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02/22/10 9:42 PM EST
Giants hurlers hope to pitch in with bats
Offensive contributions welcome from starters
By Chris Haft / MLB.com
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Depending on pitchers as a steady source of offense might reflect desperation. And when "offense" and "desperation" are mentioned in the same sentence, the Giants inevitably come to mind, given their struggles to score last year. As is the case with any team, the Giants want their pitchers to focus on pitching. But in their effort to upgrade the offense that ranked 13th among National League teams in runs and last in the Majors in OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) during 2009, the Giants will welcome any and all contributions from the esteemed members of their starting rotation. "As a pitcher, you spend four days preparing to pitch against the other team," said third-base coach Tim Flannery, who tutors pitchers and the rest of the Giants on bunting. "But on our team ... your at-bats could be the difference between winning and losing." Fortunately for the Giants, their top pitchers seem capable of delivering. Collectively, San Francisco's pitchers wield the bat better than most of their counterparts. They ranked 13th in the NL with a .127 batting average last year. But they tied for eighth in on-base percentage due to drawing 19 walks, which was third in the league behind Atlanta (23) and Colorado (20). Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain respectively batted .152 and .150, exceeding the .138 league average for pitchers. Giants pitchers totaled 49 sacrifice bunts last year, trailing only Cincinnati (53) and Atlanta (51). San Francisco had the league's only pitching foursome that collected eight or more sacrifices apiece: Lincecum (13), Barry Zito (12), Cain (nine) and Jonathan Sanchez (eight). "Flannery always preaches to us that the pitchers are in the middle of every big rally, whether it's working a walk, getting a bunt down or getting a hit," Zito said Monday. "It's not something the team relies on, but it's definitely a bonus."
Case in point: last Aug. 2 at AT&T Park. The Giants trailed Philadelphia, 3-1, when Zito's two-out single off left-hander Cole Hamels prolonged the fifth inning. San Francisco proceeded to score three runs and ultimately triumphed, 7-3. "I think we understand that nine-hole spot doesn't have to be a sure out," said Cain, the slugger among Giants pitchers with four career home runs. "I guarantee you that a ton of big rallies have come through the 7-8-9 holes to get the big guys up." Recent history provides illustrative examples of teams that thrived with pitchers who posed a threat at the plate. Atlanta's formidable trio of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz did more than just pitch. And the perenially contending Giants of the late 1990s and the early 2000s tormented opponents with Livan Hernandez and Russ Ortiz. Flannery suggested that the current Giants just might develop into a similarly effective group. "The way they handle the bat, we can hit and run with them," he said. Sheer repetition should help the current Giants improve. For instance, when Zito jumped from Oakland to San Francisco before the 2007 season and left the designated hitter behind, he hadn't regularly swung a bat since his freshman year in high school, save for Interleague games at NL parks. "It wasn't fun," he said. "All of a sudden, it was like, 'All right, here you go. Learn how to hit now.'" Lincecum's renowned for his athletic ability, but that wasn't enough when he ascended to the Majors in 2007. "That first year was like an awakening," the two-time NL Cy Young Award winner recalled. "Not only are you seeing fastballs that are faster than anything you saw in high school and college, you're seeing Major League fastballs. It's another level. Sometimes you get overwhelmed up there." Nowadays, Giants pitchers are more determined than overwhelmed with a bat in their hands. "We need to manufacture runs and get bunts down when we can. That's just the nature of the game now anyway," Lincecum said. "We don't want to take any at-bat for granted."
PITCHERS AS HACKERS
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Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.