Giants keep playing the angles 

May, 13, 2011

Every day, Nate Schierholtz plays catch with Aaron Rowand, and after they get loose, they play a game in which they pretend to throw out runners with one-hop throws. From 150 feet, they cut loose, and if their partner has to move to catch a throw, well, the imaginary runner is safe.

Getty ImagesThe Giants have survived despite a lack of runs.
But if they can make a perfect throw -- a one-bounce throw right to the glove, and the partner doesn't move -- the runner is out. Rowand and Schierholtz do this day after day after day to prepare for a play that might come up in a big spot.

Such as on Thursday, with two outs in the top of the third inning. Gerardo Parra of the Diamondbacks clubbed a line drive to right-center field toward the wall in AT&T Park, which is a mathematician's dream with its geometry of angles. "He turned on it pretty well," Schierholtz said on the phone after the game. "I knew it was over my head."

Every day during batting practice before home games, Schierholtz likes to practice tracking balls off the bats of a teammate rather than from a coach with a fungo bat because it is a much truer read -- the ball comes from the plate at high velocity. This way, Schierholtz can develop a feel for how the ball will come off the brick or screening.

So he raced toward the fence, using an angle that allowed him to take the ball squarely off an angled portion of the wall perfectly; the ball ricocheted off a State Farm sign right to Schierholtz. "I got a good carom off the wall and threw blindly toward the infield," he said.

But remember: Schierholtz makes this throw every day in the drills he does with Rowand. For Schierholtz, this kind of play has become ingrained in his muscle memory.

Schierholtz rocketed the ball toward second base. It skipped once, low, and directly into the glove of shortstop Miguel Tejada, who snapped a tag down on the feet of the sliding Parra -- and Parra looked up at the umpire as if to say, "You gotta be kidding me."

Looking confused, Parra glanced over at Schierholtz and mouthed: "Wow." And when Schierholtz came to bat in the next half-inning, Arizona catcher Miguel Montero mentioned the throw as well.

Schierholtz's play was the No. 1 Web Gem from Thursday. As it should be. It was a throw to remember, writes Steve Kroner. The Giants closed out what was a perfect homestand for them, and as you look up at the standings Friday, San Francisco -- despite all of its offensive issues with Tejada and Buster Posey and Aubrey Huff -- is in first place.

• Meanwhile, the Rockies are struggling and, more specifically, Ubaldo Jimenez seems no closer to solving his problems than he was in August. He is on the losing side of a head game right now, writes Mark Kiszla.

Zach Britton is making a strong case for himself for the AL All-Star team. He shut down the Mariners for nine innings Thursday but didn't get the win; the O's won in extra innings, Jeff Zrebiec writes. Right now, Britton probably has an edge over impressive Mariners pitcher Michael Pineda for AL Rookie of the Year:

Britton: 5-2, 2.42 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, a .203 batting average for opponents

Pineda: 4-2, 2.84 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, a .221 batting average for opponents

From Michael Trainor of ESPN Stats & Information: How Britton blanked the Mariners (in a no-decision): He changed it up. Britton is known for his hard sinker, but it was the changeup that did the most damage Thursday. The O's lefty threw 24 changeups, 22 for strikes (91.7 strike percentage), and the M's swung at 20 of them. The Mariners were 1-for-10 (.100) with four strikeouts (of Britton's five) in at-bats ending with the change. On the season, opposing hitters are 4-for-36 (.111) in at-bats ending on changeups against Britton. He is among the AL leaders in strike percentage with the change:

Jered Weaver: 76.5

Bartolo Colon: 75.8

Jo-Jo Reyes: 73.8

Jesse Litsch: 73.4

Zach Britton: 73.0

His other pitches weren't bad, either. The Mariners were 1-for-8 (.125) in at-bats ending with the sinker and 1-for-10 (.100) against the fastball. Britton posted a high strike percentage (70.4, 76 of 108 pitches) and swing percentage (54.6, 59 of 108 pitches), both of which were career highs.

From Elias: The last time both team's starting pitchers (Britton and Jason Vargas) finished with a pitching line of at least nine innings pitched and no runs allowed: July 10, 2010 -- Cincinnati (Travis Wood) at Philadelphia (Roy Halladay). Both pitched exactly nine innings.

• In a season in which teams are scratching for runs and general managers are scanning other teams' rosters and trying to identify players who could be potential trade targets, Carlos Beltran is developing into a very interesting option. He slammed three homers on Thursday and is hitting .295 with eight homers, a .387 on-base percentage and a .590 slugging percentage.

Beltran, who's eligible for free agency in the fall, is making a whopping $18.5 million this year, and it will be interesting to see how his salary plays into other teams' pursuit of him. Last year, only two teams -- the Rangers and the Yankees -- spent $5 million or more in midseason additions. If Beltran were to be traded at midseason without the Mets kicking in any money, his next team would be on the hook for $9 million.

Presumably, the Mets will wind up kicking in some money to offset the salary, but the better that Beltran plays, the better his trade value will be as one of the very few available position players who could be a difference-maker. New York could wind up getting a decent prospect in return for him if he continues to play this well.

From Stats & Info: Beltran became the eighth Met to hit three home runs in a game -- and the first since Jose Reyes in 2006.
Two of his home runs Thursday came off pitches that were up and away. Of his eight home runs this season, half have come on pitches in that location. Since 2008, Beltran is hitting .325 and slugging .695, and has belted 14 home runs on pitches up and away. The 14 homers are the most he has hit among the nine pitch locations even though he has seen more pitches in two other spots: down and away and down and in.

Beltran is the first player this season with a three-homer game. Last year, there were 13 such games. The last four players to hit three or more home runs in a game at Coors Field were visitors. Dustin Pedroia was the most recent, in 2010.
From Elias: Carlos Beltran homered to all three fields (left, center, right). The only player to do that in one game last season was Adam Dunn.

Andrew McCutchen was benched on Thursday, and Pirates manager Clint Hurdle delivered the first "wow" moment of his tenure, writes Ron Cook.

• It was a big day for the Class A Clearwater Threshers, who had three big leaguers in their lineup -- pitcher Roy Oswalt, second baseman Chase Utley and catcher Carlos Ruiz. Oswalt struggled with his velocity, writes Matt Gelb. Oswalt's fastball was an issue, writes Bill Conlin. Ruiz's rehab is important partly because of the injury to Brad Schneider.

• Ever since Bryce Harper was fitted with contact lenses, he's been killing the ball. From Dave Sheinin's story:
    Suffice it to say Harper's hi-def vision is a huge upgrade over standard-def. In 20 games since his visit to the eye doctor, Harper is hitting .480 (36 for 75) with a .547 on-base percentage and an .893 slugging percentage -- with 7 homers, 10 doubles and 23 RBI. For the season, he is hitting .395/.473/.702, leading the league in all three "slash-line" categories.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. Fred Wilpon is feeling good about the progress in the sale of Mets shares.

2. Major League Baseball will do its due diligence in examining the Dodgers' financial records, regardless of Frank McCourt's preferred timeline.

3. Scott Boras will advise against Eric Hosmer working out a long-term deal right now.

Because, after all, what person in their early 20s would ever want to guarantee himself tens of millions of dollars?
The advice belongs to Boras. The risk falls entirely in Hosmer's.

4. An experiment at second base has paid off for the Cardinals.

5. Nolan Ryan is officially in control of the Rangers.

Dings and dents

1. J.P. Howell continues to make progress in his injury rehab. Perhaps as soon as next week, the Rays' bullpen -- which has been better than expected despite being rebuilt -- will have the one element it lacks: an experienced lefty. When you're in a division with Robinson Cano, Adrian Gonzalez, David Ortiz and Carl Crawford, Howell figures to be a very important weapon.

2. Ike Davis was placed on the disabled list.

3. Robinson Cano is OK after getting hit in the head.

4. Grady Sizemore is going to be cautious with his knee.

5. Jason Heyward got a cortisone shot.

Thursday's games

1. The Wizard of Hoz propelled the Royals to their first series win in Yankee Stadium since 1999. Eric Hosmer mashed homers in each of the last two games of this series. In just a year under Ned Yost, anything seems possible.

2. I watched a lot of Jordan Zimmermann's mostly dominant outing against the Braves on Thursday, and he deserved a better fate; he pitched a great game.

3. It was a big win for the Braves, who needed to stop the bleeding; Brian McCann got a walk-off hit after Martin Prado mashed a grand slam.

4. The Yankees lost an ugly game.

5. The Indians couldn't dent James Shields.

6. Jaime Garcia was excellent again. From Mr. Trainor, how Garcia beat the Cubs:

• Once again, the Cubs were aggressive early in the count against Garcia. Of the 53 pitches they saw in the first two pitches of an at-bat, they swung at 25 of them (47.2 percentage), the second-highest percentage against Garcia in his short career. The only time an opponent swung more often early in the count was the Cubs in September, Garcia's only other start against them.

• When the Cubs were patient against Garcia, he dominated. Eight of their nine hits came during the first two pitches of an at-bat. In at-bats ending in counts other than the first two pitches, the Cubs were 1-for-12, including 0-for-7 with two strikes.

• Garcia went to his slider as his out pitch. He threw seven sliders among his 15 pitches with two strikes (46.7 percent), well above his season average of 33.9 percent. Three of Garcia's four strikeouts came on his slider.

The Patience Index

Other stuff

• The Red Sox believe in Derek Jeter, writes Harvey Araton.

Justin Verlander makes his first start since his no-hitter Friday night. The bats have turned around Detroit's season.

Clay Buchholz will be in a stopper role Friday night.

• It's game on for the Reds and Cardinals.

• The Twins have slipped, no matter how you measure it, writes Sid Hartman. The lead-by-example approach hasn't worked for the Twins this year, writes La Velle Neal.

• The Angels are better prepared to deal with the absence of Kendrys Morales, writes Bill Dwyre.

Luke Gregerson has a cool ride.

LaTroy Hawkins is feeling young again.

• Phil Humber is the sixth man for the White Sox.

• The Mariners' offense is not much better than it was last year, writes Larry Stone.

Kevin Kouzmanoff is waiting for his next opportunity.

• All-Star Game tickets will go on sale Friday in Arizona.

And today will be better than yesterday.