Bay Area Baseball

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August 8, 2013
Giants split series with Brewers behind Lincecum, Belt

SAN FRANCISCO -- The word Bruce Bochy used to describe the Giants' 4-1 win over the Brewers on Thursday was "crisp." Tim Lincecum allowed one hit in eight innings, the Giants took a 3-0 first-inning lead on one whip of a swing by Brandon Belt and the game wrapped up in two hours, 29 minutes. Crisp, indeed.

What was the difference after the Giants fell apart in the eighth inning of a 6-1 loss the night before? Bochy said finally getting an early lead -- on the Giants' first home run at AT&T Park in 12 games -- probably helped the team relax, while allowing Lincecum to attack the Brewers without having to worry about one mistake costing him a game. And Lincecum agreed with that.

Lincecum also said, though, that before the game Bochy called the team together simply to stress the importance of coming to the field every day with a purpose and playing all nine innings. Those aren't necessarily things a major-league baseball player needs to be told. But Lincecum acknowledged that when a team is in the kind of tailspin the Giants have had the last two months, "It's one of those things that just needs to be reiterated."

The Giants then went out and delivered some vintage performances, none more so than Lincecum, who gave up a leadoff double to Juan Francisco in the third inning and a one-out walk to Jeff Bianchi in the fifth -- and nothing else. It allowed the Giants to split their four-game series with the Brewers and, for an afternoon, stop trending the wrong way in the division standings.

Bochy talked at length with reporters before the game about the frustrations of the season to date, saying he's of firm belief the Giants have and will continue to play together despite their record and last-place standing. He included phrases like "play for each other" and "honor the game." Not sure if those were the same words he used talking to his players, but Belt said that was the gist.

"I think for us as players we're all competitors and we're all professionals, so we want to come out here and win every day," Belt said. "When we get to the field we have to be a little purpose-driven."

Asked if it helps to be reminded of that, Belt said: "Sometimes it does.
"You kind of get lost in all kinds of mess whenever you're not playing that well. Sometimes it just takes somebody to step up there and tell everybody to take a deep breath, step back and remember what we can do. And we saw a little bit of that today."

Belt delivered the big hit in the first after Marco Scutaro led off with a single -- the first hit by a Giants leadoff man in 23 at-bats -- and Brandon Crawford doubled. Those two combined to go 6-for-9 atop the lineup Thursday, with Crawford driving in Scutaro on an RBI single in the second for the Giants' final run.

Prior to the game, despite the way the night before had turned sour, the Giants' clubhouse was fairly lively with players walking through and Sinatra playing on the radio. Crawford was asked about that and said the atmosphere has for the most part stayed loose. "It's not like we're all in here pouting from the night before," he said.

"We're definitely not quitting," Crawford added. "We're trying to go out there, compete and win every day."

* It would have been difficult -- and maddening -- to waste Lincecum's effort on this day. Lincecum said having an early lead was "huge," but he also was clearly in command of his pitches and said he mixed in his breaking ball more than usual en route to his eight strikeouts. He even felt comfortable bouncing a couple to Hector Sanchez, who caught in his first game for the Giants since July 8 after being recalled before the game and looked "sprightly" moving behind the plate, Lincecum said.

The stuff was working, evidenced by 18 swings and misses -- his second-highest total behind the July 13 no-hitter in San Diego. Lincecum threw 108 pitches and might have had a chance at a complete game but for a minor blister issue that arose in the late innings -- a product of the breaking balls, he said. Bochy said rather than take a chance, he decided to pull Lincecum after eight innings.

"Could he have gone out there? Yeah," Bochy said. "But we've already pushed him pretty hard one game (the no-hitter). He did his job."

In his last 12 starts, Lincecum has a 3.39 ERA, 82 strikeouts and 22 walks in 77 innings. That he's 3-6 in that span is due in large part to the Giants scoring two or fewer runs in eight of those games. Lincecum, though, said he's trying not to look at stretches of the season and search for connections between the good starts, focusing instead on individual outings. This one ended with a standing ovation and his fifth quality start in his last six.

"I like where he's at -- mentally, physically, he's stronger and he's been throwing the ball well," Bochy said. "He had that one hiccup (against Cincinnati), but really you take that away he's throwing the ball as well as anybody."

* Belt made like a cleanup hitter in his first major-league start as a cleanup hitter with the three-run homer in the first, on a 1-0 inside fastball from Donovan Hand. He didn't put too much importance on snapping the Giants' 102-inning homer-less streak at AT&T Park -- "It's always nice to hit a home run" -- but did say he enjoyed hitting cleanup.

Belt said he hit third or fourth pretty much his entire baseball life before getting called up to the Giants, where he's mostly hit toward the bottom of the lineup. With Buster Posey getting a day off Thursday and Belt one of the Giants actually hitting, Bochy tried him in the fourth spot and it paid off.

As did Crawford hitting second, which prompted a question to Bochy after the game about whether he was curious to see what having the young Brandons hitting atop the lineup would look like -- potentially for consideration down the road. Bochy said the lineup Thursday was mostly to shake things up, but added: "They're young guys that are part of our future, so I think you could say that too.

"That's eventually where they could end up in the future, next year," Bochy said. "And I like the way they're responding when they've been put in that spot, both Crawford and Belt. I think if you ask them they'd rather hit there."

Belt didn't disagree with that. After reaching base twice Thursday he's 9-for-20 in August and had another extra-base hit taken away in the fourth on a tumbling catch by Carlos Gomez. Crawford, meanwhile, is batting .347 (17-for-49) in his last 16 games.

"I think that's everybody's goal is to move up in the lineup," Belt said. "Especially for me, I'd like to hit third or fourth consistently in the long term, so it's nice to go up there and show people what I can do. It doesn't hurt to have really good hitters behind you that can kind of help you out a little bit."

* How little production have the Giants received from the leadoff spot since the All-Star Break? Scutaro had half as many hits (three) and runs (two) on Thursday alone as the Giants' leadoff hitters had totaled in 19 previous games combined.

His first at-bat Thursday showed why he could be the best fit right now for the role. Scutaro fouled off a bunch of pitches from Hand before lining a single to left-center on pitch No. 11.

"It starts in that first inning when we got the leadoff hitter on," Bochy said. "That's been missing, so that helped get us going."

* Sanchez said he felt pretty comfortable catching Lincecum on Thursday despite their not having worked together in more than a month. It also didn't appear that Sanchez is still harboring shoulder pain -- he said he's "100 percent" -- as he made a couple strong throws to second base and also moved well behind the plate, particularly in blocking two curveballs in the dirt from Lincecum with a runner on third in the third inning.

Sanchez said before he got sent down earlier this season he was already tinkering with the way he receives pitches with the help of bullpen catcher Billy Hayes -- shooting for less movement by narrowing his base. He said that likely helped with the blocking on Thursday.

The Giants could use some offensive production from their backup catcher -- Sanchez went hitless Thursday with three groundouts and a strikeout -- but defensively at least, Bochy said he really liked the way (Sanchez) handled himself behind the plate."

* On a down note, Hunter Pence had a run of perfection snapped in the first inning. Pence had been 17-for-17 in steal attempts on the season. After he singled following Belt's home run, Pence took off for second but stopped halfway when Jonathan Lucroy made a strong throw and got tagged out in a rundown.

Bobby Bonds' record, then, remains intact -- he's the only San Francisco Giant ever to start a season with 18 or more consecutive successful attempts, recording 18 in 1970.

* The seagulls are currenvtly on the infield at AT&T Park. The Orioles land tomorrow for a three-game interleague series to take you through the weekend. Here are the probables:

Friday: RHP Chris Tillman (14-3, 3.89) vs. Ryan Vogelsong (2-4, 7.19)
Saturday: LHP Wei-Yin Chen (6-4, 2.95) vs. RHP Chad Gaudin (5-2, 2.56)
Sunday: RHP Bud Norris (8-9, 3.78) vs. RHP Matt Cain (7-7, 4.47)

Back tomorrow for the return of rally enchiladas to the Giants rotation.

-- 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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