Lee Smith, South African Pitching Coach, Reporting For Duty 

I am sneaking away from my day job -- simply by hitting alt-tab a few times -- to gather and disseminate a few tidbits, like a gentle gardener preparing his modest but munificent patch of earth for the spring, or like a French rapper using overblown metaphors.

- The Giants are going to see a lot more of Mike Piazza, now that he's signed a 1 year, $2 million deal with San Diego. Omar Vizquel, the Giants' leading basestealer last year, should be licking his chops; Piazza's lifetime caught-stealing percentage is 24%. The past two years he's thrown out 22 of 143, or 16%. Some of that could be chalked up to Mets' pitchers not holding runners close, but not too much. The only thing more run-on than Piazza in the NL West in 2006 will be Rich Draper's sentence structure.

If Jason Ellison makes the team, it might be worth starting him when Shawn Estes is on the mound and Piazza behind the plate. Ellison hits lefties well and is a good candidate to steal. I don't think Estes is particularly good at holding runners, but correct me if I'm wrong. (Side note: Estes is the only left-handed pitcher on the Padres' 40-man roster.)

- Another Piazza note: If we had to pinpoint the beginning of the end of his career, we might choose the moment at Mays Field in 2003 when Piazza leaned back abruptly from eine kleine Das Schmitty chin musik and did something unspeakable to his groin. Watching a man writhe in the dirt clutching his netherlands is never pleasant, even when said man is a former Dodger. I was at that game and remember Piazza going down like he had been shot. Or like he had ripped his groin muscle from his pelvic bone. (I'm sorry you had to read that.)

It popped like a guitar string. OK, OK! No more horrific groin images today, I promise.

He went on to play only 68 games that year, and his hitting stats have declined swiftly ever since.

- Brad Hennessey is still the favorite for the last spot in the pitching rotation.

- The Giants announced their minor league coaching staffs for 2006. Yes, it's a slow news day. But I like the fact that the instruction coordinator is nicknamed "Chicken" (Fred Stanley); roving pitching instructor Lee Smith is touted as the "all-time saves leader and South African pitching coach for the WBC," which seems like a slightly misplaced modifier given he was born in Shreveport; their wandering catching tutor is Kirt Manwaring, an all-time favorite Giant in the funny name category; and their peripatetic peddler of pastoral patrol pedagogy is Darren Lewis, an all-time favorite Giant, period.

- The more I think about it: How odd that Schmidt has suffered off and on from a strained groin. Karma, perhaps, for dusting Piazza in '03?

- Can you say "strained groin" 10 times fast?


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