giants’ Matt Moore discusses 2016 NLDS finale

Mon, 13 Mar 2017 05:21:11 UT

Matt Moore pitched four innings Sunday, the latest step toward preparing for his first full season with the Giants. Fans are anticipating a big year from Moore, who turned into a reliable starter — and Dodgers-nemesis — after arriving in the Aug. 1 trade that sent three players, including third baseman Matt Duffy, to the Rays. Game 4 of the NL Division Series, in which manager Bruce Bochy pulled him after eight innings only to watch the bullpen implode. Moore was asked if he has regrets — after five months to think about it — that he didn’t pitch one more inning against the Cubs, who overcame a 5-2 deficit in the ninth to win 6-5. Bochy was trying to keep the lefty fresh for the NLCS, which looked realistic, considering Johnny Cueto would have pitched Game 5 in Chicago. If you had told me after the fourth inning — at 60-plus pitches — I would’ve come off the field after the eighth, I would’ve taken that Monday through Sunday. Jake Peavy is in Arizona for a few days, hosting wounded Marines from San Diego and throwing a private musical gig for them through his foundation. Pitchers Clayton Blackburn, Joan Gregorio and Chris Stratton were optioned, and first baseman Kyle Blanks and pitchers Samuel Coonrod and Matt Reynolds were re-assigned. Blanks homered Sunday, giving the Giants 12 home runs in six games. [...] baseman Eduardo Nuñez, who had a sore shoulder early in camp, played his third game defensively and played in the field on back-to-back days for the first time. ... Pitching prospect Tyler Beede gave up a run in 11/3 innings and has a 1.23 ERA. ... Reliever Will Smith, who had elbow inflammation early in camp, is close to making his Cactus League debut. ... Cueto’s wild reaction on social media to the Dominican Republic’s victory over the U.S. in the World Baseball Classic. Manager Bruce Bochy, on closer Mark Melancon, who signed in the offseason for four years and $62 million and has pitched seven scoreless innings.

Bob Tewksbury is Giants’ mental performance coach

Sun, 12 Mar 2017 03:49:30 UT

Over the winter, the Giants quietly hired former pitcher Bob Tewksbury as their mental performance coach, the team’s first full-time mental performance professional at the big-league level. “Anything that’ll help them play better,” Tewskbury said of his job duties during an interview in the Giants’ dugout at Scottsdale Stadium. Just like a hitting coach or pitching coach, I’m here to help their performance in any way I can. Tewksbury, 56, worked in mental skills for the Red Sox from 2004 to 2016 except for one year he spent working with the players’ union. In addition to holding a master’s in sports psychology and counseling from Boston University, he pitched 13 seasons in the big leagues for six teams and was an All-Star with the Cardinals in 1992. Psychologists were taboo at one time in baseball, a sport in which players were supposed to be mentally tough enough to handle all challenges, both physical and emotional. The A’s hired Harvey Dorfman in the mid-’80s as a mental performance coach, and his books helped generations of players handle the game’s pitfalls. [...] more than a few eyebrows were raised when a young John Smoltz admitted seeing sports psychologist Jack Llewellyn during the 1991 season. After Smoltz finished the season strong, psychology slowly started to become accepted in the game. Zack Greinke took a leave of absence with a social anxiety disorder. Sports psychology isn’t strictly about treating problems but about improving on-field performance through mental training. Tewksbury said 22 big-league teams have mental conditioning professionals on staff. [...] he doesn’t discuss his relationships with players, but Mac Williamson, in an interview on the competition for the left-field job, volunteered that he spoke with Tewksbury in the offseason. Williamson was all over the transaction wire in 2016 — optioned four times to Triple-A Sacramento and twice sent to the disabled list. The Giants have had an employee assistance program for a long time. Several years ago, when the Giants were beginning to develop a mental performance program, part of Groeschner’s research was talking with Tewksbury for advice. “He has a unique combination of experience and skills as a former major-league pitcher,” Evans said. Coaches do a lot to help players with the mental side.

A’s Marcus Semien tries to become on-base threat

Sun, 12 Mar 2017 02:20:43 UT

A’s Marcus Semien tries to become on-base threat MESA, Ariz. — Marcus Semien became a more complete major-league shortstop last season, dramatically improving his defense and power numbers. Ask him which areas he wants to improve in the upcoming season, and it doesn’t take long for him to get to this: Getting on base more, scoring more runs. Semien is a prime illustration in Oakland’s team-wide quest for a better on-base percentage. The team’s OBP in 2016 was .304, lowest in the American League, and Semien’s was a mere .300. By comparison, Boston was tops at .348. In 621 plate appearances, Semien walked 51 times. Semien not only acknowledges those needs, but wants to address them in spring training. “You’ve got to swing at strikes,” Semien said. What we like to swing at, what our cold zones are. “Look,” Melvin said, you don’t necessarily need to hit a home run on the first pitch. The point is, it can be advantageous to work the count and, more importantly, don’t extend out of the zone to swing. Khris Davis, who led the team with 42 homers, had a .307 OBP. Stephen Vogt’s was .305. Danny Valencia led the team at .346, and he’s now a Mariner. Among returning players who played at least 100 games last season, Yonder Alonso was tops at .316, a dramatic drop from his .361 mark in 2015. Alonso saw an average of 3.54 pitches per plate appearance, ninth fewest in the majors. No wonder the A’s signed Matt Joyce, who had a .403 OBP in Pittsburgh and saw 4.45 pitches per plate appearance in 2016. “Facing pitchers in spring training, we’re really trying to create an awareness about what your strengths and weaknesses are,” Melvin said. Up until two strikes, lay off those weaknesses and try to get a ball you can handle, which would suggest you’d see a few more pitches. Semien’s case is curious. Last year, he averaged 4.16 pitches per plate appearance to rank ninth in the American League and 19th in the big leagues. The big-league average was 3.87. Semien was in prominent company. The only AL hitters with a higher pitch-count average were Mike Napoli, Mike Trout, Joe Mauer, Michael Saunders, Russell Martin, Jose Bautista, Josh Donaldson and Alex Gordon. When Semien was shown the list, he immediately cited his issues in two-strike at-bats, especially with the count full. In 92 plate appearances with a 3-2 count, he walked 24 times, struck out 29 times and batted .164. Semien admitted he could have a better eye on 3-2. On a related front, he batted .043 in 0-2 counts, .170 in 1-2 counts and .173 in 2-2 counts. Lower averages are typical in pitchers’ counts, especially for hitters who might be overly aggressive. Semien was a different hitter with more favorable counts: .371 on 1-0, .400 on 2-0, .500 on 3-0, .400 on 2-1 and .308 on 3-1. On first pitches, he hit .308. “That’s probably the next step for him,” Melvin said of Semien’s 3-2 approach. Melvin said Semien is “one step away from being potentially an on-base guy.” Through his first eight Cactus League games, Semien has drawn no walks. [...] again, spring training isn’t just about taking pitches. Last year, Semien scored 72 runs on a team that scored 653 times, fewest in the league. Sure, we can score runs on home runs,” Semien said, “but we’re going to have to score runs in other ways. John Shea is The San Francisco Chronicle’s national baseball writer. Email: Twitter: @JohnSheaHey A look at on-base percentage, batting average and runs scored for American League shortstops who qualified for 2016 league leaders (3.1 plate appearances per team game played): Player Rangers Astros Indians Red Sox Blue Jays Tigers

Giants’ Johnny Cueto pitches in front of dad for first time

Sun, 12 Mar 2017 01:09:54 UT

Giants’ Johnny Cueto pitches in front of dad for first time Johnny Cueto made his first Cactus League start Saturday at a sold-out Scottsdale Stadium that included someone special in his life. The elder Cueto, 71, had a mini-stroke in the Dominican and spent 10 days in a hospital, prompting his son’s late spring training arrival. [...] Johnny received some fatherly advice Friday on the eve of his debut. Cueto, who pitched two innings, seems to be leaning against playing in the later rounds of the World Baseball Classic. Not just because he hasn’t worked his pitch count up, but because of his father’s health. When you go to a tournament like that, you want to make sure not only you have a lot of energy but your arm feels OK and you have all your pitches. Manager Bruce Bochy seems fine with Cueto skipping the WBC. To ramp it up that quick and pitch with that intensity, I think you’re asking for trouble. Cueto pitched two innings against the Reds. First baseman Michael Morse said, I couldn’t believe how fast that was. At Scottsdale Stadium, Michael Morse hit two homers against Cincinnati’s Scott Feldman, including one that cleared the batter’s eye — the gigantic green wall about 30 feet high in center field. [...] baseman Eduardo Nuñez, who opened camp with a sore shoulder, played his second game defensively and went 1-for-3. ... In the battle for the final rotation spot, Matt Cain gave up four runs in his first inning against the Reds (Adam Duvall hit a two-run homer) and one in the next two. Against the Diamondbacks, Ty Blach gave up two runs on five hits in 22/3 innings. Quotable: The first inning didn’t look very good, but I wasn’t missing by much, and that’s a good thing.

Giants’ Eduardo Nuñez, Will Smith bouncing back from ailments

Sat, 11 Mar 2017 18:39:55 UT

The beauty of an extended spring training, the result of the World Baseball Classic, is it gives injured players more time to prepare for the season. Two Giants who can benefit from a longer training camp are third baseman Eduardo Nuñez and reliever Will Smith. Nuñez has had a couple of issues that slowed his progress and played third base just one game - he’ll play third Saturday with a split squad against the Diamondbacks. Nuñez said he was ill for a couple of weeks in the Dominican Republic, detouring his conditioning routine, and his shoulder tightened when he tried to amp it up early in training camp. “I could have played, but there was no reason to make it worse,” Nuñez said of spring training — he was a designated hitter four games and played defense for the first time Wednesday. First base coach Jose Alguacil was in the clubhouse again Saturday but won’t be back on the field for at least a week.

Giants’ Bumgarner, Cueto on target to open season

Sat, 11 Mar 2017 02:24:25 UT

Giants’ Bumgarner, Cueto on target to open season The Giants play the Diamondbacks in Phoenix on April 2. Manager Bruce Bochy arranged his spring training rotation so that Cueto, who’ll make his first Cactus League start Saturday at Scottsdale Stadium, follows Bumgarner. Bumgarner made his fourth start Friday and gave up two unearned runs in four innings in the Giants’ 7-6 loss to Cleveland. “He’s got time to get ready,” Bochy said of Cueto, who was late to training camp because he was with his ill father but threw batting practice in the Dominican Republican. Two outs into Bumgarner’s final inning, third baseman Gordon Beckham made a fielding error, and Bradley Zimmer hit a blooper to left-center that fell in front of a diving Mac Williamson. Zimmer got a run-scoring double and scored on Nellie Rodriguez’s single. Mark Melancon and Jeff Samardzija will be added to the second-round player pool if Team USA advances past the opening round. The roster is chosen from the player pool, and there were no guarantees either Giants pitcher would be selected. in the Giants’ clubhouse to greet the first-base coach and wish him well. Alguacil, 44, also suffered fractures of the eye socket when hit by a ball at Surprise Stadium, the result of a check swing by Kansas City’s Hunter Dozier. Brandon Belt hit a monster home run that cleared the grassy hill in right-center. ... Jimmy Rollins hit his first homer of the spring, a two-run shot. ... The Giants had runners at the corners with no outs in the ninth inning. [...] Michael Morse, Kyle Blanks and Chris Marrero struck out to end the game against Indians prospect Mark Melancon pitched his fifth scoreless inning, but this one was rough. The Indians loaded the bases with a single, hit batsman and walk before Melancon struck out Erik Kratz looking on a 3-2 curve — “why not?” Melancon said — and Daniel Robertson Madison Bumgarner on throwing to new backup catcher Nick Hundley

Giants coach Jose Alguacil returns to clubhouse, feels “great’

Fri, 10 Mar 2017 20:07:35 UT

Giants coach Jose Alguacil returns to clubhouse, feels great’ Alguacil, 44, also sustained fractures of the eye socket when hit by a ball at Surprise Stadium, the result of a check swing by Kansas City’s Hunter Dozier. Alguacil was sitting on a folding chair alongside manager Bruce Bochy and other coaches, including 83-year-old Joey Amalfitano. Swelling is down around the redness in his left eye. Alguacil was hit between the eyes, and his prescription glasses caused the laceration.

Tinkering with split-finger gave A’s Madson a sore arm

Wed, 8 Mar 2017 05:43:50 UT

Tinkering with split-finger gave A’s Madson a sore arm For several days, reliever Ryan Madson was shelved with what the A’s called general arm soreness. “I was working on a new pitch, a split-finger fastball,” Madson revealed after his Cactus League debut Tuesday. The right-hander worked the fourth inning of Tuesday’s wild 21-13 win over the Diamondbacks and surrendered two runs on three hits, including two doubles. The pitch caused pain on top of his elbow — not where the “scary stuff” develops, he said. Madson underwent Tommy John surgery in 2012 to repair his ulnar collateral ligament and didn’t pitch in the majors for three years. [...] whoever’s stuff is looking the best, that’s who you want to slam the door. Madson said he felt comfortable throwing the splitter in the weeks leading into spring training but felt soreness early in camp when facing hitters. Madson said he experienced similar soreness when he was learning his cutter in 2007. Because he throws an effective changeup, there’s not a great need for a splitter, which was going to be thrown with a higher velocity and prevent hitters from sitting on the changeup.