Cactus League Update

Seems like just as soon as it started, Spring Training is about to end.  Only one more week of practice games remains for my boys.  There have been lots of developments over the last few weeks, both good and bad.

The Giants are still having injury issues.  Freddy Sanchez will most definitely start the season on the disabled list.  His shoulder is still giving him troubles.  This brings us to one of the decisions the Giants front office will have to make – who will replace him as the starting second baseman?  It’s looking like that person will be Emmanuel Burriss.  He’s had a great showing both offensively and defensively during spring training, and he also has speed and can steal bases.  He’s got a .405 batting average so far.  I love that kid, so I’m personally very happy that he is getting his chance to shine.  So where does that leave the Oh Boys, Mike Fontenot and Ryan Theriot?  Rumor has it that the Giants are looking to trade one of them since there won’t be room for both on the 40-man roster, making Dan’s catch phrase short-lived.

Another injury issue has been with Nate Schierholtz.  He has had a couple of minor injuries during Spring Training that have left him unable to play in several games.  Nate has had a history of being injury-prone during the regular season as well.  He has also had a lackluster showing so far this spring.  And with the spectacular showing of new-kid-on-the-block, center fielder Gregor Blanco, Nate’s starting position in the outfield may be in jeopardy.

I mentioned in my last blog that my boy Ryan Vogelsong also suffered an injury to his back in the weight room.  Thankfully, he seems to be almost fully recuperated, but the coaches aren’t completely confident yet that he will be able to start the season.  Because of their schedule at the beginning of this season, they wouldn’t need a fifth starter until April 15th anyway (the five pitchers take turns and since there is a day off on April 10th, they could start with the first pitcher again on April 11th).  He should most definitely be ready by then.  I saw an interview with Ryan a few days ago during a game, and he was asked about starting the season on the disabled list.  I don’t know if it was just me, but that boy looked ticked off!  He really wants to be in there now, but I guess the coaches are playing it safe and don’t want to push things.  I’m pulling for you, Ryan.  Be patient – you can show us your stuff soon enough!

On a super bright note, Buster Posey seems to be recuperating well from his devastating injury.  Coaches are slowly increasing his playing time, eventually hoping for him to catch in back-to-back games to prepare him for the season.  He’s been hitting well, he’s been fine in the squat catching, and most importantly, he’s been fine running the bases (where his ankle gets the most abuse).  The other day, he even made a tag attempt at home, taking the breath away of probably everyone in that stadium.  The runner was safe, but at least that’s one thing he’s been able to check off his list.  Having Buster back is like having a new all-star player on the team.  So happy things are going smoothly for him.

This leads us to the issue of the backup catcher.  Bochy has said that they don’t want to overdo it with Buster, so he will probably be playing at first base a lot this season, at least in the beginning.  Who will take that back up catcher spot?  Of course, this is a subject near and dear to my heart as Eli Whiteside is my main boy on the team.  If the decision was based solely on Spring Training performance, the winner would be the kid, Hector Sanchez.  He has had a spectacular spring, with a batting average presently at .452 and 7 of his 14 hits went for extra bases (including 4 home runs).  He has definitely been turning the heads of the Giants staff, but it sounds like they still think he might not have the catching experience needed.  I bet he will do one more year in the minors where he can play every day.  That brings us to the remaining catchers, Eli Whiteside and Chris Stewart.  According to Andrew Baggarly, the decision won’t be made based on their batting average during Spring Training but their ability to call a game, catch, and throw.  And this battle will go down to the wire.  If they play equally well, the deciding factor may be that Eli has a minor league option, but Stewart does not.  That means if Stewart is not on the 40-man roster, he could be picked up by another team.  To me, that doesn’t bode well for Eli.  We’ll just have to see.  I’m torn because I really want to see Eli on the team but not at the expense of losing Chris (the Spit Master General whom I was fortunate enough to meet at FanFest).

Another battle is going on at first base between Aubrey Huff, Brent Pill, and Brandon Belt.  Huff’s spring hasn’t been all that, but Bochy tends to go with the veterans, so he will probably start out in that position but with a much shorter leash this season.  The two kids are nipping at his heals, and the team is also looking at both at other positions.  It will be interesting to see how the pieces fit together for the final roster.

Ginny will be happy to hear that Brandon Crawford has dismissed any doubts about his ability to be the starting shortstop.  His defense has been impeccable as usual, and he has proven himself offensively with a .333 batting average and a .442 on base percentage.  Way to go, Kid!  I am so looking forward to seeing him out there more this season.

Regarding the pitching staff, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner seem to be easily getting back into their groove.  Timmy had a little hiccup, but he seems to be getting better with each game as well.  Ryan had his back injury, so we’ll have to wait and see how he does, but I’m not worried.  Then we come to Barry Zito.  He seemed to be doing OK at the beginning of spring, but instead of getting better, he’s gotten worse as things have gone on.  He had a dreadful outing today, allowing 5 runs in the 2 ½ innings he pitched.  11 of the 17 batters he faced got on base, and 2 hit homers.  Bochy is concerned because it is so late in the spring.  If they decide to yank Zito, who will take his place?  Apparently they are not super impressed with Eric Surkamp either.  Maybe they’ll trade one of the Oh Boys for another starting pitcher.  We’ll see.  Come on Barry – get it together.  We really need you right now.  I’m pulling for you!

The only news on the Matt Cain contract decision is that there is no news yet.  I’m assuming he’s in the same position that Timmy was:  Do I sign a long-term contract with the team I’ve always been on, or do I hold out and see if free agency can bring me more money?  If he doesn’t sign a contract, he will be a free agent next season.  Hopefully something will be decided before the start of this season because I think it’s becoming a distraction to him, plus I would like to know that his mad pitching skills will be around for a while.  Give the boy what he wants, please!

I was able to do some preliminary spit analysis during the first televised Spring Training game on March 5th.  I didn’t do an actual count because guys don’t play for very long during these games, and counts would be much lower than usual.  But I wanted to get a feel for any changes in spit frequencies and to check out the habits of the new guys.  Spitting is still alive and well with the Giants players.  I observed spits from Pablo, Matt, Buster, Aubrey, Chris (no surprise – he still spits a lot), Madison, Brett, Jeremy, and Sergio.  As far as the new guys, Melky didn’t play, but I did see Angel spit once and Ryan Theriot spat a couple of times.  I need to resend those spit certificates at the beginning of the regular season.  We’ll see if that makes any difference in the frequency of Chris’ spitting (and if I get any response back from him and the two non-spitters, Brandon Crawford and Barry Zito).

My baseball education continues during Spring Training, this time thanks to Giants announcer Jon Miller.  During the game on March 4th, Angel Pagan was at bat with Hector Sanchez at first base.  The Giants had two outs at this point.  Pagan hit the ball and it hit Hector Sanchez while he was running.  Sanchez was called out and Pagan was not credited with a hit.  Jon Miller mentioned that the official scorer incorrectly scored this – Pagan should have gotten a hit.  He actually went to the scorer and told him this, and he then changed the score.  In an interview with Andrew Baggarly after the game, Miller referred to Rule 10.05 Section A Subsection 5 of the rule book (this cracked me up) which states that if a player hits a ball that in turn hits a runner before it gets to an infielder, the runner is out but the batter is credited with a hit.  So apparently both the official scorer and I learned something new that day!  Thanks, Jon!

I’ll also pass along some newly acquired Spring Training knowledge.  You’ve probably heard of the Cactus League.  I thought that this referred to Spring Training in general, but this is the subset of Spring Training that takes place in Arizona.  Many of the teams have their Spring Training in Florida.  This league is called the Grapefruit League.  Why does this make me laugh?  It makes sense since Arizona has cacti and Florida has grapefruits, but it just sounds so silly!  Another amusing thing about the Cactus League is the names of some of the parks.  My favorites are Surprise Stadium and Salt River Fields at Talking Stick.

The regular season starts in less than two weeks on April 6th.  Can you believe it???  I am so excited to actually be able to watch games regularly on TV again (sorry, Dan!) and to get those spit counts up and running.  Then my baseball trip with my siblings is only two weeks after that.  WOOHOO!  I hope you are all as excited as I am about baseball coming back.  Until next time, GO GIANTS!

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