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Sunday, June 26, 2011

Sunday notebook: Give Vogey the All-Star nod

Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum probably solidified their spots on the All-Star roster with their most recent performances, which epitomized their place in the game as two of the best.

Brian Wilson is a shoo-in, with 23 saves and a 2.50 ERA (since his rough start after returning early from his side injury, Wilson has been in an unheard-of zone: he's given up only two earned runs in 28 2/3 innings, a 0.63 ERA).

But it's largely what they meant in the Giants' World Series run that will compel All-star Manager Boss Bochy, who gets to choose the pitching staff and some of the reserves, to reward his three pitching stalwarts.

But should that preclude Bochy from taking Ryan Vogelsong to the mid-season classic?

Bochy has indicated he is considering Vogelsong, whose 1.86 ERA would be leading the National League (over Jair Jurrjens' 2.07 ERA) except that he's four and 2/3 innings shy of qualifying.

The only reason he's not a hands-down choice is, however, is that baseball has a hierarchy for the stars. It is an exclusive club, and it's not easy to gain access to it. Baseball frowns on the one-hit wonder, the Johnny-come-lately. They may appreciate the story of the downtrodden player who emerges from nowhere to catch a whiff of stardom. But the game -- the players, coaches, managers, even the owners and the media -- requires you to step in line, pay your dues, prove it over the long haul to get the stamp of All-Star approval.

The message is: well done, Vogey, but are you really one of us?

I say get over it, baseball. There's room for the heart-warming story. And, even if Vogelsong has hit his stride late in his career and may well be on a short-lived run, the fact is this 33-year old journeyman is making a fool out of major league hitters. He has out-pitched a two-time Cy Young award winner on the World Championship team and could very well be a big reason the Giants repeat.

He may fall flat on his face in the second half and return to earth, but as of now Ryan Vogelsong is on top of the world and belongs to have his place in the constellation of stars.

There is speculation also that Bochy wants to take a position player as a nod/reward to the offense that was good enough to take the Giants to the World Series. The problem is that no one in the lineup has statistics that really come close to the level of an All-Star this year. Before Freddy Sanchez was hurt, he was the only consistent bat in the lineup -- to match his sterling glove -- that could be an easy choice.

Apparently, Bochy is looking at Pablo Sandoval, who has a semi-decent average, at .281, though he was out for six weeks. The irony is Sandoval wound up on the bench toward the end of last year, one of the least productive aspects of the team's success. But, Bochy could make up for the slight to Pablo from two years ago when he clearly deserved a spot.

This is a problem for a team that relies on luck and pluck: there are no obvious stars on this team, at least on the offensive side.


So, indeed, we will have one enigmatic left-hander replace the other.

And isn't it ironic that after all the delay tactics the Giants took to keep Barry Zito at bay, they went with the convenient injury rationale for shutting down Jonathan Sanchez. Just a day before they put him on the disabled list, Sanchez was saying he's healthy.

The Giants say he'd been losing velocity earlier in games, but that's simply not the case. He was still hitting 92 in the fifth inning of his last start. And he is typically effective when he's at 90 with control, anyway.

Either way, it's probably the best route. Putting Sanchez in the bullpen might have been one option. But, Giants management may have decided that he needs to be completely shut down -- yes, perhaps, to let his arm bounce back. But mostly, this is a mental time out.

We've all seen it: Sanchez appears to check out mentally during games with adversity. It's been an uneven season for him: he's had spectacular moments, but the wildness has kept him from being a consistent force.

As we saw with Andres Torres after his two-day break, getting away from the grind can be the best homeopathic medicine.

And maybe Zito will bring an extra edge from his long layoff.


I would not be surprised to see shortstop Brandon Crawford shipped out soon. Though Bochy gave him a boost the other day by saying he was still having good swings, the fact is the results have been desultory. He's hitting .154 in June, and is only 3 for 36 since June 9.

Maybe he would have thrived if the veterans around him had hit; but it came to the point that he was being leaned on for the big hit as much as Aubrey Huff, Cody Ross, et al. On any other team, he would have hit eighth, but with the weak catching situation, he was forced to hit seventh, which has proven far too much for the kid.

The Giants will miss his glove, but Crawford needs to develop his batting skills. His next stop is likely Phoenix.


Interesting interviews with Dan Gladden and Hensley "Bam Bam" Muelens on the Marty Lurie "Talking Baseball" show Saturday.

Gladden, the former Giant who went on to become a part of the Cinderella Minnesota Twins' 1987 World Champions, told a story of why he loved to play behind Mike Krukow. In a 1-1 tie in a game in an August 1985 game against the New York Mets, Gladden had dropped a fly ball in the top of the ninth that led to the go-ahead run. When Gladden came off the field that inning, the fans booed him unmercifully, but Krukow waited for him and walked with Gladden into the dugout, a signal of solidarity that can mean so much to a kid just breaking into the Big Leagues.

Gladden also told of the moment that he could have redeemed himself an inning later: He came up in the bottom of the ninth with two outs and the bases loaded, visions of a goat-to-hero storyline dancing in his head. Alas, he flied out to end the game.

Gladden also spoke with some bitterness of being traded to the Twins. Even after all he'd been through tin 1987 in helping the unlikely Twins (remember, they were a sixth place team the year before) get to the post-season, he recalled watching one of the outfielders the Giants had chosen over him earlier that year, Candy Maldonado, diving for and missing a Tony Pena line drive that led to a triple and the only run in Game 6 against the St. Louis Cardinals, tying the series at 3-all.

"I was waiting and waiting for the Giants to win so I could play them in the World Series," he said.

And he said he couldn't believe manager Roger Craig's choice for Game 7: Atlee Hammaker, who wound up losing, 6-0, giving up the infamous home run to Jose Oquendo.

Krukow had won Game 4, and would have had to pitch on three games rest. No matter, Gladden said.

"You go with Krukow every time in a Game 7," he said.

Lurie did not ask Gladden about his controversial recent comment about Buster Posey, in which he blamed the catcher for getting hit. It seemed like a self-indulgent comment from a former player maintaining the gruff exterior of a guy who played all-out.

But in all, Gladden was a good story teller who, it turns out, would have been a welcome addition to the Giants radio booth all these years.


Muellens had some interesting observations about some of his hitters. He spoke of Andres Torres' propensity to over-think and overwork, of how he's trying to get Huff to take the same approach against right handers as he has against lefties (tucked shoulder, using all parts of the field). "He gets too greedy," he said.

His most valuable insight was on Pablo Sandoval. He explained that Sandoval was still strengthening his injured hand; that in the first several days after returning to the active roster, Sandoval was limited to maybe 10 swings in the cages and then not that many more in batting practice before getting thrust into the games.

That is remarkable. It was one of my fears: that the Giants would push Sandoval back into big league action -- putting him in the No. 3 hole, no less! -- even as he was still recovering from injury. They did it with Ross and Mark DeRosa. Muellens says that having Sandoval back at 80 percent is better than having most at 100 percent. And they are monitoring his hand to be sure he doesn't reinjure it. And it's not like anyone was picking up the slack for him.

But still. You just hope there isn't some long-term health concern. And, you hope that the rush job doesn't screw up the Panda's swing.


Why do the Giants continue to treat fans as if they are still Candlestick Park denizens?

There was a marketing purpose to promotional days at Candlestick: they used the giveaways to lure fans to the park. And to create a sense of urgency, the Giants would announce that the first 10,000 fans would receive whatever freebie they had.

They continue to use the same marketing strategy at AT&T: The first 25,000 fans on Saturday received an Aubrey Huff bobblehead doll. Why? They've sold out every game. There's no need to lure fans. They're coming.

Instead of using promotional day as an incentive for fans, maybe the Giants should just drop their ravenous, profit-mongering ways and offer up their freebies as a reward to all those fans shelling out the big bucks.

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