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Friday, April 6, 2012

Bochy missed chance to exploit bench depth; yanked Lincecum too late

You can't get too upset about Opening Day losses -- it is one of 162 games, after all.

But I've got just a couple nits to pick that are leftover irritants from some of last year's frustrations: Bruce Bochy's late hook of Tim Lincecum and his decision to stay with Aubrey Huff late in the game against a left-handed reliever.

Lincecum had done well to recover from early struggles, putting up four scoreless innings after allowing three runs on a pair of home runs in the first inning.

But the stringy, long-haired Freak found himself in immediate danger in the bottom of the sixth. He left a changeup out over the plate for Justin Upton, who promptly led off with a double. Miguel Montero then just missed a home run with a fly ball that right fielder Melky Cabrera caught at the fence.

Two real good swings off of some fat pitches, with Lincecum approaching his 90th pitch on Opening Day after an underwhelming spring training? Should've been hookville right there.

Bochy stuck with his ace, however, and Lincecum appeared to justify the move, getting Jason Kubel to nub a weak chopper out in front of the plate for what should have been the second out. Buster Posey, perhaps showing a touch of rust in his first regular-season game since his horrendous season-ending injury last May, reached out and swiped at the ball a bit casually rather than grabbing it firmly. The ball popped out of his glove, and Posey had to hurry his throw to first, just a touch late.

Bochy raced out to argue the call, though replays showed Kubel appeared to beat the throw, barely. No sooner had Bochy returned the dugout, however, that Lincecum teed up yet a third fat pitch -- this one to Ryan Roberts, who slammed it off the left field wall for a two-run double and a 5-3 lead.

Was Bochy of sound mind after his heated display on the call at first? If he hadn't had that distraction, might he have given some thought about yanking Lincecum? There was plenty evidence suggesting Timmy Boy was done.

I'm all for toughing things out with my starting pitcher. But on Opening Day, you proceed with a little more caution with your starters, who aren't at peak strength -- not by a long shot. Lincecum in particular has shown this spring that he isn't yet up to snuff. How many times had he thrown 95 pitches in spring training? And yet Bochy let him make that 95th pitch, with the game on the line.


Now, down 5-3 in the top of the seventh, the Giants had a chance to close the deficit with two runners on, though two were out. Arizona Manager Kirk Gibson got the the matchup he wanted, bringing in left handed reliever Joe Paterson to face Huff.

Huff did OK against lefties last year: his .270 batting average was 35 points better than he hit against righties. But Paterson is a specialist who is especially difficult to hit for lefties (they hit .201 against him, while righties hit .255 against him). Huff's sample against Paterson was small, but ineffective: 0-for-3.

Huff had figured nicely in the Giants' sixth, leading off with a base hit on an 0-2 changeup off last year's 21-game winner, Ian Kennedy, eventually scoring the tying run, at 3-3.

Against the side-winding lefty Paterson, Huff hung in there admirably, fouling off some tough pitches, but inevitably grounded out weakly to end the threat.

SF Chron's Henry Schulman tweeted afterward that Bochy "is not going to yank a veteran starter in his first AB against a lefty in first game for young PH."

I tweeted -- before the at bat -- that this was an opportune time to bring in someone like Brett Pill. KNBR's Marty Lurie replied to me: "Great point. In the 1st gm let Huff hit ... in 3 wks you absolutely consider the RH option... what about HSanchez? If he's here use him."

Why not? Bochy already made it clear that Huff will be a mostly six-inning player, to be subbed out defensively in latter innings. Why shouldn't that principle apply to tough hitting situations, especially when you have guys like Pill and Hector Sanchez who are on the roster for the express purpose of adding offense -- not to mention provide the electricity that only talented youth can bring?

We saw this far too often last year: Bochy putting too much stock in Huff and other veterans. And though Huff had a nice spring training (he did last year, too, hitting six home runs), Bochy's mandate should not be to worry about Huff's confidence or sense of place in the lineup. Huff should be well aware that he is just one moveable piece among many.

So, in his first opportunity to show off what promises to be an exciting, young, quick and energetic team, Bochy failed to exploit one of his assets. He turned his back on the bench depth he just got finished piecing together.

And, his decision to keep Lincecum in the game was the first judgment call of the year that backfired on Bochy, not a promising sign after a year full of missteps from management.

It's only Game 1. But, that's what Opening Day is all about, right? Create a spark, set a tone, go bold out of the chute. It's not too late to return to first principles in Game 2.


  1. Good to see you, glad you are back. I'm happy being the first to post a comment on GiantWatch this season.

    I wish it weren't the case, but often the best indicator of future performance is a person's past history/performance. Character is often ingrained. This season, I'm hoping Bochy proves me wrong and starts pulling the trigger sooner on the veteran players.

    I enjoy your storytelling about my favorite team.

    Wishing you, your readers and myself a season of terrific Giants baseball.

    (Btw, last season I used the moniker PaulNortherncal. Feel free to drop by my blog sometime. I always enjoy comments from an articulate, thoughtful visitor. Yep, you. :-> )

  2. Hey, Pablo (Paul). Thanks for checking in! And Happy Baseball Season!

  3. steve

    glad you're back.....great comments.....i think if bochy doesn't start thinking more about the younger players, this could be his last year, wasn't his refusal to play younger in
    San Diego one of the reasons they let him go to the Gmen?

  4. Thanks, BC! I'm hoping Bochy puts his faith in the kids, though reports that Bochy was thinking -- until the last 10 minutes -- of sending Pill down to keep Whiteside makes it hard on the soul.

  5. Steve,

    Are you okay? I'm a little concerned. I notice you haven't written in almost a week.

    I hope life is treating you well. Would it be possible to hear your take on the last seven days and today's home opener?

  6. Dude, where are you? There's been a bunch of Gmen ball since you last posted! Cain's 1 Hit Wonder! [Yeah, I just stole that headline from The Chron]

  7. sorry, guys. I've been in the throes of packing for our big move today (Saturday). Hope to be back at it next week or so when we get settled in to our new (actually, old: 1928) home. But I've been keeping up with the boys. Cabrera is a real table setter, seems to be a perfect fit right in front Sandoval. And look at Huff! He's got a swing that looks as energized as 2010. Zito? What a performance, but can he back it up? Maybe against the Pirates, who have started out sluggishly (no slight to Cain, who could have shut down the Diamondbacks with his stuff and approach).

  8. What? Don't tell me you actually make enough to own a home. I know what you do for a living sir. I know! Hey! If Zito runs down the Mets tonight? I'll be the first to step out on that shaky limb and proclaim that he's finally back from whatever hole he fell into. He's looked aces so far this year, and it finally looks like the offense is getting ready to cook. This is going to be a good year. I can feel it.

  9. LOL, Bill. Two incomes (which we didn't have for nearly six years) help. Zito will have the benefit of a large stadium, so he might be able to keep his good vibes going. I like the Giants, too. I like having guys like Pagan and Cabrera at the top of the order. Pablo could be in for a big year.

  10. "Smooth Move" to you, Steven. Now, I won't expect reviews of EVERY game you missed, but at least weekly highlights! [The Epic Cain/Lee Duel, Panda's Mays-Tying Hit Streak, MadBum's resurgence, the Emergence of Crawford&Burriss---and H Sanchez, the continuing D-rama of First Base, the Timmy files. And Zito. How's dat? ;-p]