Some fans were surprised to see the Giants break camp with three catchers. Manager Bruce Bochy liked the flexibility having three catchers gives him with late-inning substitutions. He also liked having a switch-hitting bat on the bench in Hector Sanchez.
But as Sanchez has struggled at the plate, the Giants may consider sending him back to the minors to get more at-bats. His spring at-bats were limited by a sore shoulder. Guillermo Quiroz getting a start on Wednesday may be an indicator that the Giants could be leaning in this direction.
If the Giants decide to send Sanchez down, who is the prime candidate to replace him?
Well, Brett Pill is stepping up. Pill was a candidate to make the club in spring training before a knee injury derailed those plans. Pill is back playing and he’s heating up.
Pill is hitting .354 with 5 home runs and 21 RBI in 17 games this season for Triple-A Fresno. He is on a 7-game hitting streak in which he is hitting .448 (13 for 29). He has belted home runs in each of past two games.
Also interesting is that he has only 11 strikeouts in 65 at-bats.
Pill has been playing first base for Fresno. If you start noticing him playing left field (or even third base), then that would be a sign that the Giants might be preparing to call him up.
- RHP Yusmeiro Petit has looked sharp in his last two starts. He struck out 13 — one short of Tim Lincecum’s Fresno record — in just six innings of work against Tacoma on April 19. He held Reno to three runs in six innings on Thursday in a win.
- 2B Carter Jurica is hitting .450 (9 for 20) in his last five games, raising his average to .371 on the season, 11th in the PCL. He also has a .436 OBP.
- 3B Adam Duvall: Duvall was off to a hot start, earning player of the week honors in the Eastern League. But he was placed on the disabled list with a disabled list and not expected back until early May.
- SS Joe Panik: Panik is heating up. He’s on a six-game hitting streak during which he’s hit 10 for 20, raising his average to .288. He’s also homered in two of the past three games. He’s also drawn four walks in the past three games, raising his OBP to .374.
- OF Javier Herrera. Herrera has a 8-game hitting streak, during which he’s 10 for 22 and raising his average to .324. He’s also sixth in the Eastern League with a .432 OBP.
- RHP Justin Fitzgerald. The 27-year-old pitcher continues to have a stellar 2013 and may soon earn a promotion. He threw five shutout innings with 10 strikeouts and one walk against Altoona. His season ERA is 1.42 with 29 Ks to BBs in 19 innings.
CLASS A SAN JOSE
- RHP Kyle Crick: One of the Giants’ top pitching prospects went on the DL with an oblique strain.
- RHP Clayton Blackburn: Another top pitching prospect continues to pitch well. Blackburn has a 1.64 ERA with 25 Ks and 2 BB in 22 innings.
- 1B Angel Villalona: The one-time top prospect continues to progress. He is hitting 7 for 21 over his last five games with 1 HR and 7 RBI. He’s still hitting .193 for the season.
CLASS A AUGUSTA
- RHP Chris Stratton: The 2012 first-rounder suffered his first loss on Thursday, giving up four runs in six innings. But he also struck out 11. He has a 2.38 ERA and 28 Ks and 8 BB in 22.2 innings.
- RHP Martin Agosta: Another pitching prospect is 3-1 with 1.71 ERA with 27 Ks and 7 BB in 21 innings.
- RHP Joan Gregoria: He is 2-0 with a 1.42 ERA with an eye-popping 25 Ks and 1 BB in 19 innings. He only pitched two innings in the nightcap of the doubleheader Thursday. No explanation there that I could find.
The normally cheerful pre-game notes from the Giants PR department were sort of ominous Tuesday.
The Giants were 0-5 against Clayton Kershaw last season, the first time they had lost five times to the same pitcher since 1961.
The Giants haven’t homered in six games and don’t have a homer by a guy who doesn’t currently have a broken hamate bone in their last nine games.
The Giants lead the majors with 33 errors and have 11 two-error games.
The one positive note: Giants starting pitchers have a 2.49 ERA over the past 19 games.
Of course, the theme to all of these notes were “Due for a W.”
Brett Pill belted a two-run homer, Ryan Vogelsong gave up just one run in 71/3 innings, the Giants committed no errors and turned four double plays, and a shutdown relief job by Javier Lopez and Santiago Casilla added up to a 2-1 win over Kershaw and the Dodgers.
It was great news for the Giants, and great news for Pill.
Pill appeared to be first in line for a demotion to Fresno last weekend before the anticipated activation of Aubrey Huff.
Instead, the Giants opted to go with the short bullpen for the time being. The move has worked so far as the Giants have not had to use Clay Hensley or Sergio Romo in this series and Casilla only threw two pitches on Tuesday.
We’ll see how long that last.
In the meantime, the spotlight shined on Pill, who used a good memory to help him on Tuesday.
Pill went 0 for 6 with four strikeouts against Kershaw during his callup last September. But he remembered one thing about the Dodgers’ left.
“Last year, he threw me a lot of first-pitch fastballs,” Pill said. “Luckily, he left one over the plate. After that, he didn’t throw that again.”
And Pill struck out twice before being lifted for defensively purposes.
- Angel Pagan left after tweaking his already troublesome hamstring in the ninth. Manager Bruce Bochy said it wasn’t serious, but we could expect a start in CF by Gregor Blanco on Wednesday.
- Inexiplicably, Ryan Theriot continues to get starts at 2B against left. Even more confusing is that he keeps batting in the No. 2 hole. Bochy is starting Theriot based on reputation of being able to hit lefties. Yet, Theriot is down to .179 on the season, and he’s actually hitting righties better. He’s hitting .227 after RHP and .148 against LHP. Bochy has access to these stats, doesn’t he?
- Brandon Belt got a rare start against a LHP. He walked and hit two balls very hard for outs to the outfield, including one that Matt Kemp had to reel in against the wall in right-center.
Tim Lincecum returns to the mound — and glad that he’s not facing Kershaw. Instead, it’s Chad Billingsley who gets the start in the 7:10 p.m. game.
Let’s take another shot at the lineup for Wednesday.
CF Gregor Blanco
3B Conor Gillaspie
RF Melky Cabrera
C Buster Posey
1B Brandon Belt
RF Nate Schierholtz
2B Joaquin Arias
SS Brandon Crawford
P Tim Lincecum
The Giants are committed to get more aggressive on the basepaths in 2012. And that doesn’t just involve the addition of Angel Pagan and Melky Cabrera near the top of the lineup.
The coaching staff has been stressing the running game this spring.
“Running the bases is something we’ve done more than anytime in my life,” Brandon Belt told Henry Schulman of the Chronicle. “They made it clear on the first day this is something they want to improve upon. There’s a lot more effort going into it.”
The Giants stole 85 bases in 2011, ranking 13th in the National League. To make matters worse, four of the top five base-stealing teams in the NL were from the NL West.
To make matters even more worse, the Giants base-stealing percentage of 63 percent ranked 15th in the NL.
One player the Giants would like to see attempt more steals is outfielder Nate Schierholtz.
“By the time I leave here, I plan to make the stolen base part of my game,” Schierholtz told CSNBayArea.com’s Andrew Baggarly. To read more about the thievery attempts of Schierholtz, click here.
But this spring’s focus is about more than stealing bases. It’s about beating out infield hits, stretching singles into doubles, going from first to third.
While the Giants are on the run this spring, one Giants who has not been a big part of those drills is Buster Posey.
While running the bases has been part of Posey’s rehab from last season’s ankle injury, he has yet to run all-out and make hard cuts on the bases.
Because of that, the Giants are debating whether or not to have Posey start in Saturday’s spring training opener against the Rockies.
THIS AND THAT
- BRETT PILL: The San Jose Mercury News and CSNBayArea.com featured Brett Pill in their coverage Tuesday. Pill is battling for a roster spot and took some grounders at third base. He’ll also see time at second base and left field as the Giants assess his versatility. Although he’s a right hander with some pop — something that appears to be lacking on the Giants bench — he remains a dark-horse candidate to make the club, as he still has minor-league options. Players like Emmanuel Burriss, Ryan Theriot and Mike Fontenot would need to be released if Pill makes the club, or (gasp!) Brandon Belt would need to open the season in the minors. To read more on Pill, see the Mercury News or CSNBayArea.com reports.
- JOE PANIK Alex Pavolic of the Mercury News had an interesting blog post on infield prospect Joe Panik. Apparently, the Giants still consider him a shortstop prospect, even though previous reports had him slotted as a second baseman. And he got rave reviews from Felipe Alou. To read more, click here.
- BACK IN ACTION: Two players hindered by sore backs returned to the field Tuesday. Pitcher Ryan Vogelsong threw for a second straight day without problems. It’s good news but the pitcher will need to avoid any setbacks if he wants to remain on pace on be ready for season. Also, Freddy Sanchez took some grounders a day after sitting out with back problems.