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Sunday, June 12, 2011

Sunday notebook: Giants need to add big bat; Lincecum's troubles defined

At so many junctures already this season, it seems like the Giants have been on the verge of collapse. Right now, they appear to be on the cusp of a crisis: They've lost the middle of their lineup to serious injury; their ace, Tim Lincecum, has suddenly lost it; their offense continues to be mired in a funk.

Yet, every time they're counted out, the Giants show resilience and reassert themselves with dramatic victories that cloak their weaknesses. But, it's clear that over the long haul, the injuries to key players cannot be sustained if they don't bolster their offense with new acquisitions.

Pablo Sandoval's imminent return would qualify as a new acquisition. Putting his bat in the middle of the order -- he should go directly to the cleanup spot so that Aubrey Huff can practice his trade with less pressure -- could do wonders to the lineup.

They did bring in Bill Hall, and perhaps he can provide some pop to a lineup in desperate need of power.

Hall was hitting .224 with the lowly Houston Astros with two HR, almost precisely the numbers Pat Burrell had when he arrived in San Francisco last year. And we all remember how Burrell turned his career around as the Giants' newfound power guy. But, you can't expect last year's story line to be repeated as if by script.

Hall seems to be on the downward spiral of his career. He struck out 55 times in 147 at bats in Houston. But only as recently as May 23, he went 4-for-4 with two doubles against the Dodgers, though he ended his Houston stint going 0-for-his-last-12.

Remember, in 2006, he hit 35 HR and 85 RBI. He fell off the map with 14 HRs in 2007 and 15 HRs in 2008; he returned last year with 18 HR in only 344 at bats with the Boston Red Sox, so there is some hope that he's still got a fresh bat.

But Hall is not the guy to turn around the Giants offense.

The Giants need a big bat to complement Sandoval. First of all, there is no guarantee Sandoval will return to the form he had before he broke his hamate bone. The pressure of returning as the offensive savior has played mind tricks on the best hitters. Second, it will be difficult to keep going with Huff, Cody Ross, Burrell, Miguel Tejada if they continue on their middling paths.

At some point soon, the Giants will have to pull a trigger on a big acquisition -- most likely a corner outfielder because they're not going to replace Huff, not after signing him to a two-year contract. It's a delicate call. You hope every day that one or two of their big guys can start a sustained drive that keeps you from having to make the decision.

If it is a corner outfielder, Burrell will be the first to go, and Ross and Nate Schierholtz would be competing against each other for playing time. Tejada, whose bat appears to be warming up, may have a better shot to stick, given his versatility at third and shortstop.


What's at the bottom of Lincecum's troubles with his fastball command? He's got such a complicated windup and delivery that if his timing is off at any point, he can't find his arm slot. The reason for his timing issues: he's been trying to speed up his delivery to thwart the running game.

So, it seems to me that pitching coach Dave Righetti should drop the concern about folks running on him so he can be more consistent with his delivery. Besides, with Eli Whiteside having such a bad time throwing down to second base -- I mean there are thousands of high school catchers who could be making better throws -- it wouldn't matter if Lincecum set a record for quickness to the plate.

Many of the greats had trouble holding runners on. Let Timmy be Timmy.

One difference between his troubles last August and now is that he's hitting 94 MPH consistently, where last year, he topped out at 90 or 91.

Lincecum's off-speed pitches don't have the same bite or deception when his fastball is erratic. Hitters either lay off the off-speed stuff or see it much better because they don't have to worry about the fastball. That was apparent in the top of the third. Even when he had an 1-2- count on pitcher Mike Leake, his curve came in flat and lay on a tee for Leake, who got a ground rule double to start the Reds' two-run rally.


I'd argue that if Freddy Sanchez is out for any real length of time, his injury would be just as devastating or more to the Giants' post-season hopes as Buster Posey's.

Sanchez has been a Gold Glove defender at second and the steadiest hitter on offense. He is the ultimate professional who makes playing second base look easy. He turns tough hops into easy ones just by his footwork and quickness to the ball; he makes every routine play and plenty of dazzling ones, ranges as far to the left as any second baseman out there. There is a total sense of security when the ball is hit to the right side: you know Sanchez will do the right thing on every play.

Defense up the middle is always considered key to the success of a team, and though calling a game from behind the plate can be considered the architectural blueprint to a defense, middle-infield defense is the actual infrastructure that holds the building together. A blueprint doesn't matter if the structure doesn't hold up.

Appeared headed to a .300 season at the plate and a sure bet All-Star, Sanchez had the knack for the big hit. Of the Giants nine walk-off wins, he had two of the walk-off hits. He's been the Giants No. 2 hitter for most of his tenure here, but he was hitting No. 3 when he got injured -- a testament to Bochy's reliance on him on offense.


The Reds' maltreatment of Lincecum put the performances of Madison Bumgarner and Ryan Vogelsong's into a different light. The Reds have one of the more potent offenses, as they showed Saturday. But Bumgarner and Vogelsong held them to three runs in 13 innings (2.07 ERA).

Bumgarner was dominant in his outing, giving up only one run in seven innings, lowering his ERA to 3.12 (remember when he was in the 7s?). He embarrassed the Reds' best hitter, 2010 MVP Joey Votto, in his first two at bats, striking him out with nasty sliders and movement fastballs, breaking down his swing to awkward half-cuts.

Votto did get a single in his third at bat, so down the line when the Golden Voices are looking at matchups and see that Votto is hitting .400 (2-for-5 with 1 HR) against Bumgarner, don't be deceived. Bumgarner had his number. The home run Votto got off Maddy came in that infamous 12-11 Reds win last August. Votto was seeing a different Bumgarner at that point.

By the way, Votto is 2-for-9 against tonight's starting pitcher Jonathan Sanchez.

Against the Reds on Friday night, Vogelsong didn't live up to the sharpness of his previous outings but did a yeoman's job in containing their potent offense and getting out of jams with minimum damage.

-- In the top of the second, he pitched through an error and infield single by inducing Paul Janish into a double play grounder.

-- In the third, with first and second and two outs, he got the dangerous Jay Bruce to fly out.

-- In the fourth, after a leadoff triple, a walk and a run-scoring single, he finished the inning allowing just the one run, getting out of it by striking out Janish, a sacrifice bunt, and with runners on second and third, striking out Drew Stubbs with a beautiful 93 MPH fastball that he buried in on his hands.

-- In the fifth, the Reds loaded the bases with no outs, but Vogelsong struck out Scott Rolen, gave up a run on a grounder to first and finished it by inducing an inning-ending groundout.

The Giants' eventual walk-off 3-2 win was generally attributed to the scoreless relief efforts of Jeremy Affeldt (what's he eating lately? His stuff is electric right now), Sergio Romo (he was throwing darts, striking out the side -- the first two with fastball paint on the corners, the last on his signature slider) and Brian Wilson.

But without Vogelsong's damage control job -- he had to work through difficulties in four of his six innings -- it wouldn't have mattered.

Vogelsong's ERA "jumped" from 1.68 to 1.81, and his record stood still at 4-1. He could have seven wins if the Giants had hit in his no-decisions (6 IP 2 ER; 5 IP 1 ER; 6 IP 0 ER)

Wilson is now tied for the team lead in wins with five, four of which have come in walkoffs. Talk about the ultimate vulture wins.


The Giants wouldn't have pulled out their ninth walk-off win without the walk.

The team with the third lowest on base percentage in the N.L. (.306) got three walks in the ninth inning before Nate Schierholtz came through with his game-winner.

Andres Torres did a great job of refraining from going after Reds' reliever Jose Arredondo's high fastballs. Each pitch was tempting, especially for a guy who could end the thing with a power swing.

After a Manny Burriss sacrifice bunt, Dusty Baker elected to intentionally walk Miguel Tejada, who had doubled twice earlier Friday and twice on Thursday -- his hottest two-game production yet for the Giants. After rookie Brandon Crawford struck out (hey, even that was a contribution -- he stayed out of a double play), Cody Ross walked on five pitches, setting up Schierholtz' dramatics.

It's no accident that Torres and Ross drew the key walks: they have the highest on-base percentages among regulars: .355 for Torres and .345 for Ross. And they came after Boss Bochy held a "round-table conversation" with hitters about not trying to take the whole load themselves.

Just keep the line moving, is all.

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