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June 19, 2013
Perez builds his case, Crawford sprains fingers in Giants' win

SAN FRANCISCO -- The last Giants rookie to record at least four outfield assists in a season before Juan Perez was Jason Ellison back in 2005. Ellison had five that year -- in 131 games. After throwing out Mark Kotsay at home in the seventh inning Tuesday to preserve a 2-2 tie, Perez now has four in his first seven games in the majors, which leads the team.

"I didn't know that," Perez said. "I guess they're going to keep testing me. Just got to make good throws again and make them stop running."

Oh yeah, Perez also had the game-winning hit in the Giants' 5-4 win over the Padres, and is now 8-for-19 with three RBIs since being called up. All around, Perez is making his presence felt in the absence of Angel Pagan. Pagan (hamstring) ran the bases without problems Tuesday and manager Bruce Bochy said the Giants will likely decide tomorrow what day Pagan will begin his minor-league rehab assignment. A week ago, it probably would have meant Perez's days in a San Francisco uniform were numbered.

Now it may not be so clear. A night after throwing Logan Forsythe out at third in the ninth inning of a tied game Monday, helping send it into extra innings, Perez came up with arguably a better play Tuesday night on Kotsay, who was trying to score from second on a Chris Denorfia single after he led off the seventh with a double. Denorfia's single was fairly softly hit, and Perez had to come a long way to field the ball before launching himself into a throw that bounced twice to Buster Posey, who swiped the tag.

"I didn't think he had a chance," Bochy said.

Matt Cain, who was backing up the play at home, had a little more faith.

"Kotsay was running and he doesn't run the way he used to," Cain said. "And Perez, you know he's got an arm."

The Padres certainly do at this point. It's not exactly news -- Perez threw out 17 runners in 2010 at Single-A San Jose and another 12 last season at Double-A Richmond. It makes sense that he's being tested in crucial situations in his first two weeks in the big leagues. So far he's passing those tests.

"I knew I had a chance as soon as the ball was hit," Perez said. "I didn't get a good grip on the ball, but still it was on line."

The Giants took a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the inning on Gregor Blanco's two-out RBI single. But the Padres wrested it back in the eighth when Jeremy Affeldt gave up a two-run homer to pinch hitter Jesus Guzman. In the bottom of the inning, after Brandon Belt had re-tied the game with an RBI double off the wall in right-center Perez came up with runners on first and second and two outs, ran the count full against reliever Dale Thayer and poked a single into right field to score Belt from second.

"Saved the game for us, won the game for us," Bochy said. "You're happy for him. He's come up and really been a shot in the arm for us. He's done well on defense and got some big hits. He's a talented player."

But is it enough to keep him here when Pagan returns? Bochy reiterated what he had said before the game -- that those discussions haven't taken place yet, and likely won't until a couple days before Pagan is ready to rejoin the team.

"He's doing all he can to stay here, I'll say that," Bochy said. "And once Angel's ready to go we'll probably have a tough decision to make. It's not something we're thinking about now, but we probably will here (soon)."

* As coincidence would have it, tomorrow's print story filed before the game focuses on Perez throwing out Forsythe on Monday night, so I had asked around about the 26-year-old outfielder's knack for assists. He explained his high minor-league totals this way:

"In the minor leagues there's a lot of aggressive runners, they're always trying to take the extra base," Perez said. "If you get a good jump to the ball and make a good throw you're going to get an assist as an outfielder. But you've got to make that perfect throw."

Those were the words -- "perfect throw" -- that Arias used Tuesday to describe the throw Perez made on Forsythe. Arias was a couple steps in front of the bag to ensure the throw from center wouldn't carry into Forsythe's path, and Perez delivered his throw on a line that allowed Arias to catch the ball and drop a tag in one motion.

So what goes into a perfect throw?

"Well, working out in practice," Perez said. "Every time I'm playing long toss I make sure I'm working on one-hop, low-hop or straight through, stuff like that. I'm always working on that every time I play catch, so when the game time comes I'll be ready."

First-base coach Roberto Kelly, who works with the outfields, said the Giants practice throwing to bases during batting practice regularly. But it helps to have a foundation to build on.

"He's letting other teams know early that he has something to throw with," Kelly said. "He's very accurate. As an outfielder you want to establish that, you want people to know you don't want to be running on him. And he's doing it the right way. Whenever he has a chance he's making strong throws and making them accurate."

Kelly said that before Perez's throw to cut down Kotsay. Perez said he thought Forsythe had tried for third Monday after seeing Perez was playing deep in no-doubles territory. Forsythe said Tuesday he saw the play unfolding in front of him as he rounded second and "knew he was going to have a hold of it a couple steps after I got past the bag."

"At that point in the game you're trying to make something happen," Forsythe said. "He did a great job. He closed on the ball quick and made a perfect throw."

There's that term again. Perez, who pumped his first emphatically in center after the play, said it was "a very exciting moment for me and the whole team, and the fans -- they got into the game a little more." He was asked if he thought maybe he had taken the Padres by surprise -- something that probably won't be the case from now on.

"Yeah definitely," he said. "Nobody here in the big leagues know who I am because I just got called up this past week. They're going to test me, try to take that extra base. If I keep doing what I'm doing I think I'll get a little bit of respect. I've just got to keep doing what I'm doing, being consistent throwing to bases."

* The Giants played from the fourth inning on without shortstop Brandon Crawford, who left the game after injuring his right hand sliding headfirst into second on a steal attempt in the second inning. Crawford appeared to jam his hand against the bag, and the Giants announced he sprained his index and middle fingers.

Bochy said Crawford won't play tomorrow, but, "We're optimistic he'll be OK going on Thursday." Crawford stayed in the game for an inning but had to come out because the fingers started swelling and he "couldn't get a good grip on the ball," Bochy said.

All things considered, that probably qualifies as good news for the Giants, who got their other middle infielder with an injured finger back Tuesday night in Marco Scutaro. At least Crawford didn't appear too worried after the game, deadpanning when a reporter asked him if he had hurt the hand sliding into second: "No, I hurt it on a swing."

"It didn't feel very good," Crawford said, serious this time. "But I should be all right. Come in and see how it feels tomorrow."

* Before Perez became the hero Tuesday, it looked like it might be Blanco, who shot a two-out single off Padres starter Andrew Cashner into center field to score Arias and give the Giants a 3-2 lead in the seventh. With the hit, Blanco improved to 11-for-27 on the year with runners in scoring position and two outs -- one reason the Giants likely won't mind moving him back down in the order when Pagan comes back.

Before that, it looked like this might be another stellar Matt Cain outing. Cain allowed a single to Forsythe leading off the game, then retired the next 15 hitters he faced. He did strike out a season-high 10 -- his 11th career double-digit strikeout game -- but made two mistakes in the sixth inning to turn a 2-0 lead into a tied game.

Cain left breaking balls over the plate to Nick Hundley and Forsythe, both of whom hit them for home runs. They were the 14th and 15th homers allowed this season by Cain, who gave up 21 all of last year -- though this was also the first time in six starts a hitter has taken him deep.

"Matty was very good," Bochy said. "He started making a few mistakes as the game went -- sixth, seventh innings, but he threw well. He got us to our set-up guy, and that's what we were hoping for tonight."

Cain said he was commanding his fastball well enough that he could use it both getting ahead of the Padres hitters and putting them away. For the first five innings Tuesday, it looked like vintage Cain, as he struck out eight and got a lot of weak contact. It probably bears repeating -- take away the two nightmare innings against the Cardinals in which he allowed 16 combined runs, and Cain would have a 2.84 ERA.

Cain, the realist, pointed out that "that's not how it works." But he said he has "felt good" in his past several outings.

* Belt tied the game at 4-4 in the eighth with a double off the wall in right-center against Thayer and now has 17 of his 31 RBIs this season in the seventh inning or later. Asked why he's thriving in those situations, Belt said he's "just trying to stay as relaxed as possible, let my hands kind of do the work."

With Pagan and Pablo Sandoval still out, Belt was hitting fifth for the 12th time this year and reached base in three of four plate appearances on two hits and a walk.

"When you're banged up the way we are, you're hoping the other guys pick it up. And he did tonight," Bochy said.

* Speaking of banged up, Scutaro went 2-for-4 in his return to the lineup, playing with a splint on the left pinkie finger that he wraps over the knob of the bat when hitting. He also made a sliding play on a ground ball in the first inning and said the finger didn't affect him in the field.

Bochy said he would wait to see how Scutaro responded to game action Tuesday night before deciding whether the second baseman will play in Wednesday's finale. Scutaro was asked if he expects to be in the lineup and said: "Maybe."

It's not as if the finger, which is still swollen and features a couple cuts that have yet to heal, is not bothering Scutaro. But he said at this point he has to deal with the discomfort and the uncertainty of how it will affect him in various game situations in order to get back on the field.

"There's not much you can do," Scutaro said. "Just got to hang with it, just keep going until the swelling goes down."

* Sandoval is scheduled to start his rehab assignment Friday, when he'll DH for Single-A San Jose. Quietly, in his absence, Joaquin Arias has hit safely in nine consecutive games.

* Nobody had more reason to be grateful toward Perez late Tuesday night than Affeldt, who walked Forsythe in the eighth with a one-run lead, then grooved a 3-1 fastball that Guzman crushed over the wall in straightaway center. Affeldt put his hands on his head and looked at the ground as Guzman rounded the bases.

It's only the second time in 12 appearances Affeldt has been scored upon, but the other one was costly too -- Paul Goldschmidt's go-ahead three-run homer in the Giants' 3-1 loss to Arizona on June 7. It was one of two late leads the Giants gave up on their nine-game road trip, the other being Sergio Romo's blown save in Atlanta.

"It's something we can hopefully stay away from," Bochy said. "This is the type of game that we play, and we lost a couple tough ones on the road. So we need to get a little better there. (Affeldt) just made a mistake."

* In the muddled N.L. West, the Giants with Tuesday's win jumped from fourth place in the division into a tie for second with the Rockies. The Padres, who were alone in second place at the close of business Monday, are now alone in fourth.

The Giants will try for some separation -- right now, a game counts -- and a series win in Wednesday's finale behind Madison Bumgarner (6-4, 3.30). The Padres send left-hander Eric Stults (6-5, 3.28) to the mound. First pitch at 12:45 p.m.

-- 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.
Email: mkawahara@sacbee.com.
Phone: (916) 321-1015.
On Twitter: @matthewkawahara.

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