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Giants keep playing the angles

5/13/2011

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.

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.