The Mysterious Case of the Left-Handed Bat 

We've gouged out each other's eyes arguing the merits of the LaTroy Hawkins trade, but there's one thing we can agree upon: it won't mean squat if more moves aren't forthcoming.

Hawkins alone won't save this team. Hawkins plus a miraculous second-half return of the Barry Bonds Show still won't save it.

Brian Sabean knows this. He says he wants to pick up a left-handed bat to help the team's poor performance against right handed pitching. According to ESPN's sortable stats, the Giants have scored 148 runs against RHP, good for 23rd in the majors. (Texas leads with 233). They have scored 71 vs. LHP, good for 8th in the majors. (The Yankees lead with 88). Their OPS is more than 100 points lower vs. righties.

But how high the moon? Is Sabean shooting for an expensive star, a Todd Helton/Bobby Abreu type who would become the team anchor in the post-Bonds era? Is he looking for a rising young player, a Lyle Overbay/Nick Johnson/Adam Dunn type who would be relatively cheap for a year or two but extract a truckload of prospects? Or does he simply want to upgrade the bench, i.e., find a better Michael Tucker who would platoon in LF with Pedro Feliz? Does he want to scrap the Ellison experiment, which is going pretty darn well so far, put Durham back at leadoff and get someone like Steve Finley to patrol the spacious confines?

There are two main positions where a left-handed hitter would play: outfield and first base. (Yes, there are left-handed hitting catchers and infielders, but given the contracts of Alfonzo, Durham, and Matheny, I'm assuming the Giants won't be able to trade them or relegate them to the bench.) Let's examine these positions, not only to see whom the Giants might acquire, but how they might clear a roster space.

If the target is an outfielder, would it be a corner OF? Alou isn't likely to be traded or platooned; Feliz is the most obvious trade bait, but adding a big left-handed bat in LF poses a problem when Bonds returns (assuming he does this year). The most obvious outfield position is center, where Grissom is expendable (although probably not tradeable), and Ellison could revert to his backup role, pinch-run in the late innings, and spend more time learning the leadoff craft. If Feliz is part of a package to snag a power-hitting CF, Ellison could platoon in LF with Tucker.

If the answer lies at first base, Sabes would have to trade Snow. It makes no sense to keep him in a backup role, although Niekro could remain as a backup and pinch-hitter. The Snow/Niekro platoon has been effective, if not exactly fearsome. They're sort of mirror images of one another at the plate: one has a bad eye and lots of power, the other a good eye and no power. How much of an upgrade would most first basemen actually be?

I'm not calling for a trade at all costs. A Matt Cain-for-Daryle Ward exchange, for example, would make me as apoplectic as Williams/Aardsma for Hawkins has made many others. But what if the Giants could put together something for Lyle Overbay, Brad Wilkerson, Nick Johnson, Adam Dunn, Trot Nixon, Helton or (be still my beating heart 'cuz it ain't gonna happen no way no how) Abreu?

Those players all have wildly different contract situations, health concerns, etc., and offers for them would be adjusted appropriately. But the question is, if there's a deal to get a big bat who could inject instant power into the lineup *and* play every day if/when Bonds returns -- and if the trade didn't gut the farm system -- should they do it? Thought experiment of the day: who would be worth trading for Matt Cain straight-up, and why?



Too Much Too Young 

Finally. The Giants have a wealth of good young pitchers, and for a year and a half we've cried out for Brian Sabean to trade one or more of them for help.

But trading both Jerome Williams and David Aardsma for LaTroy Hawkins? Isn't that a little excessive just for some middle relief guy whose middle name on the North side of Chicago is "Boo"?

First, a LaLook at LaTroy:

Since he put it all together in 2002 with the Twins, he's been an excellent middle reliever:

259.2 IP
222 hits
23 HRs
51 BB
221 K

Since 2002, he's issued the fourth-lowest number of walks per nine innings (1.8) among major-league relievers. (Thanks to David Pinto's day by day database.) His 7.7 strikeouts per 9 isn't stratospheric, but it's solid. He can get a strikeout when needed. In the same period, batters have reached base less than 30% of the time and have slugged somewhere in the mid .300s against him. Since 2002, it's as if he's faced a whole league full of Neifi Perez and Mike Matheny.

What's more, the Giants don't have to pay him this year; the Cubs are picking up most of his salary. That means the Giants have the payroll flexibility to add more players in the next couple months. (However, the Giants will almost certainly have to pay Hawkins the $4M+ option he has for 2006.)

Don't listen to the Wrigley boo-birds; the Giants have just obtained one of the best relief pitchers in the National League for roughly $2.5 M a year, for two years. And they did it with their backs against a wall, with everyone knowing they were desperate for relief help. When Sabean makes phone calls these days, the caller ID at the other end says "EASY MARK."

You still think Sabean gave up too much? If Aardsma and Williams join the Cubs this year and throw well for years, I guess we'll have to say Sabean got burned. But forget the crystal ball. Right now, he got an excellent relief pitcher for two players with promise but diminished value. Williams is so out of whack he can't get AAA hitters out; Aardsma in a year's time has fallen from the major leagues to AA to work because it turned out he graduated from college and couldn't throw a decent major-league breaking pitch.

This isn't to blame or heap scorn upon either player; pitching is a fine art that combines pointillist precision, a cool head, and brute stamina. Pitching well in the major leagues is a mind-blowing feat for nine innings, let alone an entire season. Aardsma and Williams may never succeed at the major league level again. LaTroy Hawkins most likely will.

If Sabean could have gotten Hawkins (or someone of similar caliber) for Williams OR Aardsma, instead of both, don't you think he would have? Under the circumstances, it was just what the Giants needed: instant quality in the bullpen, no immediate payroll zap, and plenty of time to go get more help.

Best of all, the Cubs didn't get anyone named Cain.



Darts and Laurels 

More and more I hear that bloggers are filling the news and analysis void of the traditional lazy, smug, corrupt press. We're snappy, we're nimble, we're unfettered by corporate obligations and reciprocations.

But we still love the old tropes every professional scribe dusts off when short of ideas and close to deadline: the season preview, the game recap, the awards predictions, the mid-year summary.

It's not mid-year; it's not even one-third-year, which the Giants reach the first weekend in June. But with last night's W over the DF's; with Schmidt back throwing as hard, if not quite as accurately, as we're accustomed to; with the prognosis of Chief Wounded Knee looking a little sunnier; with Mike Matheny hitting more homers than we expected, and all it seems at just the right time; it's time to distribute some early-season awards. Especially because I'm short of ideas and have to spend all day at a conference.

Most Refreshing Giant, mound division: Jeff Fassero. I don't know about all these other blog-whiners, Jeff, but I knew you could do it all along. (Right.) With two scoreless innings last night in relief of Schmidt, Fassero is the only reliever who's been solid all the way through, plus he contributed two stellar emergency starts (and one bad one). If the Giants make the playoffs, Fassero gets my vote for First-27%-Of-the-Season MVP.

MRG, non-mound division: The two rookies Niekro and Ellison have both contributed, but I'll give the nod to Niekro. His power stroke has been consistent. His on-base skills are terrible, but until pitchers figure out his holes and exploit them mercilessly, he'll hit the ball hard and occasionally very far, which the Giants desperately need. Perhaps this is unfair to Ellison, whose numbers are more balanced and has proven an excellent base-stealer. Just like Niekro he did very well what he was supposed to do in limited action. But the exposure of playing every day has taken the gloss off the enamel. All those lazy fly balls are disturbing reminders of Calvin Murray. Until Ellison builds more consistency into his offensive game, I choose Niekro by a hair, despite his premature baldness.

Most Disappointing Giant, mound division: Noah Lowry. No injury or emotional trauma that we know of (knock on wood), just a sophomore slump. What was a changeup at the knees last year is a changeup at the belt and a double off the wall this year. Armando Benitez gets consideration, but to call his torn hamstring "disappointing" is to assume it was his fault through poor conditioning, which I can't really do.

MDG, non-mound division: Marquis Grissom. Not because he has sucked, and not because he had to go on the DL, but because he knew his injuries were affecting his performance yet refused to say anything. I guess we could shift some of this calumny to Felipe Alou, who had to know Grip wasn't physically right and kept running him out there. But only a player knows how much he's really hurting. It's one thing to play injured and still hit like Scott Rolen; it's another to keep Ellison, the Giants hottest hitter at the time, on the bench part-time while you swing at first pitch breaking balls and ground into one double play after another. Lame move, Grip.

Best fluffy factoid, clubhouse division: Michael Tucker started playing chess after watching a movie about child prodigy and future anti-Semitic whacko Bobby Fischer.

Best promotional gambit in years, perhaps of the entire Magowan Era: Last weekend's Juan Marichal festivities. Cool statue, excellent uniforms, lots of Hall of Famers, and a long-overdue celebration of one of the greatest pitchers in Giants history.

Best Win: The extra-inning victory in the rain against the Nationals was important, given how depressing the previous two losses were. The opening day win with an efficient Schmidt backed by a smooth defense was incredibly satisfying. But I have to pick Sunday's game against the A's. A loss would have meant five series in a row either lost or tied. It was huge for the Giants to win the rubber match against a top-notch pitcher (Zito may be struggling this year, but he is a Cy Young winner) with much of the full house rooting against them. It was good momentum coming into the Dodger and Padre series. Let's see if it carries over.

Worst Loss: I'd rather not talk about it.



Let's Get It On 

Not much time today, but just for the record: Eric Gagne is a maple-syrup-drinkin', poutine-eatin', googly-eyed, smelly-hatted freak. Get yer red hot spontaneous eruptions of anti-Dodger sentiment right over here.



¡Sabado Gigantes! 

I never saw Juan Marichal pitch, but anyone who could kick his leg over his head 150 times a game and not double over with searing lower back pain is all right by me. That guy was so flexible, he should have been nicknamed The Swami.

El Lefty has had no greater thrill this year than to see "Gigantes" stitched across los uniformes de la vainilla francesa. How about doing it every Saturday home game and call it "¡Sabado Gigantes!"

Don Francisco, San Francisco. ¡Es igual!

And just one game a week, instead of Balldudes, how about las chicas de S.G. fetching the fouls? ¿Porqué no? Jonrónes grandes, chichis grandes: Me encanta este juego.

So now we've got controversy on our hands. The blogranters are revolting! Leave Fassero in the rotation! If Lowry has another bad outing (which he won't -- knock on wood), maybe he can Jerome on down to Fresno to work out what's ailing him. Give Fassero his turn against San Diego. In fact, the off-day Monday lets the Giants adjust the rotation appropriately:

Schmidt Tuesday
Hennessey Wednesday
Tomko Thursday
Rueter Friday
Fassero Saturday

I'm not wishing Lowry ill. I would love to see him right the ship tomorrow and force the Giants to make a tough decision with Fassero. But if Lowry continues to struggle, the decision becomes a lot easier: Sign that Marichal guy.



Old and in the Way 

Three roster moves as I get ready to hit the yard tonight: Grissom goes on the 15-day DL, Brian Dallimore is brought up and added to the 40-man roster, and Bonds moved to the 60-day DL to free up a spot on the 40-man. As we know here in California, sometimes the forest has to burn before new shoots can grow.


Mamaseh Mamasah Mamakusah 

It looks like the Surround Sound of Sutro Heights, la FM de la FM, the 50-Watt Juggernaut of Radio Fort Miley has slapped a musical baton into my outstretched palm.

I hadn't heard of this curious Web phenomenon until now, and I'm afraid I'm underequipped to deal with it, being a CDs-and-stereo in the living room kind of guy. (Although I wouldn't mind an iPod Shuffle for my birthday...mom? Sigh. She never reads my blog.)

Without further ado:

Total volume of music files on my computer: 1 album (OK Computer, of course)
The last CD I bought: "This Is Our Music" by Galaxie 500
Song playing right now: Nothing out loud, but "Thunder Road" has been in my head all morning. (Word to the Laz, who when confronted with the ubiquity of the iPod, tapped his cranium and said, "I've got my iPod right here, and it's always on shuffle.")

Five songs I listen to a lot, or that mean a lot to me:

1. "Detouring America With Horns" by Yo La Tengo
2. "Desde Que O Samba E Samba" by Veloso/Gil
3. "Good Friday" by Cowboy Junkies
4. "Hurricane Blues" by Linton Kwesi Johnson
5. "Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting" by Charles Mingus

Others who may wish to accept the baton: Ed, Martine, Grant, Josh, Marty, and last but not least, The Commish.

Fun stat of the day:

The Giants are 35-57 at home when James Brown's "I Feel Good" plays over the P.A. system between innings (won-lost record does not include the year "I Feel Good" was the team slogan, permanently ruining the song for the rest of recorded history).



Now That's More Like It 

When this season started and the Giants sallied forth without Barry Bonds, the tongues clucked, the heads shook, and everyone figured the Giants offense would be anemic.

Ha! Two Michael Tucker grand slams later, the O was off and running. Late into April they were at or near the top of the league in runs scored, even with Moises Alou out for a DL stint. Mike Matheny was kicking Bucco ass; Jason Ellison was running riot; the faithful were almost, nearly, just about giddy, if it's allowed to spell giddy with an asterisk.

Remember those days?

Nothing like a tour through Minute "Enron Nearly Rhymes With Ten-Run" Maid Park and Coors "Coors" Field to cure the temporary offensive case of the giddies. The Giants suddenly are squatting smack in the middle of the National League in runs scored. They are in danger of becoming the worst home-run hitting team in the league.

Now that's more like it.

Today's game -- natch, the entire road trip -- was exactly what we were expecting in March: not a total disaster, Brett Tomko pitching pretty darn well, a pleasant surprise of a bullpen, Noah Lowry, er, well, never mind, and the possibility of one of those minor league hottie pitchers helping out. (Brad Hennessey, if Batgirl were a Giant fan, you'd be Boyfriend of the Day.)

But, oh, that offense. It looked like someone snuck a fistful of Civil War-era grape shot into everyone's bat right around the time Roger Clemens took the mound on Saturday. No dishonor in getting mowed down by a 42-year-old whack job with an unsettling fixation on the letter K and dyed blond hair, but then the Transportation Security Administration, fine folk that they are, somehow missed all that lead filling when the Giants put their bats through the X-Ray machines at Houston Hobby. Come on, you upstanding civil servants, this ain't no party. You've got slugging percentages to protect.

Now the Giants are free to move around the country, their burdens lightened by such wee numbers as Marquis Grissom's batting average and the ever-shrinking team OPS.

Is this it? Have the chickens, as Malcolm once suggested, come home to roost?

Who knows: just as the offense charged out of the gates without Bonds or Alou, it could pick up steam again as Durham gets back on track or Snow and Alou regain strength from their flu bouts or pigs fly over McCovey Cove. But as Jon Miller mentioned today, we're at the quarter pole of the season -- time flies when you're bitching and moaning! -- and the Giants are solidly, spectacularly mediocre at best.

Key moment of today's game:

First inning, Ray Durham on second with a leadoff double, and Jason Ellison cannot move him to third base. That set the tone.

Bright moments:

* Jason Schmidt returns next week.

* Lance Niekro continues to hit home runs and post an OPS higher than Damon Minor's career .738.

* Brad Hennessey is this year's Noah Lowry. (But Noah Lowry is this year's Jeff Juden.)

Fun stat of the day:

Juan Marichal was the majors' winningest pitcher in the 1960s with 191 victories. He started 457 games and completed 244 of them.


Matching Wits 

I'm going to match wits with Felipe Alou. That guy is the wholesale package. Here's the lineup I would run out against lefty Jeff Francis tomorrow:

2B Durham
CF Ellison
LF Feliz
RF Alou
3B Alfonzo
1B Niekro
SS Cruz
C Torrealba
P Tomko

Except that right now Ellison is a better lead-off guy than Durham. Once on base, his speed is more distracting. If he's not leading off, his ability to leg out grounders is diminished with men on base (i.e., fielders can just go for the force), and he doesn't hit well with men on base -- better he leads off and Durham hits third or fifth. I have a sneaking suspicion that Felipe will give Moises the day off, which probably means more Grip. It's also possible that Durham will get a day off, too, which means Cruz plays 2B, Ellison leads off and Vizquel bats second.

So -- without endorsement -- here's the lineup I bet Alou will start tomorrow:

RF Ellison
SS Vizquel
3B Alfonzo
LF Feliz
1B Niekro
2B Cruz
CF Grissom
C Torrealba
P Tomko

Let's see how close I get.



It Don't Mean a Ting If It Ain't Got That Swing 

I turned off the game tonight after Scott Munter and The Alouettes let two runs in to effectively seal the Giants fate. Enough of that. I have my dignity, unlike the Marquis de Sad Decline.

This could be Grip's Last Stand: a three-game set in Coors Field, where he has posted an .871 OPS the last three years; the weather warming up; two lefties starting for the Rockies. If he can't make it there, he may not make it anywhere. Early returns aren't promising, and John Zogby's nowhere to be found: 1 for 4 with a measly single, his first two at-bats absolutely brutal. A first-pitch double-play ball (surprise!) and a three-pitch strikeout.

Marquis should sit down in Felipe's office, pull out a guitar, strum an A minor and sing, "Old man, look at my life, I'm a lot like you."

Although I have a feeling Felipe would find a way to get a runner in from third with no outs and the infield playing back.

If Marquis cannot find a guitar, he could borrow Barry's. With the knee injury and all, Bonds has a lot more time to rehearse for his next blues lament, or work up an alternate voicing of the theme song to Sanford and Son.

Really. Check this out and scroll to the bottom. (And remember, pal, the photo is by Anthony "Tony" Phills. Not "Big Tony" or "Fat Tony," just "Tony.")

Just when you thought things couldn't get any worse, Barry decides to learn the best of Dave Matthews, Matchbox 19, and Jack Johnson. Argh.

Question: If you could request a song from Barry, what would it be?

Fun stat of the day

A.J. Pierzynski in 2005:

104 ABs



Quick Fix 

Half the Giants blogosphere has man-crushes on Omar Vizquel, and I consider myself the founder of the Omar Fu-cademy. You don't need to be the Score Bard to see that Omar is an anagram of Amor.

But when a lefty starts against the Giants, Omar needs to ride a little pine.

Problem: The Giants' offense is starting to sputter now that Feliz and Alfonzo are coming back to earth. Seventeen runs in the last 7 games. While they're scratching for runs, Felipe should start Deivi Cruz at shortstop versus left handed pitchers.

So far in 2005:

Vizquel vs. LHP: .174/.240/.283

Cruz vs. LHP: .348/.400/.565

Small sample sizes, yes -- 46 ABs for Omar, 23 for Deivi. For Vizquel, it doesn't matter. His career stats show him much better against righties, especially in getting on base, which is his main job as the #2 hitter.

Curiously, Cruz is roughly the same against lefties or righties from 2002-05. A closer look at the period shows a wacky inconsistency: in '02, more power against righties; in '03, an OPS nearly 200 points higher against lefties; in '04, much higher OBP and SLG vs. righties. Whatever the case, he's never been as bad as Vizquel has been this versus lefties.


Word to the Bard 

Holy logophilia, Batman. Look what the Score Bard's done. (Read all the comments, too.)

Fun stats of the day:

How many consecutive scoreless innings the Giants pitching staff must throw to lower their ERA to 4.00: 62 1/3, or nearly seven straight shutouts.

Noah Lowry's ERA right this very minute: 5.49
Noah Lowry's ERA tomorrow night after throwing only the 15th shutout ever at Coors Field: 4.50



Why Not Walker? 

Brandon Lyon. Chad Cordero. Eric Gagne. Keith Foulke. What do these guys all have common? They all once would have made you titter if someone suggested they could be dominant closers.

You're not tittering now, are you?

So why not Tyler Walker? Because every so often he gets rocked? Sure, but he can also be dominant: fastball in the mid-90s, nasty hard slider, and, once in a while, a change-up. If he can refine the change and be more aggressive with the fastball (as he was tonight), he would have closer stuff.

Whatever that means. Keith Foulke doesn't have "closer stuff." Dustin Hermanson doesn't have "closer stuff." So much of it is mental: don't walk anyone, make good pitches, trust your defense. And shake off the inevitable disasters.

And to a certain extent, Walker just showed he can do that: after his terrible outing Wednesday afternoon vs. Pittsburgh, he comes back with two 1-2-3 saves in two games vs. Houston.

I won't get too excited. Houston batted Jose Vizcaino in the fifth spot tonight, and Morgan Ensberg is their cleanup guy. Ouch. Walker vs. Edmonds/Pujols/Rolen with a one run lead in the top of the ninth will be just a wee bit more challenging.

But for now, why not? If he's confident and throws strikes, he could be the next Joe Nathan.


The Loneliest Numbers 

Call it 1-upsmanship. Both the Wall St. Journal and The New York Times have articles today about athletes' numbers.

Stefan Fatsis of the Journal has a fun piece on pitchers' aversion to single-digit uniform numbers. Here's the link, though it's probably subscription-only. To prevent being sued, here are just a couple Giants-related excerpts:

Bill Monbouquette donned No. 8 when he was traded to the San Francisco Giants during the 1968 season. "I'm looking at this every day in my locker and saying, 'What the hell am I doing with No. 8?' " he says. Atlee Hammaker wore No. 7 with the Giants in 1985 after giving his No. 14 to a returning veteran, Vida Blue. He says he chose the single digit because "in God's eyes...seven is considered the perfect number." On the field, though, "it didn't do much for me," he says.

Ah, fond memories of the Giants' God Squad. What I remember most is Rob Andrews misplaying a ground ball for a decisive error then saying in the post-game interview it was God's will. Two decades later, there was Mark Dewey refusing to participate in the AIDS/Until There's a Cure Day.

Which makes me wonder, do Christian ballplayers shy away from playing in S.F. (or New York, or other big sinful blue-state cities)? Does that affect the ability of GMs to sign free agents?

Meanwhile the Times weighs in on athletes who pay teammates to surrender numbers.

This just in: Felix Rodriguez didn't slip in the shower and hurt his knee. He changed his name to Ezequiel and moved to Houston. (I promised a while back never to do "Separated at Birth" pieces, but I never said anything about "Never Seen in the Same Room As...")

One more question: Before you read the Journal piece, can you guess the last Giant pitcher to wear a single-digit number?



Magically Delicious 

Let me tell you something: the Giants are exceedingly lucky this year.

Huh? Every top player injured? A return of the Jekyll-and-Hyde bullpen? Troubling regression of their promsing young moundsmen, Lowry and Williams? Under .500? That's lucky?

I'm talking about the luck of how bad it could really be if the Giants played a run of good teams to start the year, or a string of teams on hot streaks.

They were lucky to play only five vs. L.A and five vs. a hot Arizona team to start the year. No Cardinals, no Marlins, no Braves so far. As wobbly as they've been, four games is the Giants' longest losing streak of the year. They've lost a lot of series two games to one, yes, but they've managed to keep the wheels from falling off. When the Washington Nationals are the hottest team on your schedule for weeks on end, consider yourself lucky.

The luck continues: Houston (12-21), Colorado (9-22) and Oakland (14-20) are the next three opponents. Granted, it's Houston and Colorado in those pitcher-unfriendly locales -- and the Giants pitchers need all the friendliness they can clutch to their heaving bosoms right now. And granted, ten days from now the re-Beanified A's could be the hottest team in baseball.

At any moment, the Giants' luck could wear off and, in a fine-how-d'you-do turn of events, the sight of French vanilla and orange could prompt even Scott Doh!mann to sit up in the bullpen and say, "Whew, I am one lucky guy."

Three weeks until June. If the Giants can remain at or just above .500 and just a few games back of the division lead...if Schmidt comes back by June 1 throwing BBs (that's "bee-bee's," not "bases on balls")...if Ellison solidifies himself as the every day CF and leadoff guy...if Sabean makes a trade to bolster the bullpen...then I'll give these guys a fighting chance, even without a good Bonds prognosis.

Fun stat of the day:

Edgardo Alfonzo has returned to Earth -- a very nice patch of Earth, I might add, where citizens play a nimble third base, get on base 40% of the time and project to drive in 100 runs a season -- but the decline from the heady April days of .450 has been precipitous. We can take solace, however, in the fact that another familiar face has also begun the inevitable regression to the mean. That's mean as in "mean-spirited Giants' fans who only wish the worst for Neifi Perez."

Edgardo Alfonzo, April '05: .359/.457/.538/.996
Egardo Alfonzo, May: .200/.243/.257/.500

Neifi Perez, April: .368/.403/.559/.962
Neifi Perez, May: .167/.211/.306/.517



Bleak House 

Just back from the yard with a few thoughts:

* Noah Lowry looked superb except for two bad pitches in the 7th: a two-strike fastball to Jose Castillo that Castillo smoked into center to tie the game, and the full-count fastball to Wigginton that got deposited in the CF bleachers. A hot hitter hit a bad pitch; on another day a cold hitter might have popped it up. Let's hope Lowry builds on this start.

* Key moment of the game: Giants up 2-1 in the 6th, Tucker on second after a leadoff double, and Pedro Feliz swings at the first pitch for a grounder to short. Tucker stays at second and never scores. The lesson of moving a runner to third with one out should have been learned in the 3rd, when Torrealba battled with two strikes and finally flied to right. That moved Ellison to third and then home on Lowry's ground ball.

* Tyler Walker has a fastball that will go a long way when it meets the bat of a hitter looking for the fastball.

* Scott Munter throws his sinker right at 92 MPH almost every single time. It is nasty, as Matt Lawton found out when it broke back over the inside corner instead of hitting him, but it is the same speed again and again. I think I saw 91 a few times and perhaps a 94. That's not quite changing speeds. He doesn't seem to throw anything else. Mariano Rivera can pitch in the big leagues with one pitch at one speed. Scott Munter probably cannot.

* Jeremy Accardo looks like he's been following the Kevin Correia Tall Thin Dude diet.

* The sun was shining, the breeze was warm, the grass was green, and a bunch of cute-as-dickens kids were chanting "Let's Go Giants!" non-stop in the 1-3-8. Not so bad after all.



More Stars Struck 

Bonds, Alou, Benitez...now it's Jason Schmidt's turn to go on the DL. Not that we're so surprised.

Was it inevitable? Was it mismanagement? Is it just precautionary, no need to panic? Is this is beginning of the Brad Hennessey Era?

I'll only answer the last question: No. Scott "Moonlight" Munter will for the time being replace Schmidt on the roster.


Tomkocycle Diaries 

It was movie night in Maloville last night. The g-f put the hammer down and insisted on dinner and a DVD, all snuggled up on the couch while unbeknownst to me, Brett Tomko was doing his Jason Schmidt (ca. summer 2004) imitation.

While we watched Gael García Bernal depict the young Ernesto "Che" Guevara's soft-focus spiritual journey from rich medical student and rugby player to pan-Latinist and socialist revolutionary, Tomko was throwing off the oppressive fetters of his inner voices ("Dude, arrgh! Durham's definitely not getting a charcoal pony sketch for his birthday"). The psychological liberation did not go unnoticed in the Pirates clubhouse: "We never got to him," said Pittsburgh first baseman Daryle Ward. "We never got him frustrated to where he might hang a pitch. You've just got to give it to Tomko today."

And thus, señoras y señores, The Book on Tomko. We all knew this, but it's interesting to hear a major leaguer come right out and say it: He's usually easy to rattle.

The Rattle (which includes, free of charge, A Meltdown) could have happened last night: Six hits through 3 innings, an RBI single by the pitcher with the 3-for-89 lifetime batting average. But there's something about the Pirates that soothes Tomko's savage beast. No freak-outs, no pouty lips, no exasperated glances skyward.

Noah Lowry's body language is interesting to watch, too. He was entirely cool last year, but this year he's snapping his glove at the throws back from the catcher, pacing and fidgeting more. He's not comfortable in his own skin. He says he's made an adjustment and will keep his change-up around the knees. Let's see how he fares tonight.

Fun stat of the day:

Tomko vs. PIT 4/29: 9 IP, 2 ER, 4 H, 1 BB, 7 K (game score = 77)
Tomko vs. PIT 5/9: 9 IP, 1 ER, 6 H, 1 BB, 7 K (game score = ?)

One less run, two more hits: which game was better pitched?



No Runs, Drips or Errors 

I never quite said so in my post about Dr. Arthur Ting's probation and Barry Bonds's bad judgment, but speculation crossed my mind about the illegal prescriptions mentioned in the news reports. Leave it to the estimable Will Carroll to disabuse me of such notions.

In today's Under the Knife column, Carroll takes to task my unspoken thoughts -- mine and half the planet's.

"The drugs were Ambien (for sleeping), Vicodin (a common narcotic painkiller), and Lomotil (for diarrhea--I don't know either). Some stories I've seen have implied that steroids or other performance enhancers were involved, which shows that some people can't read or do a simple drug search."

Barry may need the first two, but Lomotril? He's not getting any hits or walks anytime soon, let alone runs.

Speaking of pooh-pooh, Carroll also waves off the fanboy and -girl panic surrounding Jason Schmidt: "...the idea that he's been overused and unmonitored is just laughable."

I wish I had such jaunty optimism. Carroll says just look at last year's game log for Schmidt, he had his rough patches then, too. But other than the Padres Poundings he took and his post-groin performance, I don't see the same thing as what we've seen the last two starts: total lack of command and drastically diminshed velocity.

Fun stat of the day:

Giants vs. Colorado and Pittsburgh: 8-1
Giants vs. everyone else: 7-14



Quote of the Weekend 

Nice win today (Sunday), especially the way the bullpen bounced back after two horrendous games. But all you need to know about the fate of the Giants hangs in the balance of this quote from Jason Schmidt after his dreadful start yesterday:

"I've had my fastball since I was 16," Schmidt said. "I know other ways to get guys out, but it's just like I'm playing long-toss right now. Maybe I'm paying for what happened last year," when he threw 3,608 pitches in 225 innings.

"Whenever I really try to throw it up there, it's just everything I can do to get it to home plate. Nobody is more frustrated than I am. We had an uplifting hit by Moises. That was huge. The next inning was big. I tried to shut them down, but physically I'm not able to do it. I don't know what it is. The arm is fine, but physically, there's nothing in it. I can't throw strikes. I'm just waiting for one game when it clicks."

Schmidt has had a wonderful run of three and a half years since he first put on a Giants uniform in mid-2001. Is this the end of the chapter? He has a surgically reconstructed elbow and has had nagging injuries during his Giants tenure. He's been a workhorse, and as he himself admits, the innings and pitch counts may have taken a toll.

If there's no deeper damage, but he never regains his 95 MPH-plus fastball, instead topping out at 91-92 as has been the case, Schmidt could still be an effective pitcher. But there will be an adjustment period determines whether he becomes just another 33-year-old ex-power hurler, or a 38-year-old major league veteran.

Blueprint: Pedro Martinez. I haven't seen him pitch this year, but the past couple years with the Sox Pedro would save the mid-90s fastball for a few key spots.

Tip of the cap to Woody Rueter, who has spun four straight solid starts just when it seemed the pitching staff was ready to implode.

Final note: I thought the Jeremy Accardo move was kind of cool. Unless the Giants lose the division by one game.



If It Ducks Like a Quack 

The Az. Republic has dug up some very interesting dirt on Dr. Arthur Ting, Barry Bonds's knee surgeon.

Bonds went to Ting over the objections of the Giants' staff. Add that to the fact Bonds continues to train with Greg Anderson, sprinkle with reports of Bonds doing activities (walking on the beach, jumping into the batting cage) that trainers have asked him not to do, mix generously with the bizarro press conferences he's conducted this spring, and it looks more and more likely that Bonds has gone off the deep end.

Funny how a guy with superb instincts and on-field smarts can exhibit such bad off-field judgment. Some like to call him "Superman," but off the field, he ain't nothing but a Superfool!


Off-Day Bits 

* Westwood Blues points out via a series of labyrinthine links that Will Carroll's more optimistic than us blog-cynics about Barry Bonds's knee. June? Dare we hope?

* Brett Tomko did it again yesterday. He let a lapse in concentration ruin his start. However, I'll grant that he got screwed statistically by the horrible scoring decision on the Gonzo ground ball Ray Durham butchered to start the two-out rally in the fourth. That was an error. That wasn't close to a hit. That wasn't even a hit on crack. Like Mike Krukow, who refused to mark it as a hit in his scorebook, I'll pretend those runs are unearned and give Tomko an ERA of 3.96, not 4.89.

* Durham: put him on the DL until his hammies heal completely. He's awful right now. The only decent part of his game is his OBP, but once on base, he can't run. DL him, shift Fonzie to second and Feliz to third and bring up Linden, who's finally discovered power and patience at Fresno this year. Who does he think he is, Damon Minor?

* ESPN's Jayson Stark quotes Ned Colletti about J.T. Snow's .378 average -- second to Ichiro -- since last All-Star break.

"J.T. has reinvented himself," said Giants assistant GM Ned Colletti. "He's become an on-base guy, a singles-doubles guy with a little gap power, a guy who just knows how to play and knows how to hit. He's done a lot of work with [Giants hitting coaches] Joe Lefebvre and Willie Upshaw, and he's made adjustments. Early in his career, he wasn't making those adjustments. But he's making them now. I just think he got tired of being written off."

Fun stat of the day:

E. Alfonzo, Giants: .925 OPS
E. Alfonzo, Giants: .971 OPS

The higher number belongs to Eliezer Alfonzo of the San Jose Giants, a 26-yr-old catcher who has never made it above AA. Six home runs in 71 at-bats: Call it ¡Fonzitomania!



Barry Knee At Sea 

Looks like Mr. Wounded Knee won't be back til at least July. Bacterial infection -- ick. At least Barry knows who's been leaking (information, not infected fluid) to the media. I'm gon' get you, suckah, but first I gotta get out of this recliner. Nikolai, fetch hither my crutches!

At this rate, with the Giants leading the league in runs scored and on-base percentage, maybe they don't need him. (Commence the sending of the hate mail.)

Really, I doubt the offense will be this prolific all summer without Barry or other additions. Matheny, Snow, Fonzie and Ellison will return to earth to varying degrees; Feliz, Alou, Niekro and Vizquel at best will give what they're giving now; Grissom, Durham and Tucker may improve, but by how much, really?

That's a very unscientific way of saying the Giants may continue to compete with their current offense, but they won't be able to compensate for substandard pitching. If Barry comes back in July (best case scenario, I'd say) and heats it up for the stretch run, maybe they will have enough O to counteract the crappy pitching.

However, if Schmidt continues as he's been or -- as I fear -- gets worse, the Giants, Barry or Not, will need a boost in the bullpen and the starting rotation.

Steve Karsay, anyone?

Fun stat of the day:

Pitcher A post-season:
40.3 IP / 42 H / 17 ER / 11 BB / 17 K / 3.79 ERA

Pitcher B post-season:
44 IP / 51 H / 28 ER / 25 BB / 27 H / 5.73 ERA

Hint: they were once teammates. Any guesses?



Jeremy's Falhmmrfifhr, Yeaaaah 

I never understood what the hell Eddie Vedder was singing in that song, but I don't think it was "Jeremy's been called up to the Giants, yeaaaaahh."

I'm having just as much trouble understanding the latest Giants' pitching decisions, both in-game and roster-wise. Sure, the bullpen's in disarray now that Armando Benitez's hamstringbone ain't connected to the pelvisbone, but some oddities, nonetheless:

1) Sunday in Pittsburgh Felipe uses four relievers to get six outs with a five-run lead. That's less than 24 hours after Felipe uses every reliever except Munter on Saturday. He reminded me of a little kid who will only use one tissue per nose-blow. Why not designate one guy to mop up Sunday and save the rest of the arms for the important intradivision series vs. Arizona? There was something in the paper from Felipe about the need to audition guys in certain roles. Whatever, you crazy old coot.

2) The next day (a.k.a. last night), an obviously off-peak Jason Schmidt struggles through 6 innings, throwing 98 pitches and walking four. He threw 131 pitches five days earlier, and everyone's concerned about his velocity. His turn to hit is coming in the top of the 7th, and even better, it's with one out and a man in scoring position. But of course, Schmidt stays in, strikes out, and looks terrible in the bottom of the 7th. He throws 121 pitches and is pulled just before all hell breaks loose and rolls through Mike Matheny's legs.

3) Because the bullpen has magically gone from well-rested on Saturday morning -- thanks to a Wednesday laugher, a Thursday off-day, and Tomko's complete game on Friday -- to a total shambles, the Giants bring up a reliever and send Brad Hennessey back to AAA. Fair enough. Munter, Aardsma, Correia, Foppert, Fikac, Randolph, Puffer: so many to choose from, guys with major league experience, extensive spring training exposure, and/or World Series rings, guys you feel OK about throwing an inning here and there. But they choose Jeremy Accardo, the 23-year-old Norwich closer.

My scalp is itching. I must scratch.

I hold no animus for the lad. His name is mellifluous. His cheeks are no doubt flush with excitement. He's got his best vest pressed. But unless the Giants think he's ready to step into the closer role, there's no reason for him to be called up. There's certainly nothing in his statistics to indicate he's ready to set the bigs on fire, or even mop up after one's been put out.

Fun stat of the day:

Jeremy Accardo's minor league totals through '04:

57 games / 63.1 IP / 66 H / 31 ER / 4 HR / 17 BB / 48 K / 4.41 ERA

For some reason he's not on the current Norwich stat board, so I don't know how he's fared this year. Any ideas? Has he started the year with 20 shutout innings and 43 Ks? Am I missing something here?


The Giants site says Accardo was 1-0 with 4 saves and a .93 ERA this year, but no peripheral stats. It also features this less-than-comforting quote from him: "I threw a couple of times in the spring and was working on my slider at Norwich so I could throw it for strikes," he said. "I thought I'd have another Double-A season to work on things. I did fix a couple of small problems, and it has helped."

Hey, no better place to learn the slider than Bank One Ballpark with Troy Glaus in the batter's box.



The Roaring Thirties 

When facing a deadline for a 2,500 word feature, there's nothing better than taking an hour to browse through the latest Giants statistics. Such as: Hey, whaddya know! Giants, second in the NL in OBP, fourth in SLG. Second in runs scored. Fourth in SBs, but the best by a hair (over the Phils) in SB%: 15 stolen, only 2 caught.

Stolen bases are the most Darwinian of strategies: it's a good idea if you don't get caught. Unlike bunts, with which, even when successful, you give up something precious: an out. A successful stolen base sacrifices nothing.

Fun stat of the day for May 2, 2005:

Pedro Feliz career stats (1,205 ABs)
.260 / .292 / .451 (OPS .743)

Jeff Kent career stats 1992-1994* (1,216 ABs)
.270 / .325 / .451 (OPS .777)

Kent went on to post roughly the same line for another 1,000 at-bats through 1997, his first year with the Giants. He turned 30, however, and became the Jeff Kent we all know and love. I mean hate. I'm so confused.

Feliz turned 30 a few days ago with about half the number of career at-bats Kent had at that age. So far in his age-30 season Pedro has shown much better plate discipline, perhaps a function of playing every day, perhaps of maturity, perhaps of facing Rockies and Pirates pitchers. Whatever the case, he's on track for 54 walks and is hitting .287 / .337 / .489. For a cleanup hitter, which is his role in absentia Bondsii et Alouae, that's not good enough. For a #5 guy, it's not bad; for a #6 hitter, I'll take it and like it.

Will Pedro regress to the mean? Will he continue to spit on sliders in the dirt and take his base? Will he suddenly post six or seven straight years of Hall-of-Fame production and grow a porn 'stache? Would you still mock him if he becomes a steady .280 / .330 / .500 hitter and plays several positions competently?

Discuss. And if you have a fun stat of the day you'd like me to chew on, e-mail it to me and I'll pretend to write something authoritative about it.

*Help with partial career stats comes from David Pinto's Day by Day Database, one of the Web's greatest procrastination tools.



Could Be Worse...Could Be Raining 

Substitute Marty Feldman in the broadcast booth for David B. Fleming, and the Giants' April would have been positively sunny.

If someone told you on March 30 that the Giants would miss Barry Bonds and Moises Alou for most of April, lose Benitez for the season in the final week of the month, have a first-week bullpen meltdown and a subpar Jason Schmidt, what would you guess their record would be today? 11-12? 9-14?

The 12-11 record is a matter of some luck: a decent schedule that's included 6 with the Rockies and catching the Padres and Pirates in slumps.

But the secret to the modest success so far is the bullpen. After the opening week debacle, the bullpen has been stellar. (All of us who kicked and screamed at the inclusion of Jeff Fassero on the roster should zip it until further notice.)

Since L.A. smacked the 4-spot on Benitez at Dodger Stadium to win their home opener, the bullpen has been in 15 games, thrown 50.2 innings, and surrendered only 36 hits and 10 earned runs. The only blemish is the high number of walks: 31, compared to 32 Ks. Tyler Walker is a main culprit, with two recent outings in which he's walked a whopping eight. But to balance the charity, the hits have been not only rare but of the puny variety -- only two home runs. (I didn't count how many inherited runners they've allowed to score.)

Walking the first two batters of an inning, as Levine did yesterday, is never a good formula for success, but one has to wonder if there's a philosophy behind all this: work carefully, don't groove anything, and better to walk a guy than give up an extra-base hit. It's not good for my acid reflux, but it's worked well so far against weak-hitting teams. I'll call it luck and hope they tighten up the control soon.

Speaking of the bullpen, here's the sportswriter metaphor of the week, cribbed from Henry Schulman's account of last night's game:

When Alou pulled starter Noah Lowry with one out in the fifth inning, after the Pirates took a 4-3 lead on a Deivi Cruz error, the manager grabbed a roll of quarters and started shoveling them into the bullpen carousel.


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