My time here in Scottsdale started with a screaming match my wife and I witnessed from close range between the owner of The Italian Grotto and one of his employees, something I’ve heard from others around town that happens all the time. So instead of disconcerting or downright frightening, the display was actually charming. Glad that was cleared up.
Since then things have settled into a much more leisurely, non-violent sort of pace. The San Francisco Giants, the team I’ve been following since we got here, aren’t really worried about much. Sure, there are a few minor injuries to guys like Javier Lopez, Andres Torres and Tony Abreu to monitor (and don’t forget Tim Lincecum’s blister!), but any potential fears are assuaged by the knowledge that there is so … much … time … before Opening Day.
This Cactus League campaign is longer than usual thanks to the World Baseball Classic, and the Giants are already more settled than the average Major League squad. There are still positional battles and individual stories to watch, including…
– Kensuke Tanaka is under a lot of pressure. Not that all the other guys (Brock Bond, Francisco Peguero, Cole Gillespie, all the bullpen guys) fighting for the last spots on the team aren’t, but the media presence at Scottsdale Stadium yesterday was more than you’d see at an average regular season game at AT&T Park, mostly because Tanaka was facing Daisuke Matsuzaka. Tanaka flipped a single into center off Matsuzaka in the first inning yesterday, one of three straight singles (the others were hit by Hunter Pence and Buster Posey) that resulted in zero runs. With the bases loaded, Brandon Belt hit a fly ball down the left field line. Tanaka tried to tag up, and Ryan Raburn threw him out at home by several feet.
After failing to reach base in his first four games (10 plate appearances), Tanaka has looked solid … as a hitter. He currently has a five-game hit streak — seven hits over 14 at-bats and two walks. He’s a passable second baseman, but Bruce Bochy has mentioned on more than one occasion how they’ve talked to him about the need to play multiple infield positions and how he needs more time at shortstop.
Frankly, I don’t think he’ll ever play short in a game that matters. His throwing arm is neither strong nor dependable, even on throws to second base. But whether or not he makes the team, he certainly provides an extra buzz. During the end of Bochy’s postgame media session in front of the Giants’ dugout yesterday afternoon, a second Japanese reporter arrived late and kind of snuck up behind Bochy with a recorder. Bochy turned around and acted surprised, and he knew the Tanaka questions were coming.
The reporter from Japan who showed up on time mentioned how Tanaka and Matsuzaka once faced each other a high school tournament, with Tanaka getting a hit then, too.
“I’m sure that was fun for them, exciting for them to face each other,” Bochy said, before giving both reporters something nice to write about their fellow countryman.
“(Tanaka’s) play has picked up defensively and with the bat. He’s playing some good baseball right now.”
– Bochy also had some complimentary things to say about his son a couple minutes earlier. Brett Bochy responded well after giving up a double to Ben Francisco and a walk to Nick Swisher with one out.
“I thought he did a nice job. He threw strikes. He got in a little jam there, but he kept his poise and made some pitches to get out of it. He was hitting his spots. He had one walk, but that was more of a strategic walk with a runner on third. He’s trying to make his pitches. Thought he looked good,” Papa Bochy said.
I think “strategic walk” is kind of like Mike Krukow’s oft-heard phrase, “open base.”
Little Boch came in with the bases loaded and one out in his first Spring Training appearance and surrendered a ground-rule double, home run and walk before getting out of that inning. In his two outings since he has pitched two scoreless innings. Here are a couple of photos I took from Bochy’s appearance yesterday:
– Has it felt strange to watch Angel Villalona (who crushed a home run to center on Friday) walk around the clubhouse like any other player? Yes.
– With Barry Zito no longer crouching (he pitched pretty well on Sunday, too), Ryan Vogelsong looking pretty sharp before joining Team USA, Lincecum’s last start getting postponed and Matt Cain being as dependable as they come throughout his entire career, the most interesting starting pitcher to watch right now — in my opinion — is Madison Bumgarner.
Bumgarner realized his body was turning far too much after his initial postseason struggles last October, and he remedied that just in time for a seven shutout inning performance against the Detroit Tigers in the World Series. I asked him yesterday whether he has to keep that mechanical flaw in mind when he’s on the mound.
“I don’t have to think about that. I threw at the end of the season doing that and all offseason, all spring. So that feels normal now,” he said.
The change that requires more attention is a return to the two-seam fastball for the 23-year-old, but without a center field camera or pitch identification data from a site like Brooks Baseball it’s hard to know how many cutters he’s throwing and/or how effective they are. Bochy said the pitch was an important one so Bumgarner could more effectively work to both sides of the plate, and during Friday’s outing in particular he seemed to be working the inside half fairly regularly.
Bumgarner has walked four batters in just 5 2/3 innings, which along with his inability to hold runners on provides a couple more things to work on. Not that anyone should worry too much about the command issue.
Bumgarner’s BB/9 over his first three seasons:
- 2010: 2.11
- 2011: 2.02
- 2012: 2.12
“So far (my command has) felt a little better each time out. I’m fine with that right now. You don’t want to peak until the end. We’re obviously trying to be at our best but it’s not going to happen this early. Main concern is just getting the arm in shape. Maybe if I’m doing this with a week to go it might be time to get a little concerned, but right now I feel good,” Bumgarner said.
“Command will come. It’s not usually too good this time in the spring anyway.”
I asked Bochy about Asdrubal Cabrera stealing two straight bases off Bumgarner, who isn’t exactly known for quick release times out of the stretch.
“Buster didn’t have a chance at either one, made a great throw to third to make it close but Bum was a little slow to the plate. You can’t work on everything at once. He’s trying to get his command down but that’s something he knows he has to get a little better at,” said Bochy.
I snapped photos of both steals. Posey looked especially disappointed that he didn’t get Cabrera the second time, staring at third base for several seconds before pulling his mask down and getting back into the squat.