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Saturday, April 16, 2011

Why pull Cain so quickly? And other thoughts ...

It's early, and Manager Bruce Bochy has a lot of slack as the next skipper for the National League All-Star team. But he continues to raise questions with some of his moves, even as the Giants won the sixth of their last eight games with a 5-2 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Bochy's most recent puzzling move was keeping Barry Zito in three batters too long as he let a close one with the St. Louis Cardinals slip away. Friday night, he yanked Matt Cain too early, at the first sign of trouble Friday night, with no outs in the seventh after the first two hitters reached. Cain had just reached 102 pitches, hardly a pitch-count to worry about for the Giants' co-ace and confirmed "horse."

Cain had given up a bloop single to Stephen Drew just inside the right field line (which Huff couldn't catch up to because he was bunching the gap in right center) and hit Melvin Mora with a fastball up and in, the way they'd been pitching to him all night.

Granted, Cain had some elbow issues at the start of spring training, but he has shown no ill effects, and still looked like he had the stuff to finish out the seventh. With left hander Jeremy Affeldt warmed up and lefty-hitting catcher Montero up, though, Bochy opted for the matchup, and got what he wanted with a strikeout.

Things got squirrely when Affeldt walked pinch-hitter Xavier Nady to load the bases, but Ramon Ramirez turned in the shutdown performance of the night by inducing a sacrifice fly ball by Willie Bloomquist on a full count, and then, after a wild pitch sent runners to second and third, striking out the woeful-looking Kelly Johnson.

Ramirez turned in a full inning in the eighth for a total of an inning and two-thirds. Excellent work, but it effectively limits how he'll be used in the next day or so. Same goes for Javier Lopez, who was stretched for 20 pitches in the ninth before yielding to closer Brian Wilson for the last out.

It all turned out fine, as the Giants won 5-2, but going so early to his bullpen puts an added burden onto a relief core that will likely be pressed into significant service time today: Barry Zito goes against a pretty hot-hitting team. And if Bochy has to dig deep in Game 2 of the Giants' extended road schedule (they've just begun a stretch of 16 of their next 19 games on the road), where does that leave them for the rest of the trip?


Shortstop Miguel Tejada has provided a steady presence with flashes of defensive brilliance that few could have predicted.

His play on the high hopper that he had to wait on was a pure veteran move: he knew how much time he had and knew how much mustard he had to put on his hot dog, just nailing Drew to end the sixth (complemented by Brandon Belt's scoop).

On Wednesday night against the Dodgers, Buster Posey was rightly lauded for picking off Tony Gwynn from second base, after making a spectacular one-handed grab of a wild one-hop pitch. But it was Tejada's snap throw to third -- again with extra mustard -- that made the play.

Posey ran Gwynn back towards second, but threw a tick too quickly to Tejada covering second, allowing Gwynn to scamper toward third -- a Cardinal Sin in rundown philosophy. You want to force a runner back to the lesser base before throwing and prevent the runner from getting a shot at the next base. Tejada's lightning quick return throw to third was just in time and right on target for the out, helping secure another thread to the growing legend of Buster Posey.

Tejada's been picking up some key hits, too, a bonus at the bottom of the order, turning on a 93 MPH fastball in on his hands to scorch a double down the left field line to score a run, and launching a ground-rule double to right center field in the ninth.


With Pat Burrell struggling, it might be the right time to adjust the lineup: move Tejada into the sixth spot, Burrell to No. 7 and Belt into the No. 8 slot. Or, if you don't want to add too much complexity to the rookie's job, keep Belt in the 7 hole, sit Burrell and go with Nate Schierholz in the 8-hole (with Huff to left field).

Why put Schierholz in against lefty starter Joe Saunders, you ask? Schierholz hits lefties better than any Giant. He has a lifetime .364 batting average against lefties (51-for-144). It's a no-brainer.

After Burrell went 0-for-3 with a walk Friday, Burrell is hitting .167. He's 6-for-36 on the year with 15 strikeouts. He's searching: he's chasing fastballs up and changeups down, and missing pitches he used to launch. His slump will make Bochy's decision easier when Cody Ross returns for the Colorado Rockies series: It looks like an outfield of Ross in RF, Aaron Rowand in CF and Aubrey Huff in LF.


Rowand took a fat 0-for-5, striking out three times against Dan Hudson. He wasn't alone -- Hudson had 10 victims. But Rowand looked overpowered by a good fastball, again.

A scary moment in the first brought back bad memories from a year ago: a fastball that just missed his face. It was about this time last year that Vicente Padilla beaned Rowand, who had had a similarly hot start but never recovered.

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