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May 29, 2013
Kickham takes long view after short debut in Giants' 6-3 loss

OAKLAND -- Mike Kickham kept a big-picture perspective of his major-league debut on Tuesday night, which was over all too quickly in the Giants' 6-3 loss to the A's.

KICKHAM.jpeg"Great experience to pitch in a major-league game," the 24-year-old left-hander (pictured, left) said. "That's always been a goal of mine. Mark that off the list. But the goal's not to just pitch one day in the big leagues. It's to have a career. So keep working toward that."

Tuesday night was the first step. And while the results certainly were not what Kickham would have liked -- he went 2 1/3 innings, allowing four runs on four hits and four walks (one intentional) while striking out three -- he had his moments.

Kickham retired the A's in order on nine pitches in the first and struck out three of the first six hitters he faced. He reached 94 mph with his fastball and had good movement with his slider. He also bounded off the mound to cover first on a grounder to Brandon Belt, beating Yoenis Cespedes to the bag by a step.

The trouble came when he began falling behind hitters, starting with Derek Norris with two outs and one on in the second. In a 3-1 count, Kickham threw a fastball that Norris hit for a two-run homer. He issued three more walks in the third inning, including a bases-loaded pass to Jed Lowrie, and an RBI single to Nate Freiman in his final at-bat.

GIANTS.jpg"I liked what he showed his first start up here," manager Bruce Bochy (right, approaching the mound to relieve Kickham in the third inning) said. "Shaky, sure. But I thought he had impressive stuff. He just couldn't get out of that third inning there, and he made a couple mistakes. But first outing, that's always one that you want to try to put behind you. First start in the major leagues, you're going to be jittery."

Kickham said he thought he did a good job of managing the jitters. His parents, brother and girlfriend were in attendance to see him become the first Giants pitcher to start his major-league debut since Eric Surkamp in 2011.

"After that first pitch it was like any other game," he said. "Mistakes here are magnified, so I don't get away with what I do in Triple-A."

Specifically, he said the 3-1 pitch to Norris was "decent," but maybe caught too much of the plate in a hitter's count. In the third, especially on the full-count pitch to Lowrie, he felt he "wasn't missing by much, but just enough. I'm not going to get that call, an inch off the plate, being a rookie and all."

A's third baseman Josh Donaldson, who struck out in the first and walked intentionally in the third, said Kickham in his first at-bat "threw a couple fastballs and a slider. Slider had pretty good bite to it, fastball had pretty good life."

After his early exit, Kickham said, he received encouragement from his teammates and pitching coach Dave Righetti. "Basically just keep my head up and we'll get them next time," he said.

The question is when next time will be. The Giants need a fifth starter again June 2 in St. Louis against the Cardinals. It would be another special start for Kickham, who was born in St. Louis, went to Missouri State and said he grew up a Cardinals fan.

Bochy, though, said the Giants, who needed 5 1/3 innings from their bullpen Tuesday night, hadn't yet decided whether Kickham will start that game or whether they might need to make a move for bullpen help.

SF.jpgKickham (left, waiting with Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval for Bruce Bochy to arrive) said starting at Busch Stadium would be "a pretty neat opportunity." Overall, he kept a pretty positive attitude about his debut, brief as it may have been.

"Just to get the opportunity to put on that jersey and come out here and try to help the team win, that was awesome," he said. "It's not something I'm down about at all. It didn't go how I wanted, obviously, but I think I can just learn from it and move on."

* The Giants chose to walk Donaldson with runners on second and third and one out in the third, which backfired when Kickham walked Lowrie to force in the A's third run. Donaldson, the A's cleanup hitter, had struck out in the first, but is hitting .377 over his last 34 games and has hit left-handers well this season. Bochy said the latter factors made it an easy decision to play for the force-out or double play.

"Sure I'm putting (Kickham) in a tough situation," Bochy said. "But they have their guy up there with a base open. That was a no-brainer for me."

* The focus on Kickham and a ninth-inning homer by Hunter Pence off A's closer Grant Balfour seemed to soften the fact that the Giants were mostly handcuffed for the second game in a row by an Oakland starter -- this time Jarrod Parker, who allowed two runs on five hits in seven innings.

The Giants actually led 1-0 after the first inning, when Marco Scutaro singled, moved to second on a Pablo Sandoval walk and scored on Pence's single up the middle. In the sixth Scutaro doubled and covered the other 180 feet on two groundouts. That was it until the home run by Pence.

"We've got some guys struggling right now, I think that's fair to say," Bochy said. "We got the early run and that was a great sign. But we need to get these guys going."

Gregor Blanco is in an 0-for-17 stretch. Pence had two hits Tuesday, but is 6 for his last 37. Pablo Sandoval, still trying to shake the flu that is making its way around the Giants clubhouse, is 2-for-21 in his past six games.

The absence of Angel Pagan (hamstring) isn't helping. Bochy maintained that Pagan is day-to-day after an MRI on his left leg showed bursitis and not a more significant injury, but the Giants are certainly missing him atop the lineup right now.

* Before the game, I talked for a couple minutes with Mike Murphy, the longtime Giants equipment manager (How long? The home clubhouse at AT&T Park is named after him.) Murphy has seen a lot of players make their big-league debuts, obviously a momentous occasion in their professional lives. Does it still register at all for Murphy?

"It means something," said Murphy, who's in his 56th season with the Giants and 34th as the equipment manager. "You're happy for him. He's been in our organization a couple years now. It makes you feel good to bring a kid up, throwing his first game. I'm happy for him."

Murphy said it's custom for the clubhouse staff to give a rookie an extra uniform top that he gets to keep. In Kickham's case, it was No. 59. Why 59? Murphy said it was the only number available -- aside from 38, the number formerly worn by Brian Wilson, which it may still be too early to give out. The last Giant to wear 59 was Guillermo Mota.

When Kickham arrived Tuesday, his locker was basically empty except for a line of clothes hangers. A clubbie followed him up and unloaded his bag into the locker.

"We do that anyway," Murphy said. "We just want to make him feel like this is the big leagues. This ain't Triple-A or Double-A. Once you get to the big leagues it's big-time. The big tent, I call it."

Kickham's first game under the big tent wasn't much of a show. But it's probably a good bet there'll be more down the road.

-- Matt Kawahara

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About Bay Area Baseball

Matt KawaharaMatt Kawahara was born in Sacramento and attended McClatchy High School and UC Berkeley, where he wrote for the independent student paper The Daily Californian. He graduated from Cal in 2010 and started at The Sacramento Bee as a summer intern. He joined The Bee’s sports staff in fall 2011.
Phone: (916) 321-1015.
On Twitter: @matthewkawahara.

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