Giants' newcomers react to meeting Willie Mays for the first time

Giants' newcomers react to meeting Willie Mays for the first time

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz.–Andrew McCutchen has played in five All-Star games and won an MVP Award. Austin Jackson started in center field in the 2012 World Series and recently signed with his sixth different Major League team.

Around the game of baseball, there’s not much the new Giants’ outfielders haven’t seen.

Until Thursday, when they met Willie Mays.

“He’s (Mays) a legend, man, he was well before my time but I knew all about him,” McCutchen said. “That really shows you how great of a player he was, but you know a guy who has, his numbers are staggering and for him to be right here and see him in person, it’s something that’s really cool.”

With Cactus League play set to begin on Friday, the Giants finished up their workout at Scottsdale Stadium and retreated to the clubhouse. As players began to file in from batting practice, Mays sat at a table near the front corner of the clubhouse, which split the distance between McCutchen and Jackson’s locker.

Both players made a beeline for Mays, introducing themselves for the first time.

Jackson made one of the greatest catches of the baseball season last summer, flipping over the right center field wall at Fenway Park to rob Hanley Ramírez of a home run. On Thursday, he met Mays, who authored a play that’s far more memorable: “The Catch.”

“(Meeting Mays) gives you chills, goosebumps,” Jackson said. “Not only getting to see the catch many and many times on TV, you just know what he did for the game of baseball and it’s just unreal to really be in the same presence with a legend. It’s surreal, it’s surreal.”

McCutchen and Jackson weren’t the only players juiced up over the opportunity to meet a legend. New Giants’ third baseman Evan Longoria sat down next to Mays and shared his 2017 home run total –20– with a man who hit 660 in his career.

Longoria has slugged at least 20 home runs in each of the last five seasons. That’s an impressive feat, but Mays surpassed the 20-home run threshold 15 straight times from 1954-1968.

First-year pitching coach Curt Young also checked in to speak with Mays, and was later joined by his old teammate, Giants’ bench coach Hensley Meulens. The duo played together for the Yankees in 1992, fewer than 20 seasons after Mays finished up his career with the Mets. Mays, 86, would have been 60 in 1992, but he probably still had the strength to hit one out of the park then, too.

On Opening Day, the Giants plan to field a lineup with eight players, including starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner, who have been named All-Stars at least once during their careers. Those players have combined to make 23 All-Star teams. When the Giants gathered after their workout Thursday, they encountered a man who knows a thing or two about being an All-Star. Mays earned the nod 24 times.

Mays appears in Scottsdale during spring training on an annual basis, and each time he visits, there’s always another professional athlete sitting in awe. The players of this generation never had the chance to watch Mays play, but they know exactly who he is and what he still means. Based on the interactions in the clubhouse on Thursday, they couldn’t wait to “Say Hey.”

“My grandparents would have stories and talk about him and they were his generation, you know,” McCutchen said. “He’s lived a couple generations and he’s still here and still altogether, still with it so it’s humbling for sure.”

Giants tab Madison Bumgarner to start Opening Day

Giants tab Madison Bumgarner to start Opening Day

Alex Pavlovic of NBC Sports Bay Area reports that the Giants, to the shock of absolutely no one, have tabbed Madison Bumgarner to start on Opening Day, March 29 in Los Angeles against the Dodgers. He’ll pitch opposite Clayton Kershaw.

This will be the fifth consecutive season in which Bumgarner has started on Opening Day for the Giants. His five total Opening Day starts is still way behind the club record held by Juan Marichal, who started 10 Opening Days, including six consecutively from 1964-69.

Bumgarner, 28, missed nearly two months in the first half last season due to a dirt bike accident. He still managed to have a great season, compiling a 3.32 ERA with a 101/20 K/BB ratio in 111 innings.

Giants set starters for Friday's Cactus League opener against Brewers

Giants set starters for Friday's Cactus League opener against Brewers

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz.–Only two Giants’ regulars will play in the team’s Cactus League opener against Milwaukee on Friday, and just one starter will travel to Glendale, Arizona on Saturday when San Francisco squares off against Los Angeles.

Giants’ manager Bruce Bochy revealed more plans for the team’s opening weekend of spring training play, and said Hunter Pence and Andrew McCutchen will be in the lineup against the Brewers on Friday. Pence and McCutchen have a combined 20 seasons of Major League experience, but they’ll roam the outfield with prospect Steven Duggar –who has yet to make his MLB debut– playing in center.

After working at first base during infield drills this week, Pablo Sandoval will start at third base. Bochy said utility player Kelby Tomlinson will play shortstop, Miguel Gomez will play second base and Ryder Jones will start at first. Gomez and Jones were both added to the Giants’ 40-man roster last season.

With Buster Posey expected to sit the “first few” games of Cactus League play, veteran Nick Hundley will do the catching. On Wednesday, Bochy revealed that Ty Blach will start on the mound for the Giants. Blach won’t be in the lineup, though, as Jarrett Parker will serve as the designated hitter.

Left-handed prospect Andrew Suarez will pitch after Blach, with Tyler Cyr, Pierce Johnson, D.J. Snelten and Madison Younginer also expected to pitch against Milwaukee.

Chris Stratton will start on Saturday at Camelback Ranch against the Dodgers, and Brandon Belt is the only regular position player expected to be in the lineup for that game. Tyler Herb, Jose Valdez, Steven Okert, Roberto Gomez and Reyes Moronta will also pitch against the Dodgers on Saturday.

Bochy said the club is planning for Madison Bumgarner to throw on Sunday at Scottsdale Stadium against the Cubs, but outside of having non-roster invitee Dereck Rodriguez pitch in relief, he’s unsure who else will follow the Giants’ ace.

The Giants wanted Bumgarner to pitch on Sunday because it will line him up to start on Opening Day at Dodger Stadium against Clayton Kershaw.

Giants Hopeful as Spring Training Begins

Giants Hopeful as Spring Training Begins

For twenty-nine teams across the MLB, Spring Training is a welcome end to an off-season of disappointment. Perhaps no team is more excited to get back in the swing of things than the San Francisco Giants.

From Worst to First?

Just a few months removed from finishing their 2017 season dead last in the National League West, the Giants are hoping to rid their mouths of the bad taste and prove themselves to be contenders again.

A roster overhaul accompanies the “even-year magic” that Giants fans have seen in recent even-numbered years, and has the Bay Area dreaming of the World Series success that the teams of 2010, 2012, and 2014 brought them.

Among the new faces are former NL MVP Andrew McCutchen and longtime Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria. San Francisco acquired McCutchen from the Pirates in mid-January, hoping to bring life to an offense that ranked in the league’s bottom two in runs scored, home runs, and RBIs.

The Giants hope they see the same outfielder who rebounded from a down season so well in 2017, posting his best power numbers since 2012 and raising his batting average by over 20 points.

Longoria departs Tampa Bay after spending his first ten seasons as a Ray, where he became the face of the franchise and all-time leader in games played, home runs, and RBIs.

Tampa Bay has made it a habit this off-season of unloading talent and salary, and the Giants were more than willing to bring the veteran on board. After months of change and waiting, Longoria is eager to take the field in his new threads.

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Division Competition

Mandatory Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

Throw the new faces in with the likes of Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto, and Buster Posey, and the clubhouse starts looking crowded with talent.

However, the Giants find themselves in a similar situation in the NL West. The division sent three teams to the playoffs last October, headlined by reigning NL champion Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Giants will have work to do to overtake Colorado and Arizona for a playoff berth, but after their first last-place finish since 2007, it’s certainly a welcome challenge.

Only one team enters Spring Training fresh off the celebration, and the Giants are looking to be in that very different place come next spring. Their campaign begins Friday against Milwaukee in Scottsdale.

Baseball notebook: Former Card Cepeda in critical condition

Baseball notebook: Former Card Cepeda in critical condition

Orlando Cepeda, who won the Most Valuable Player award in the National League in 1967, when he helped the Cardinals win the World Series, was hospitalized in San Francisco because of a cardiac event, the San Francisco Giants said Wednesday.

They said he was taken to a hospital Monday night and remains in critical condition.

“The Cepeda family asks for privacy during this time,” the team said. “Please keep Orlando and his family in your thoughts and prayers.”

Cepeda has been a regular at San Francisco home games in recent years.

Cepeda, 80, is a seven-time All-Star who played in three World Series. He was the 1958 NL rookie of the year with San Francisco, and three years later led the NL with 46 homers and 142 RBIs. Cepeda was a .297 career hitter with 379 home runs.

The Cardinals got him from the Giants in 1966 in a trade for pitcher Ray Sadecki. In 1967, he hit 25 home runs and led the NL in runs batted in, with 111, and hit .325.

He tailed off in ’68, when the Cards returned to the World Series but lost to Detroit in seven games, hitting .248 with 16 homers and 73 RBIs, then was traded to Atlanta shortly before the 1969 season began for first baseman and catcher Joe Torre.

He was a first baseman in his 17 seasons in the majors. In addition to the Giants, Cards and Braves, he also played for the Athletics, Red Sox and Royals.

Rasmus joins Orioles • Outfielder Colby Rasmus, a former Cardinal, is returning to baseball after walking away last summer. He signed a minor-league contract with the Orioles and has been invited to big-league camp.

Rasmus, 31, was with Tampa Bay in July when the Rays said he was going to “step away from baseball.” Neither the team nor Rasmus offered an explanation, though he had been slowed by hip trouble.

Rasmus was hitting .281 with nine home runs and 23 RBIs in 37 games for the Rays when he left. He has hit 165 home runs and batted .242 in nine seasons with the Cardinals, Blue Jays, Astros and Rays.

He is expected to compete with Alex Presley for a spot on the big-league roster.

Meanwhile, pitcher Chris Tillman agreed to a $3 million, one-year contract that includes performance bonuses to stay with the Orioles. He was 1-7 with a 7.84 ERA in 19 starts and five relief appearances last year. He probably will join Dylan Bundy, Kevin Gausman and newcomer Andrew Cashner in the rotation.

Astros’ rotation overstocked • With virtually every position already a lock for the Astros at the beginning of spring training, the toughest decision manager A.J. Hinch might have to make in the next month is which of his talented pitchers won’t make the rotation.

On a World Series championship team with Cy Young winners Justin Verlander and Dallas Keuchel, newcomer Gerrit Cole and Lance McCullers, Hinch probably will have to send one or more of his other starters to the bullpen to open the season.

“Poor me to have too many starters that need to be in the rotation,” Hinch joked.

The addition of Verlander late last season, combined with the offseason trade for Cole, made Houston’s already-solid rotation one of baseball’s best. Keuchel, who won the Cy Young in 2015, bounced back from a tough 2016 by going 14-5 with a 2.90 ERA last season. The 30-year-old lefty started five games and collected two wins in the playoffs to help Houston to its first World Series title.

Verlander was spectacular after being traded from Detroit on Aug. 31, going 5-0 with a 1.06 ERA and 43 strikeouts in five regular-season starts. He continued his solid pitching in the postseason, propelling the Astros into the World Series by going 2-0 with an 0.56 ERA to down the Yankees in the ALCS.

McCullers, 24, is looking to take the next step this season after going 7-4 with a 4.25 ERA in 22 starts last season. Cole is the only new face in Houston’s rotation after joining the team in a January trade from Pittsburgh. He was 12-12 with a 4.26 ERA while starting a career-high 33 games last season.

That collection of pitchers leaves the Astros with Charlie Morton, Brad Peacock and Collin McHugh competing for the last spot in the rotation.

Hinch was quick to note that the Astros almost certainly will have to use more than five starters through the course of the season, so there will be opportunities for players who don’t make it out of spring.

Also, Astros pitching prospect Forrest Whitley was suspended for 50 games without pay for a violation of baseball’s minor-league drug prevention and treatment program.

Murphy’s status iffy • Nationals second baseman Daniel Murphy isn’t sure if his right knee will be ready for him to play by opening day. He had an operation to repair cartilage shortly after last season ended, which included micro-fracture surgery.

Doctors told him recovery time would be four to six months, and the 32-year-old Murphy already has full range of motion in his knee.

Now he’s working on strengthening the knee. If there is a timetable for Murphy’s debut in Grapefruit League games, he didn’t divulge it.

Meanwhile, the Nationals agreed to a deal with reliever Joaquin Benoit, 40, a righthander who has played for eight teams and finished last season with Pittsburgh. He has 764 career appearances, going 58-49 with a 3.83 ERA and 53 saves.

Maybin joins Marlins • Outfielder Cameron Maybin signed a one-year contract with the Marlins, for whom he played in 2008-10. He was with the Angels and Astros last year. Maybin batted only .228 in 2017 but had 33 steals to rank second in the American League. Maybin, 30, is a .255 career hitter in 11 seasons with six teams.

Bucs get Saunders • The Pirates signed free-agent outfielder Michael Saunders to a minor-league deal and invited him to major-league spring training.

Saunders, 31, hit a combined .202 with six home runs and 21 RBIs in 73 games last season for the Phillies and Blue Jays. He is a career .232 hitter with 81 home runs and 263 RBIs in 775 games.

Elsewhere • The Yankees traded outfielder Jabari Blash to the Angels for a player to be named or cash. Blash hit .213 with five home runs and 16 RBIs last season for the Padres. The Yankees got him in December as part of a deal that sent third baseman Chase Headley, pitcher Bryan Mitchell and cash to San Diego.

• The Indians agreed to a minor-league contract with free-agent reliever Carlos Torres, who pitched in 67 games last year for the Brewers. He went 4-1 with a 4.21 ERA last season, his second with Milwaukee following three with the Mets.

• The Rangers sold minor-league pitcher Miguel Medrano to the Reds.

Mark Melancon back from dead-arm issue, returns as San Francisco Giants closer

Mark Melancon back from dead-arm issue, returns as San Francisco Giants closer

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Big league pitchers often talk about a “dead arm” period, when the ball does not seem to feel right or act properly.

San Francisco closer Mark Melancon pitched last year with the real thing — dead tissue in a forearm muscle, discovered only during a season-ending surgical procedure Sept. 12.

When doctors began a procedure designed to allow the muscle to “breathe,” they found something they did not expect.

“It was actually dying off,” Melancon said.

“It had turned gray. When they went in, they literally saw it. The muscle was dying from being restricted. The doctor said he hadn’t seen that too much. He said he had seen it, but not there, and not often. Very rare. It was definitely a surprise. I know he was shocked,” he said.

Melancon, who said he had been felt similar restriction off and on at various points of the season since 2012, also was taken aback.

While the surgery was considered a success, Melancon and the Giants can only hope the surgery will be enough to help him return to the All-Star form that led him to 98 saves and two NL All-Star teams with Pittsburgh in 2015-16.

There are no guarantees.

“I think they have done all that they can do,” Melancon said.

“Who knows if it flares up again? Hopefully that muscle comes back pink, reddish, healthy again. The doctor doesn’t know it if will or not. We’ve done all the we can do. The rest, we’ll see,” he said.

Melancon was one of the best closers in the game from 2014-16, recording 131 saves in 141 opportunities with a 1.93 ERA with Pittsburgh and Washington, joining the Nationals at the 2016 trade deadline.

That success earned him a four-year, $62 million contract in the 2016 winter of the closers, when Kenley Jansen and Aroldis Chapman also were on the free agent market.

Last season did not start well, when Melancon failed to hold a lead in a loss at Arizona on opened day, and his year in a way mirrored the Giants woes as they fell to 64-98, tied with Detroit for the fewest wins in the majors.

Melancon, who finished 1-2 with 11 saves and a 4.50 ERA in 32 appearances, did not pitch for six weeks around the All-Star Game. He then was shut down for the season the first week of September.

“I’d always dealt with it, but last year it was different,” said Melancon, who will turn 34 in March.

“It bothered me the whole year, where in years past it never blossomed fully. It would come a couple of weeks, maybe a month, during every season since 2012. But I could get through it, get over it,” he said.

He constantly took treatment, calling it “an everyday thing.”

“But I just thought it was me,” he said. “I thought it was what I had to do. Last year I never got over it. Partly, we just didn’t know exactly what it was.”

Melancon will return to the closer’s role he was forced to abandon a year ago, manager Bruce Bochy already has announced, but the Giants plan to slow-play him early in spring training.

Melancon has not yet thrown live batting practice, the next step before getting into a game.

“We’ll take it easy with him early,” Bochy said.

At the same, the Giants plan to extend Melancon by the time spring training ends to make sure he can pitch back-to-back games or three out of four that comes with the closer’s role.

“We will check that box off before we leave here,” Bochy said. “We expect him to be fine.”