El Nuevo Lefty Malo 

Amigos y amigas, stalkers, family and tax collectors,

I've joined forces with a new blog network, Blogs by Fans. Very little has changed, except my URL and my new logo, which I did all by myself just before nap-time. Goes to show you how nice they are over at Blogs By Fans -- they have a world-class Web design expert who wears little black-framed eyeglasses on 24-hour call to do the bidding of their bloggers, but no problem, I can do my own logo. How cool is that?

Please set your phasers on stun and your Lefty Malo bookmarks to this URL:


¡Como no! We're still ironing out a few bits here and there; any and all feedback on the new site is extremely welcome.



If Confidence Is Sexy... 

Armando Benitez is on the cover of this year's swimsuit issue. Quoth Benizzar El-Mando after tonight's ugly save: "It's time. Armando's back."

Two walks, only nine strikes in 22 pitches, a pocketful of hanging spliders (hanging splitters/sliders: indistinguishable). You are so BACK, man, we're going to call you Wally.

PLODAG: B. Lamar. Yeah, he looked at a strike three, but he hit two frozen ropes and just missed putting one in the drink. It went 450 feet, but up, not out. That was fun. Runner-up: Special Agent Jack Taschner, who may soon qualify for Lefty Malo status if he keeps up that .86 WHIP and .071 batting average against.



Look at Lowry 

The life of most major leaguers is one of constant adjustment. Rookie sensations do not stay sensational for long as the opposition starts to pick apart their weaknesses and exploit them. Perhaps the most talented never need to adjust -- how long has Mariano Rivera been the world's best closer with basically one pitch? -- but for mere mortals, it's change or die.

Which brings me to Noah Lowry. He was a rookie sensation, and through his first 53 big-league games, he was well above a league-average pitcher. Not lights-out, but let's call him a solid B student. That's not easy to do for a soft-tossing lefty with complicated mechanics. Not only was his ERA above league average, but he struck out a lot of batters. Through 2005 he whiffed 249 in 303 innings, or 7.3 Ks per 9 innings. Not Pedro Martinez-like, but very strong. And anyone who saw games like this one could spot his calling card instantly: a "Bugs Bunny" change-up that made batters look cartoonish as they swung and missed.

Last year, Lowry hurt himself in his first start. He only missed a month, but the season never quite got back on track. He had his usual August surge, but note that even with his success, he didn't deliver the same strikeout rate as before. He's not fooling batters as often. He hasn't struck out more than 6 batters in a game since September 2005.

The main reason: hitters have adjusted. They wait and wait and wait for the changeup, and when it's flat, without that two-seam, sinking action, they whack it. Combine that with injury and control problems, and you suddenly have a mediocre pitcher. Mike Matheny saw it early. In 2005 he was telling Lowry to throw more curveballs, fewer changeups. Throwing the curveball well is another matter, and yesterday's game, in which Lowry threw several beautiful curves for strikes, could be a sign that the adjustment period is starting to pay off.

* Fuel for the Lincecum fire: Baseball Prospectus today ranks the top under-25 right-handed starters in the game, majors and minors combined. It's subscription-only, but here's the final list to tease you:

1. Jeremy Bonderman, Tigers (24)
2. Felix Hernandez, Mariners (21)
3. Jered Weaver, Angels (24)
4. Tim Lincecum, Giants (23)
5. Philip Hughes, Yankees (21)
6. Josh Johnson, Marlins (23)
7. Rich Harden, A’s (25)
8. Justin Verlander, Tigers (24)
9. Yovani Gallardo, Brewers (21)
10. Kevin Slowey, Twins (23)



Post-Game Report 4/19/07 

Slide, Ryan, Slide! On second thought...

You didn't see the game? Watch the highlight clips (go here, click on the game and click on "top plays" -- don't blame me for the Right Guard ad) and laugh. Laugh because the Giants beat a stumbling, bumbling, fumbling Cardinals squad two games straight. Albert Pujols should buy Kip Wells a Porsche, because Wells was cruising until Albert's bonehead error in the 5th. Wells was never the same. The door opened a crack, and the Giants kicked it in. Or in Klesko's case, did a bellyflop/faceplant through it.

The Cards were also without Scott Rolen (food poisoning) and Jim Edmonds. Scott Spiezio batted cleanup. This was not a prime-time team. This weekend presents a real test, with the very young, very good D'Backs coming to town. Small break: The Giants will not face Brandon Webb. Weird stat of the weekend: Rich Aurilia, who usually crushes lefties, is 4-for-27 lifetime against Doug Davis, tomorrow's D'Back hurler.

But I get ahead of myself.

PLODAG: Noah! Runners-up: Ryan Klesko, 3 for 4 with two extra base hits. Can he please have more playing time? Randy Winn, who didn't get a hit but drove in two runners from third with less than two out. I'll take that from a #8 hitter every time, although today he was batting 6th. Details, details.


For Those About to Rock.........Fire! 

Every field has its canon: history's most eminent molecular biologists, the top 50 sub-Arctic backpacking trips, the world's largest rubberband balls. We all need our anchor points to fasten us to the foolish notion that the universe has order.

And in the canon of all-time greatest Giants games of 2007, last night's displaces all others at the top. "All others" being Monday's 8-0 shutout of Colorado.

It's a wee canon. Canonito. Canonichek. [Yes, I've used that joke recently. When will you guys understand that I only do this to amuse myself?]

Morris pitched quite well, though the walks, 4 in nearly 7 innings, still trouble me. The rotation has pitched very well in six of the last seven games, but with the exception of Ortiz in Pittsburgh and Cain in Colorado, the walk totals remain troubling. With an aging defense, you simply can't keep putting free men on base and not get burned.

The National League staff average: 52 BB / 94 K.
The Giants: 50 BB / 77 K.

Walk-strikeout ratio is not the only indicator of success by any means. So far the best team ERA in the N.L. (2.50) belongs to the team (the Mets) with the worst BB-K ratio (61-72). Let's see how long that lasts as the weather heats up and batters take better swings. Rule of thumb: Lots of walks and relatively few Ks make it that much harder for a pitcher to do his job. It's not just stathead mumbo-jumbo, it's common sense.

PLODAG: Jonathan Sanchez, for three gutsy innings and perhaps the most heads-up play of the year when he didn't get faked out by the double steal in the 12th. Kid cool. Props to Richie, hitting line drives and playing all 12 with a sproinged groin.


NOT QUITE P.M. UPDATE: "In my heaving misery, I stared at my excrescence and thought, this puddle of putrid poison vomit is brought to you by the Los Angeles Dodgers."

Neal Pollack is writing about the All-You-Can-Eat Pavilion at Dodger Stadium, but I like to think of it as an omen for the season. And next season. And next...

(Thanks to Laz for La Link.)




After Tim Lincecum dazzled yet again last night in triple-A -- 11 strikeouts and three hits in 6 2/3 shutout innings -- the question has becum, um, where are the Giants going to put 'um?

Here are his triple-A totals so far:

18 2/3 IP / 5 BB / 28 K / 9 H / 0 (zero) runs

With more games like last night, the Giants will be sorely tempted to bring him up and into the bullpen. There's no obvious place for him to go into the rotation right now.

The other solution is to make a place by trading a starter. If that's the route, then who? And for what? Bullpen help? Prospects? Hitting? Caution: if you trade a starter and promote Lincecum, you've instantly depleted the organizational depth in case of injury. Behind Lincecum, there aren't any great rotation prospects who could fill in for a month. Perhaps that's a risk worth taking.



Post-Game Report 4/17/07 

Ugh. I blame Bruce Bochy for this stinker. Here's why:

1) Taking out Matt Cain after seven innings. Cain had thrown 110 pitches, yes. But the previous two had been low-stress, so why not see if he could breeze through one more inning? If anyone got on, Boch could have had warm arms in the bullpen ready to go.

2) Refusing to pinch-hit. In the 8th, with Linden on 2nd after Bonds's leadoff double, Feliz came up with two outs. The Giants were already up 3-0, but this is Coors Field. Every run is important. Why not pinch-hit Klesko or Sweeney for Feliz? And why Dave Roberts in the 9th against lefty closer Brian Fuentes? Lance Niekro was on the bench. Apparently all those extra first basemen are only to be used in dire emergency.

Note that in the 8th, Durham's inability to get Linden to third was a big play, too. That wasn't Bochy's fault. Nor was the bad luck of two infield hits in the bottom of the 8th. Even with Cain pitching into the 8th, and the aforementioned pinch-hitting moves, the Giants may not have won. Linden was supposed to be in there for defense, yet the winning hit clanged off his glove. (I didn't see it, but Jon Miller described it on the radio as catchable "after a long run." The kind of catch defensive replacements are paid to make.) That wasn't Bochy's fault. But I don't think he gave the Giants the best opportunity to win tonight.

Furthermore, where in the hell is Klesko? Why didn't he start at 1st and Aurilia at 3rd? Is he injured?

PLODAG: Cain, doomed to wander the earth barefoot eating nothing but grasshoppers, in vain search for the meaning of existence and a major-league win.


Ain't No Haft Steppin' 

And who's pitching tonight? Big Daddy Cain.

But on to today's topic. As you may know, former Mercury News beat writer Chris Haft has taken over for longtime Malo whipping boy Rich Draper as the MLB "reporter" who covers the Giants. Despite the disclaimers on every story that the work is not subject to approval of MLB or its clubs, Draper turned the job into a fascinating exercise in toadyism. His mix of purple prose and embarrassing praise became a kind of art form, and I miss the big lunk.

New guy Haft is much more reasonable, but in his most recent mailbag column, I detected the first major whiff of corporate lackeyhood.

The first questioner asks about the possibility of Todd Linden soon taking over for Randy Winn and slags Sabean for Winn's contract extension. (It kicked in this year and pays Randy $23 M through 2009.)

Writes the reader: Winn will never live up to the contract Brian Sabean foolishly gave him for one uncharacteristically good month, and the sooner Linden gets in the starting lineup, the better.

Haft responds with a warning that he's going to get grouchy, then he backtracks to praise the question:

I have written that Linden appears poised to play himself into a more prominent role, so I'll acknowledge that what you suggested is a possibility.

Then he unbacktracks.

But I can't stand second-guessing, and that's what you're doing by criticizing the Winn signing.

Unless you know how someone first-guessed, you can't accuse him of second-guessing. Plenty of people criticized the Winn extension at the time it was signed. (As usual, I tried to weasel my way out of a grand pronouncement: "The Winn extension isn't too bad unless his big paychecks in '08 and '09 prevent the Giants from signing a game-changing superduperstar.")

The questioner might have been far more critical than I was back then, in which case he isn't second-guessing now. He's just bitching. And for good reason. It was a foolish contract, which Haft torturously tries to defend.

Given the finish Winn had in 2005 -- and by the way, it was two months, not one -- there's not a general manager in the Majors who wouldn't have tried to retain him.

Yes there is, and his name's Beane, Billy Beane, although no doubt there are others, especially at nearly $8 M a year with generous no-trade privileges. If Haft were the captain of the U.S.S. Critical Thinking, he would have just abandoned ship with that previous sentence.

Winn's batting only .194, but he's using the whole field and trying to bunt for hits, so at least he's thinking up there.

Using the whole field to make outs instead of using one teeny-tiny sliver of it. That's thinking! And since when does Bunting for Hits = Thinking? Does Barry Bonds, who prefers hitting home runs over bunting, not think up there? Why no, he's known to be one of the smartest hitters ever to play baseball.

Again, Linden might ultimately eclipse Winn in right field, but if that happens, it'll be because he earned it, not because of some knee-jerk judgment.

I hate knee-jerk judgments, like, oh, I don't know, giving an historically mediocre player a three-year, $23 M contract extension based on the two most abnormal months of his career?

And if Linden "eclipses" Winn this year, so what, you might ask. The Giants can trade Winn and open a spot....unless Randy says no. According to this site, he has a full no-trade clause this year and limited no-trade rights in 2008-2009. Was the no-trade the only thing that kept Randy Winn from signing with Cleveland or Pittsburgh or the Yankees or the Bridgeport Bluefish? No: he signed his extension in February 2006, eight months before he was scheduled to become a free agent.

I can see Sabean -- or an apologist like Haft -- arguing that it was worth the calculated risk that Winn's two spectacular months presaged a career bump. By locking him up at roughly $8 M a year, the Giants hoped to catch lightning in a bottle. OK, fine, but at least admit the lightning has so far been more like a fluorescent bulb. Without the cost savings associated with fluorescent bulbs.

There, I'm done being grouchy.

Me, too. Let's talk about something happier, like Pedro Feliz getting traded.



Post-Game Report 4/16/07 

Best game of the year so far, n'est-ce pas? I guess Zito loves him some Coors Field the way Russ Ortiz [used to love him some donuts].

Ed. note: after an email complaint, I decided to change the last part of the preceding sentence in order not to mix potentially offensive flippancy with solemnity in the same post. Don't expect such political correctness ever again. Ever.

Player of da game (PLODAG): Barry II. Two hits in six innings at the Mile High? What do you do for an encore?

On a somber note, my condolences to everyone at Virginia Tech. It's horrible, devastating. Let's also understand that this type of event -- a few dozen innocent people slaughtered -- happens every day somewhere in Iraq, sometimes more than once a day. I'm not making a political statement. It's more a request amid the U.S. media frenzy to put random acts of violence in perspective. They're equally horrible no matter where they happen, whether it's a senseless drive-by in the Bayview or a massacre in Darfur. Man's inhumanity to man is a puzzling thing.


Things to Do in Denver When You're 3-7 

The wet weekend may be a blessing for one Giant, Russ Ortiz, who threw 120 pitches Friday night and now won't pitch again until Friday. More irksome are the three extra days' rest for Barry Zito, who's already having trouble with his command. Inactivity doesn't usually help such problems. Added to the altitude of Coors Field, and this may not be his turn to get sorted out. His only previous start at Coors was very good, though judging from the high hit + walk total, perhaps a bit lucky.

And how fare the Rox so far? At 5-7, they could fall into the cellar if the Giants win both games. Their leading hitter for average, Kaz Matsui (.361 / .395 / .472), just went on the DL. Their new center fielder Willy Taveras, acquired from Houston this winter, is just 5 for 34 with one extra base hit. Rookies Troy Tulowitzki, shortstop, and Chris Iannetta, catcher, are also scuffling. The big guys Holliday, Hawpe, Helton and Atkins are generally doing well but nothing outstanding. Note the team has only played three games at home. In six games at San Diego and L.A., they scored a combined 14 runs.

Their pitching staff has kept them in ballgames, but according to a wire report yesterday the bullpen is "depleted." The Giants bullpen is definitely not depleted, another silver lining from the rainouts in Pittsburgh.

The Giants tonight face Jeff Francis, a Zito-ish lefty who gives the Giants fits at Coors, and tomorrow Jason Hirsh, a rookie who also came over in the Jason Jennings-Tavares trade.

Tonight's fun facts: Despite playing in the same division, Dave Roberts has never had an at-bat against Francis; Randy Winn is 1 for 18 lifetime and Todd Linden 4 for 9 with 2 HRs.


Fun link: Rusted Robot has a Q&A with Cubs TV play-by-play guy Len Kasper. Seems he's a Monty Python fan, and his broadcast partner Bob Brenly has "awesome musical taste."



Post Game Report: 4/13/07 

As Dusty used to say, "Russell." If you didn't see or listen to the game, and all you know is the final line -- Giants win 8-5, Ortiz gives up all 5 in 8 and 2/3 IP -- please know this: Russ Ortiz was excellent. A little shaky through three, then he dominated. Dominated. And these Pirates are no pushovers. Bay, Sanchez, LaRoche: some damn fine hitters.

Bochy did a stalwart thing to try to get Ortiz the complete game, but, ach, 'twas not in the stars. It would have been his first complete game since 2004. It was his first win since August of 2005. Congratulations, Russ. Time to thank the Big Guy upstairs, and remember, no donuts to celebrate. Ah, yeah.

PODAG (Playa of da game): Duh. Runner-up: Barry Bonds, with two homers and four RBI.


To All The G's I Have Loved Before (2007) 

Chalk one up for Brian Sabean, as Ken Rosenthal of Foxsports.com reports: "The Giants did well to acquire Class AAA left-hander Travis Blackley for outfielder Jason Ellison, according to a scout who says that Blackley was one of the better pitchers in the Mariners' system. Blackley, 24, pitched briefly for the Mariners in 2004, posting a 10.04 ERA in 26 innings, but by then he was experiencing shoulder trouble. He missed all of '05 due to surgery to repair a torn labrum."

Take that report with a big knock on wood, with the hope we don't wake up tomorrow to find Jonathan Sanchez traded for Kirk Saarloos.

Speaking of Ellie (one AB so far with the M's), here's my annual early-season roundup of ex-Giants we've all known and at times loved:

Marquis Grissom, Robb Nen, Kirk Rueter, J.T. Snow: Still retired.

Edgardo Alfonzo: Last spotted hitting .286 with the Bridgeport Bluefish.

Shairon Martis (traded for Mike Stanton): Starting for Washington's affiliate in the high-A Carolina League. That's a nice smile!

David Aardsma: Pitching very well so far in the White Sox bullpen. Subject of one of the oddest soundbites last spring, from one of the Chicago papers: "David Aardsma's improvement in the final two weeks of spring training helped him win a spot on the Cubs Opening Day roster. Aardsma credited former teammate Michael Wuertz with helping him develop a second pitch to complement his 95-m.p.h. fastball." Huh? I could swear when the Giants drafted him he had a "second pitch," called a curveball. Did he forget how to throw it? Was it an optical illusion?

Francisco Liriano, Joe Nathan, Boof Bonser: Who?

Jerome Williams: Starting for the Nationals, still only 25 years old.

Moises Alou: Not injured yet and has even stolen a base. How much you wanna bet he plays in 150 games this year?

Scott Eyre: Getting cuffed around with the Cubs so far. Did anyone notice he struck out 73 batters in 61 innings last year? That's good. He also gave up 11 home runs. That's bad.

Yorvit Torrealba: Still a backup catcher. Now hanging out with LaTroy Hawkins in Colorado.

Shawn Estes: Underwent Tommy John surgery last summer. Rehabbing under a minor-league contract with the Padres.

Carlos Villanueva: Who, you say? He was traded for Wayne Franklin at the beginning of 2004. Now he's 23 and pitching in the Brewers bullpen. He debuted last year and did quite well.

Which marginal ex-Giant do you take particular pleasure in tracking? Share with the rest of the class.




In the comments to yesterday's post, BigMerv tipped us off to Frandsen's demotion. (First-time commenter brings the news! Atta babe, Merv.) Here's the official blurb. However, Sweeney has not yet been placed on the active roster, so perhaps there's more game afoot, Watson.

Until we know more, let's assume Frandsen has indeed been Fresnoed.

[P.M. UPDATE: According to a poster on this thread, Duane Kuiper hinted this morning on KNBR that Frandsen wouldn't be down on the farm long.]

Spur of the moment contest: a free beer to the first person who cleverly rewrites the Creedence tune "Lodi" to reflect Frandsen's situation. Start with the refrain, "Oh Lord, I'm stuck in a-Fresno again."

The kid needs at-bats, so all is not lost. Perhaps with daily work at shortstop he'll get good enough to replace Omar Vizquel next year.

Quick notes from last night: Noah Lowry's control is distressing. Four walks, only one strikeout. He's not fooling batters like he did his first year or so, and I think he knows it. The walks may be about confidence as much as mechanics.

I love Lowry like I love all lefties -- i.e. con dulzura y pasión -- but I fear the league may have caught onto his act, and he needs to make big adjustments to regain top form. He can probably be adequate for years to come, but we may again never see the Lowry we knew and loved in 2005.

Linden in right field: a signal to Randy Winn? I like it.

Player of the game: Dave Roberts. Two singles, two steals, one fantastic catch to save three runs.



Sweeney's Coming, Everybody Look Busy 

Yes, our favorite Giant martyr, nailed to the cross of Barry Lamar and left to hang, is coming back from the limbo of the disabled list either tomorrow or Friday. Roll that stone away, brother, and rise.

So who's the sacrificial lamb? Bruce Bochy seemed to figure out last night that Pedro Feliz isn't getting the job done, hasn't been getting the job done, and will never get the job done. But Feliz is earning $5 million this year, so don't expect the Giants to cut him just yet. (I don't think they can trade him, either, not for a couple months.)

Ryan Klesko isn't going anywhere. He needs to play more, not less, and his time should come at Feliz's expense. Lance Niekro, who made the team thanks to Sweeney's opening-day DL assignment, has gotten all of four at-bats so far. He should only start against lefties, and the Giants have only faced one lefty starter. Plus the team they've played five out of eight times, San Diego, has no lefties in its bullpen. If Niekro stays, his opportunities should come more frequently, but it's telling that on the Giants Web site, Niekro's position is listed as "-".

[Ed. note: If Niekro has any chance to start against a RHP, it'll be tonight. Lifetime he's 7-for-11 with a homer and four doubles vs. Greg Maddux.]

The only guy who's played less and deserves more is Kevin Frandsen. One at-bat in eight games. He's basically a late-inning pinch-runner on this team. Send him down to play everyday in Fresno? It's possible, but team speed will be further diminished. When the game's on the line and Molina gets on base late, Frandsen is valuable.

You have to ask yourself, WWJD: What Would John Schuerholtz do? Because these days, asking "WWBD?" -- What Would Brian Sabean Do? -- is enough to drive anyone to desperately seek relief from a higher power.


NOW LISTENING TO: M. Ward. Fabulous. I love it when my friends turn me on to artists I've never heard before. He could be Cat Power's more talented brother: quietly intense, odd, playful, keenly aware of pop music's roots, but hopefully without the live demonstrations of erratic behavior.



Post-Game Report 4/10/07 

A win is a win is a win, except when it's pure luck: two runs, the difference between a win and a loss, thanks to an error, a lost fly ball, and a pitcher's brain cramp that made him throw to first instead of home on a comebacker. I'll take it.

I'm going to bed, but first, one more tidbit. I heard my first post-game wrap of the year and Krukow said that Bochy pitched an extra round of batting practice before the game. Feliz came up, and Bochy shouted out, "Situational hitting, no outs, man on second!" Feliz was expected to adjust his swing to move the runner over, "but he didn't know how," said Krukow.

So they showed him to use less body, throw the hands, and he finally got it.

He didn't know how to adjust his swing. In batting practice. After saying all winter he was working on going to the opposite field.

Player of the game: Kevin Correia. Two innings, four strikeouts. Gave up a homer, but it was a solo homer with a four-run lead and he was throwing strikes.


Test Your Mettle 

Four and eleven. Four and eleven. That's a winning percentage of .267, and it's where the 2000 Giants stood after two weeks. One and six is worse, percentage-wise, but at these early stages it's statistically insignificant.

Don't get me wrong, and heavens forfend, don't call me Pollyanna. This team is no match for the 2000 squad, with Bonds, Kent and Burks as its big three. (Burks only played in 122 games that year but OPS'ed 1.025.) Our current squadron may not challenge the modern-era record of fewest home runs hit - if you're allergic to clicking through, it's three -- but it's obvious that run-scoring will be a problem all year.

That leaves us with a test of mettle. What can you handle? You bitch and moan, but unless you turn back the clock to October 2003 and crush Brian Sabean's cell phone just before he calls Terry Ryan in Minnesota, we have to root for the team in front of us.

So: what do you want? A quick fix? Is this the team's last best chance in a long while to do some damage because it has Barry Bonds? Would you approve a trade that involves, say, Noah Lowry or Jonathan Sanchez, to bring back a short-term power source, say, Richie Sexson or Pat Burrell? If this team spent the entire year in the cellar because Brian Sabean refused to trade young pitchers for quick offensive fixes, would you stop going to games? Would you hesitate to re-up your season tickets? (For the record, I answer respectively "No, but I might skip a few" and "Definitely not.")

We often deride the team brass for their marketing ploys, but it's legitimate to ask how much fan support the team would lose by being thoroughly wretched for a full season. This is not St. Louis; we have entertainment options. We can go hiking on a brilliant blue Saturday instead of eating garlic fries and being assaulted by stoopid boombastic sound effects. Bruce Jenkins, bless his crusty old soul, was right about at least one thing this year: a slow start and the Giants fickle fan base will start to waver. It may have started already.

Fickle followers or not, at some point a team has to face the inevitable. With the handoff from Montana to Young and even for a short while to Jerry, er, Freddy, um, Jeff Garcia, we thought good times for the 49ers would never stop rolling. Oh, but they did. Except for 2001-2002 (known to geologists as The Mariucci Protrusion), the team has had losing years since 1998.

With another week as bad as this first one, it may be time for the Giants to embrace the abyss and hope it is neither deep nor wide. An abyss-lite, if you will. Abyssito. Abyssette. One truly stinkeroo year, and with luck next year the young pitchers are so damn good the Barryless team is back in contention. (Extremely questionable, but that's for another post.)

That may in fact be management's plan sotto voce. For marketing purposes, they would never come out and admit it. Yesterday I expressed hope that Sabean wouldn't hit the panic button, but the panic may be all ours because management might have already resigned itself to rebuild on the sly if the current configuration doesn't work.



Post-Game Report 4/9/07 

Why oh why oh why was Pedro Feliz hitting against Trevor Hoffman with the tying run at second in the bottom of the ninth? He has no special powers against Hoffman (lifetime 4 for 20), and Ryan Klesko was on the bench. Isn't this exactly the situation Klesko is here for? Get ready: games like tonight and Friday night's 2-1 loss to L.A. could be disturbingly frequent this year.

Player of the game: Matt Cain. Runner-up: Bengie Molina, with two doubles that might have been homers anywhere else (said David B. Flemming on the radio).


Not Exactly Lefty or Righty but Very Malo 

Catching up on back issues of the NY Times, I found last week's article about the college pitcher who throws with both arms. And his mom picks out nice ties for him, too. Will Carroll notes that Venditte has good mechanics from the right side, "lousy" from the left, which makes paying to see him all the more worth it. Alas, North Dakota State is about as close as his team gets to California in the next month.


One and Done? 

At least Armando Benitez hasn't blown a save!

Seriously, ladies and gentiles, there's a lot of doomsaying around these parts. One win, five losses, Dodger fans shoving brooms in our faces. Even the Safeway clerk in King City remarked, upon seeing my Giants hat yesterday, that things weren't looking up. When a Salinas Valley resident, who depends upon agriculture and is staring at the worst drought in 20 years and major bad juju from global warming, tells you your favorite team is in for a nasty summer, you either tell him he's got bigger things to worry about, or you pick up your presliced cheese, shrug your shoulders and nod.

One win the first week. How often has a team that eventually finishes with a winning record gone through a week with only one win? Probably every team, every year. Perhaps more than once. It happens. It also happens to really, really bad teams, too, so softly singing "Everybody hurts...sometimes" at this point only makes me feel more kinship with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

There is a real and present danger here. If the panic button starts blinking manically, Brian Sabean may strike a short-term deal to shore up the offense and the bullpen, thereby mortgaging even farther into the future to patch a badly cracked foundation. From here on out, he trades from weakness. The smell is everywhere; even the condors at the Pinnacles are nudging each other and thinking "Road Trip to S.F., why the hell not?" (I was there yesterday but did not see any.) He will not con anyone (not that he has in recent years, anyway), he will not get any one player who can boost this team's fortunes.

Improvement must come from within, and there were some nice silver linings this past week:

* Noah Lowry, Matt Cain and Matt Morris had strong starts. Lowry was especially encouraging.
* Ray Durham looked 10 years younger on defense and hit .350 / .458 / .450 in his first stint as a clean-up hitter.
* In his "get to know you" interview spot on the Jumbotron, Barry Zito's hair is more foolish than his pitching. That's hard to do.
* No Giant has gone on the DL.
* Um...
* King City: A Passion for Lettuce!

A week from now, fresh off a crazy improbable sweep of the Rockies in Colorado, we'll all be backslapping and bellyscratching and wondering how we got so down in the mouth after that first-week aberration. Two, three, and four weeks from now you'll be seeing headlines from me such as "Ryan Klesko: Big Game Hunter" and "More Ortiz, Please!"

They're already trademarked; don't even think about it.



He Got a Betatron, Man 

The morning after my wedding last September, we had an informal brunch with a nice noshy spread, people wandered in and out, no sit-down, no fancy set-ups, no cheesy hotel facilities, just sunshine, the warm smell of oak trees and pine, and lots of hot coffee. All very mellow. I was hungover, newlywed, barefoot in the late Sonoma summer and feeling fine. Cloud nine.

Then my Uncle Gary showed up. I like Uncle Gary. He's married to my dad's youngest sister, my Aunt Suzy, and as a Lefty Malito when I visited them in Reseda (no, they don't have a freeway runnin' through their yard), I could swim all day in their backyard pool. Lovely people, what?

But on that day, Sunday, Sept. 17, Uncle Gary showed up to my post-wedding brunch wearing a Dodgers hat. He extended his arms for a hug; I stood there stunned. That particular shade of blue, accentuated by the white stitching, felt like the toxic cloudless sky above Fontana searing my eyeballs.

Sure, could've been the hangover, but I didn't stop to ponder. I snarled, my hand uncurling from the fist position, and tried to snatch the offending material from his bald freckled head. He giggled, then giggled again nervously, then he retreated with alarm.

I stepped forward, determined to remove the cerulean evil from my vision, but my bride intervened. A raised finger, a sideways glance, a hand on an exquisitely curved hip: meet the new boss. I backed away, forcing disgust down my gullet like a dollop of lowfat chive-flavored cream cheese.

Ladies and gentlemen, señoras y señores, starting tonight the Los Angeles Dodgers are in town for three. I implore you, do not extend to them such tender mercies.



Post-Game Report 4/5/07 

Giants 5, Padres 3. Now I can shave. Did any of you have any superstitions going until the Giants won? Same T-shirt every day? Same underwear? Say it isn't so. If you were at tonight's game, what did you do in the 9th inning when Kline and Mando made things juicy? Cross your fingers? Make the sign of the yellowtail? (Sorry, if you don't know what it is, I can't tell you. What happens in La Famiglia Malo, stays in La Famiglia Malo.)

Player of da game (PLODAG): Matt Morris. Beard: bad season. No beard: good season! Superstition is that easy. Also kudos to Ray-Ray for knocking in two after Barry got the four-finger discount.

Before I go to bed, note with me that it was Fresno's opening day, and the Grizz won 9-4. PLODAG: Pat Misch, with five Ks in 2 innings of relief.


It's Not Giants News, But.... 



P.M. UPDATE: It's from a story written by Rich Draper's understudy, but the following sentence, from Bruce Bochy regarding the home run Taschner gave up to Gonzalez, is the quote of the day for its simple sanity: "He'll learn from it. He's been throwing well, he just let that one pitch get away from him."

I like that it's OK that young players have room to learn on this team. This is a rebuilding year disguised as a pennant push. Perhaps I'm reading way too much into it, but Bochy's quote seems to acknowledge the dual nature of the season. I also like the fact that Bochy is willing to let relievers go multiple innings, let alone multiple batters. Hennessey last night was on his way to completing a second full inning when M. Giles grounded a single up the middle. Once that happened, bringing in Taschner to face B. Giles and Gonzalez was the right move, not just for the lefty-lefty matchups but because Taschner's move would likely keep M. Giles closer to the bag at first.

You know what the "0" in 0-2 stands for, my friends? 0ptimistic. If I weren't going off the grid this weekend, I'd even be looking forward to Russ Ortiz on Saturday.



Post-Game Report 

Just back from the yard. I'm ofer two so far. Good thing I don't have more tix until April 20th or so. Giants lost but looked a hell of a lot better doing so. Lots of hard-hit balls that went right at San Diegans; Cain dominated except for two bad pitches.

Everything I want to say Grant says quite well here; I'll only add that Rich Aurilia looked great at the plate, laying off Chris Young's high fastballs (which Bochy in the pre-game show warned about; because Young is really tall, his 90-MPH high heat is as effective as a 93-94 MPH pitch).

And a question for you TV watchers: from the bleachers, the Taschner pitch that Gonzalez hit half way to Union City looked like a fastball above the strike zone, i.e., not a bad pitch necessarily. Was it? Or did The Special Agent groove it?


Big Tall Man 

Tonight's starting pitcher for San Diego, Chris Young, is 6'10", 260 pounds. He big. I forgot about his height over the winter, as I had more important things to think about, and I also forgot just how good he was last year:

179 IP / 134 H / 69 BB / 164 K / 28 HR / 3.46 ERA /

Batters hit .206 against him and got on base less than 30% of the time. He good.

One more year like that, and the trade that brought Young, Adrian Gonzalez and Termell Sledge from Texas for Adam Eaton and Aki Otsuka will be the steal of the decade, except for...uh, never mind.

That Gonzalez trade chaps a lot of hide among Giants fans. He's just the thing the team has needed for years: a young gifted first baseman with increasing power. He's not yet 25, and he's already had a season to rival J.T. Snow's career years. Returns on the Niekro investment have fared about as well as a sub-prime mortgage, the Giants being the mortgage holder desperately trying to squeeze any type of remaining value from it, while the mortgage itself, i.e. Niekro...

Stop this metaphor. I want to get off.

Could the Giants have traded for Adrian Gonzalez? In his minor league career he was trade bait dangled by not one but two teams. Seems they could have put together a little something for him. Hindsight being what is, I say it's better to look for the next Adrian Gonzalez, because Waiting For Travis (Ishikawa) is the same endless one-act play we just sat through as Niekro progressed through the system.

I cain't wait for tonight. Cain you?



Opening Dazed 

Just back from the yard, where nothing went right. The highlight was Barry Bonds's stolen base in the first inning.

Prepare yourself for all manner of pronouncements from tomorrow's columnists about the symbolism of today's game. So much more than one loss. A peek at a long, grim summer. The Giant karmic chickens are coming home to roost.

Indeed, Zito was hittable, the Giants' lineup, lackluster, and the bullpen, uglier than Julian Tavarez with a comb-over. If you want to see today's game as a microcosm, it certainly lent itself to all our worst preconceived notions heading into the season.

I'm not going to extrapolate too much. Bottom line is Jake Peavy was very very on, and there's no shame in looking feeble against him. Mark it down 0-1 and move on to Matt Cain tomorrow night. But it's worth noting a few things:

* The turning point of the game came in the fourth inning, Padres up 2-0. It was obvious Peavy had his A-game, so another run would likely be the nail in the coffin. With Bard on first and a run already in, Zito had Greene down two strikes but couldn't put him away. After a few foul balls, Greene grounded to Feliz, who bobbled what was a likely double-play grounder. Next batter, Kouzmanoff, also down two strikes. Again, Zito couldn't put him away. Finally, he singled to left on a ball that Bonds perhaps should have caught. No doubt, Zito was let down by his defense. But a strikeout pitcher doesn't need as much luck (or defensive support). Zito, who didn't top 86 MPH, did not look like he could get a strikeout when he needed. The Padres looked very comfortable at the plate. (Side note: the drunk guy behind me leaned over after Zito came out and said, "Dude, he didn't even throw a fastball today!" I said, "84 miles an hour is his fastball." "Dude," said the dude, "I didn't realize that." I knew it coming in, but seeing it in person is rather sobering. Well, not literally for the guy behind me, but you get my point. My team just paid $126 million for a 28-year-old Jamie Moyer.)

* Every reliever gave up loud hits. Kevin Correia, shame on you for grooving an 0-2 fastball to Jose Cruz, a terrible off-speed hitter hitting from his weak side. Jonathan Sanchez: no breaking ball to speak of and a changeup that tended to hang out around belt-high. Vinny Chulk: a few good pitches then just as he nearly wriggles out of trouble, he makes a couple mistakes.

* Pedro Feliz, Lance Niekro: No clue against Peavy. Against tough right-handers, Feliz needs to sit, Aurilia slide to third, and Klesko play first. It's not rocket science.

Just remember, the 2000 Giants started the year 4-and-11, and that year turned into magic for a short sweet spell, especially when J.T. hit that home run in the playoffs off...uh...never mind.


LATE NIGHT UPDATE: How bad was today's game? Independently of each other, both Grant and I came up with former-Giants-of-attractiveness metaphors. Julian Tavarez with a comb-over. Willie McGee in a diaper. No doubt you're all on the edge of your seats to see how we paint the picture of the upcoming 13-2 loss to the Nationals on a cold August Tuesday night.

NOW LISTENING TO: Lots of Soweto, courtesy of FMFM, the pirate signal at the end of the continent. No wonder Paul Simon got hooked. Mahlathini, the Lion of Soweto (or if you prefer, the Howlin' Wolf of South Africa) and the Mahotella Queens are top of the pops for me right now.



25 Men and a Seal 

Lance Niekro's in. Jason Ellison's off to Seattle. Sweeney is on the disabled list, postponing a decision on his fate.

A couple thoughts:

* Ellison was traded for minor-league pitcher Travis Blackley, who used to be a top prospect. As a 20-year-old he threw 162 innings in double-A, striking out 144, walking 62, and giving up 125 hits.

Then he blew out his shoulder and missed all of 2005. He returned last year and pitched 150 innings, mostly in AA. His numbers weren't nearly as dominant as before the injury, but he's only 24, and as we all know from our experience with Joe Nathan, sometimes it takes more than a year for a pitcher to return to previous form. I haven't seen Blackley pitch, but on its face this seems like an excellent move. Ellison is nearly 30 and will never be more than a backup outfielder. Blackley is a big, young left-handed starter who may still have recovery upside.

* Ellison goes home to play with his favorite team and to play alongside Willie Bloomquist, his best friend from high school. Story here.

* Niekro is insurance in case Aurilia re-sproings his groin, but otherwise he's a big lunky pinch-hitter against lefties as the roster is currently configured. How else might the Giants use him? Reports Hank Schulman of the Chron: Niekro forced the team's hand by hitting .340 this spring. Although he seems to be buried on the depth chart behind Rich Aurilia and Klesko, Sabean and Bochy said there might be games against left-handed pitchers in which Pedro Feliz plays left field, Aurilia moves to third and Niekro starts at first.

* Kevin Frandsen is actually being considered as an option in the outfield. He's becoming a veritable Joe McEwing. Let's hope his career batting line looks better than Little Mac.

* The bullpen: Three lefties! ¡Tremendo! Best-case scenario is Jack Taschner develops into a lefty killer and makes Steve Kline expendable by mid-year. Jonathan Sanchez in short relief is not surprising, but it must be confusing for the kid, who keeps hearing different stories from the Giants.

As long as his arm stays healthy, I like the idea of keeping him in the bullpen. He doesn't yet have the stuff to be a major-league starter. So the Giants basically had two choices: send him back to Fresno to refine his control and off-speed stuff while dominating AAA hitters, or keep him up and let him learn his craft in lower-pressure situations. Watch his outings carefully for signs of progress. He got by last year on his unfamiliarity, his funky delivery, and the movement on his fastball. The league will know more about him this time around.

* I'll be at the yard Tuesday and Wednesday wearing the Mays Field T-shirts. Come by the 1-3-8 (Row 3) and say hi.


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