Thoughts from Sunday night's game, a 7-5 loss to the Dodgers:
-- It's early, but it may be time to rethink Buster Posey as cleanup hitter for the Giants. He's whiffed on two big opportunities to put a dent in the 2011 season in the opening series with the Dodgers: striking out with the bases loaded in the seventh inning of Game 2 when the Giants were down, 4-3, and grounding out weakly to end the game as the potential tying run in a 7-5 loss.
He had the advantage of a 2-and-0 count against Dodger closer Jonathan Broxton, who'd already given up a home run to Aaron Rowand and a single to Freddy Sanchez. The 300-pound closer grooved a fastball right down the middle, which Posey topped easily to short.
Posey seems jumpy at the plate, as if he's trying to live up to all the expectations of a returning champion/rookie of the year rather than letting his smooth stroke work itself out. He showed a glimpse of his signature inside-out-swing earlier in the game with a two-out RBI single to right field, but in big moments so far, he has looked overwhelmed. He has admitted to early-season jitters. Maybe it's too much to have him in the four-hole, in the same way Pablo Sandoval was asked to take up a leadership role as the No. 3 hitter last year.
-- It's a tough call to know when to take out one of the buffaloes in the Giants' outfield, but Sunday night, Manager Bruce Bochy was probably kicking himself for not pulling the trigger in the bottom of the 7th.
The Dodgers' four-run seventh might have happened anyway, but Aubrey Huff's misplay on a deep but playable fly ball by Marcus Thames that ended up as an RBI triple opened the floodgates. If Nate Schierholz had entered as a defensive replacement in right field, he likely catches it, there are two outs and the Dodgers' hit parade might never materialize.
But Pat Burrell had just hit a home run to tie the game, 3-3, and Bochy was still thinking he needed his big bats in the lineup.
It's part of the conundrum that having Brandon Belt in the lineup poses. If Bochy wants to keep the two big bats, Huff and Burrell, late in a tie or close game, he could bring Huff in to first base with Schierholz going into right. But that creates confusion with Belt: Do the Giants see him as a potent asset in the lineup or not? Or is he just a movable part who isn't valuable enough to keep in the lineup in late innings?
-- That doesn't even touch on the issue of what happens when Cody Ross returns. Belt could be on a short leash: if he winds up slowing down from his spring training pace, it may force the Giants to rethink their decision to start with him on the roster. But if he does enough to stay up, what happens to the outfield configuration? Does Huff move over to left field and Burrell to the bench? Or, if Huff and Burrell are hot, does Ross return to the roster as a reserve?
(It's a tough enough call for the Giants to decide who will have to leave the roster, and it looks more and more than Schierholz is the odd man out.)
-- Belt passed a test in the eighth when Matt Guerrier walked Burrell to load the bases to get to the rookie. The veteran reliever couldn't get Belt to bite on the first three just out of the strike zone. Guerrier got the 3-0 pitch that should have been Ball 4. But Belt did a great job to draw the bases loaded walk, letting a slider down low go by. A marvelous job of patience by the kid, made all the more impressive when veteran Miguel Tejada got himself out on the first pitch by swinging at an ankle high fastball to pop out and end the threat.
"The rookie showed him up," said ESPN's Bobby Valentine, correctly. "It was a ridiculous approach."
-- Another interesting moment: Keeping Sandoval in to face lefty Hong-Chih Kuo with one out and two runners on in the eighth. Sandoval falls behind 1 and 2 before chasing a hard breaking curve in on his hands and above the letters for the punchout. Bochy has told Pablo he is not platooning him, so couldn't very well have pinch hit for him in that spot. But Sandoval will have to come through in those moments and disprove all the evidence from last year that begs for a platoon.
That situation cries out for Mark DeRosa if Sandoval doesn't get cracking soon from the right side.
-- Rowand keeps inserting himself into the picture, with a pinch-hit home run following a two-hit game on Saturday. Not to take anything away from the production, but it should be remembered that Rowand's home run came on an 88-mile per hour slider from Jonathan Broxton, and his two hits came off soft-tossing lefty Ted Lilly. The key is putting Rowand in positions where he can succeed: against middling pitching.
-- When the game was still in the balance, starter Barry Zito came through with a performance that would have been more memorable if the Giants had won.
Zito had just walked two straight with one out in the sixth inning, appearing to have lost the bite off his off-speed stuff. Matt Kemp, who has long tormented Zito (he came into Sunday's game with a .419 lifetime batting average against him in 43 at bats), stepped to the plate. Kemp had already notched a monster home run in the first inning off Zito. Yet, no one in the bullpen was even close to ready.
It looked like Bochy was caught unprepared as Kemp strode to the plate with Guellermo Mota just beginning to warm up. Zito was a man stranded on an island with sharks circling, and fell behind in the count, 3 and 1 to boot. But Zito induced Kemp to fly out to right field on a fastball just above the strike zone. And he got the dangerous Juan Uribe to pop out to get out of the threat.
That nice performance, which capped five straight hitless innings after a shaky first inning, got lost in the ensuing 7th inning collapse. But it should be remembered when all the talk lathers up before his next start.