SF may need trade for pitcher

May 30, 2013

In tabbing Chad Gaudin for a Sunday start against the Cardinals, it could be a matter of time before the Giants are forced to look outside the organization for pitching help.

Not that the journeyman right-hander isn’t capable of bridging the gap until Ryan Vogelsong returns from right-hand surgery. Gaudin has started 75 games in his major league career. However, he hasn’t started a big-league game since 2009 – the last time he worked five or more innings was his last career start on Sept. 28 of that season – so, looking to him as the stopgap the Giants so desperately need is a tall order.

This is precisely the haunting Giants fans were afraid of when the team dealt prized pitching prospect Zack Wheeler to the Mets for Carlos Beltran at the 2011 trade deadline. Wheeler, who is currently starting at Triple-A Las Vegas, is on the verge of breaking into the big leagues. If he was still with the Giants, he would have almost certainly been Tuesday’s starter in Oakland. End of story.

But he isn’t. So, the Giants have been forced to scramble, and scramble some more, to fill the injury void. Mike Kickham’s call-up was a romantic experiment, but it was evident in Tuesday’s loss that the southpaw is not equipped for a big-league rotation. Until he develops a fastball that can claim the inside of the plate against right-handed batters, Kickham is destined for a career as a left-handed relief specialist.

The return of reliever Ramon Ramirez has been a promising addition. Whether Gaudin returns to the pen sooner or later, Ramirez has shown the stuff to stay with the big club. But that is a bullpen issue. And the immediate question is: Who is best equipped to give the Giants six quality innings every fifth day?

Other internal minor-league options include: Chris Heston, Justin Fitzgerald, Chris Gloor, or a handful of journeyman options at Triple-A including Shane Loux and Boof Bonser. In other words, if Gaudin doesn’t work out, the Giants will need to seriously consider trading for viable big-league arm.

Continuing with the romanticism, there are two options with local roots, either of whom could make for a strong addition. Scott Feldman of the Cubs is enjoying the best month of his career while in a contract-year for a last-place team. And Greg Reynolds has quietly put himself back on the map as a quality arm with Reds Triple-A affiliate Louisville.

Feldman is a Burlingame product who was drafted out of College of San Mateo by the Rangers in 2003. The 30-year-old veteran is sporting a 5-1 record through May in his first year with the Cubs. When asked recently if things could get any better, Feldman responded short and sweet by saying: “If I could hit a home run.”

In Feldman’s next plate appearance – his first at bat against the Reds on May 24 – the left-handed hitter drilled the first home run of his big-league career. So if the Giants are looking for someone who has his mojo working, they can hardly do better than Feldman.

But Reynolds is a tempting option, if for no other reason than he is currently not on the Reds 40-man roster. Translation – he could likely be gotten on the cheap, as he doesn’t have nearly as much trade value as a current big-league starter like Feldman.

Reynolds is a Pacifica native who graduated from Terra Nova before accepting a baseball scholarship to Stanford. The right-hander was the second-overall pick by the Rockies in the 2006 draft, but injuries derailed his top-prospect status. Soon to turn 28, Reynolds’ prospect days are behind him. But experience makes him an intriguing mark. He has appeared in 27 games over parts of two seasons with Colorado.

Thursday night, Reynolds earned the win in Louisville to up his season record to 5-0, and now ranks in the International League top 10 in wins, ERA (2.92), and innings pitched (71).

Louisville pitching coach Ted Power recently stated he believes Reynolds is ready to pitch in the big leagues again. But with a depth of pitching that also includes Mark Prior and Armando Galarraga in the Triple-A mix, Power wondered if Reynolds will get that chance this year with the Reds.   

“I don’t know if it will be with the Reds because of, if they have a need,” Power said. “But I think the work he is doing here is definitely getting attention…. If something should happen, I think he’s ready to go up there and pitch for them. It’s always tougher when you’re pitching for … a team that is competing for a pennant. If it was another team that was out of the race, he’d probably already be there.”

Not that Gaudin emerging as a viable starter isn’t a romantic notion in and of itself. And of course there are other pitchers available around baseball. But San Francisco could hardly find hotter big-league-ready talent than Feldman or Reynolds.


Appel’s final bow at Stanford

May 25, 2013

Mark Appel’s eight-inning performance Friday night is being called a masterpiece by some. By Appel’s standards it was just a day in the life.

What has made Appel such a tough competitor through four legendary years at Stanford is not just the sheer velocity or the outstanding stuff. It’s the sharp command that makes the man the most anticipated pitching prospect to emerge from Stanford in some years.

As the svelte right-hander earned his 10th win of the season, he didn’t have quite the command that has become synonymous with his heralded Friday-night outings. Appel threw 123 pitches Friday, 79 strikes. He hasn’t labored as much in over a month – since April 19 when he threw 124 pitches, 77 for strikes – in earning a 4-3 win over Arizona.

But Appel knows how to play ‘em close. All but two of his starts this season have been decided by a scoring differential of two runs or less. A historic night in which he overtook Kyle Peterson and Justin Wayne to become Stanford’s all-time strikeout leader was no different. The Cardinal triumphed 2-1 over UCLA in what was essentially a must-win situation, and in comeback fashion no less.

With the win, Appel also matched his single-season career high, after posting a 10-2 record last year. The win also moved him into a tie for sixth all-time in Stanford history with 28 career wins. Whether or not he gets a shot moving further up the list is now in the hands of his teammates; as well as the NCAA selection committee. The Cardinal entered into their final regular-season series with their backs against the wall, needing to take the series from No. 8-ranked UCLA in order to have a chance at earning a berth in the postseason field of 64. A series sweep wouldn’t hurt.

What’s all but certain tough: Stanford won’t be hosting any postseason baseball this year. With the Cardinal sitting on the cusp of fourth place in the Pac-12, Sunkenn Diamond certainly won’t be considered for a Regional tournament bid. If the stars align, there’s a remote chance Stanford could host a Super Regional.

For all intents and purposes though, the Cardinal know they are winding down their home schedule with their regular-season finale against UCLA. By virtue of this, Friday’s game carried the weight of being viewed as the final home appearance of Appel’s career.

And whether or not the numbers matter to Appel, the emotion of winding down one of the most storied pitching careers in Stanford history certainly does.

“This one’s I guess a little different,” Appel said. “Honestly, I shouldn’t be approaching games any different. I should play every one like it’s my last. But this one very well might be my last. So it definitely did hold a little extra value. Every game is important. But I’m just glad we won.”

Feldman on fire in May

May 21, 2013

Less than two months into the baseball season, the success of Scott Feldman is already producing the perfect storm of trade rumors.

Feldman signed a one-year deal with the Cubs prior to this season, and has righted the ship after a slow start with his new team. After losing each of his first three starts, the right-hander has been one of the best in the big leagues, winning four of his last five starts, and tabbing a 3-0 record in May. His 2.19 ERA is tops among Cubs starters, and ranks sixth in the National League.

Meanwhile, the Cubs (18-25) are trying to stay out of the cellar in one of the best divisions in baseball. They are currently seesawing with the Brewers at the bottom of the NL Central. And with Feldman in a contract year, his dominant May is certainly catching the eye of contending teams in search of a hot veteran starter.

Feldman envisions a different scenario though. After spending eight years with the Rangers, he would be game for another such long-term tenure in Chicago. And Feldman has his eye on the ultimate prize.

“I think it would be awesome to re-sign here,” Feldman said. “I think that this organization is headed in the right direction. You never know when it’s going to happen, but (the Cubs are) not too far away from being a pretty good team. I think when this team finally does finally win, and win the whole thing, this town is going to just go crazy. So, I think it would be awesome to try and be a part of that.”

Feldman isn’t getting too far ahead of himself though. In the midst of one of the best months of his career, Feldman said he’s taking things start-by-start. His first start of the month was one to savor though, as he went the distance against San Diego on May 1. Not only did he notch a career-high 12 strikeouts. It was also the first complete game of his professional career.

“Yeah, first one,” Feldman said. “It took me awhile, but it was nice to finally get that one.”

Feldman is settling in with another Bay Area native in his first year with the Cubs – former Giants outfielder Nate Schierholtz. And like Feldman, Schierholtz is off to the best start of his career. The left-handed batting right fielder has been hitting predominantly in the No. 5 spot of the order, and is generating the power numbers to stay there. Schierholtz is currently mashing to the tune of a .520 slugging percentage, and has already hit five home runs. He tabbed his career high of nine homers in 2009 with the Giants.   

“He’s been one of the more consistent hitters in the league to start the season,” Feldman said. “I think getting out of [AT&T Park], that’s a tough place to hit when you’re a left-handed hitter. You really have to crush a ball, unless it goes right down the line. I think just getting him in a normal stadium and getting more playing time is really going to let him show off his ability a lot more.”

Although they first met prior to the start of this season, Feldman and Schierholtz were conference rivals at the community-college level in 2003. Feldman is the all-time career wins leader at College of San Mateo, having pitched there from 2002-03. Schierholtz was a slugging third baseman at Hayward’s Chabot College, ranking second in the state with 18 home runs in 2003.

Feldman didn’t pitch against Chabot that season, so the two never faced one another in college. They were each drafted out of their respective junior colleges in 2003 though. Schierholtz was a freshman draftee, taken in the second round by the Giants. Feldman was drafted the following day by Texas in the 30th round.

Vogey breaks throwing hand

May 20, 2013

It was the best at bat, followed by the worst at bat.

Please forgive the Tale of Two Cities allusion, but the feeling in the pit of my stomach when Ryan Vogelsong took that 90 mph fastball to the pitching hand was the same feeling I remember from starting my first Charles Dickens novel back in high school.

It was obvious something was really wrong with Vogelsong the minute he clutched at his broken hand. You know it’s worry time when a professional athlete doesn’t writhe in pain. My theory is that static reaction is a result of the injured player being so scared of serious injury, that the fear overshadows the pain.

The diagnosis: Two breaks around the pinky knuckle – surgery tomorrow – that’s serious. The initial estimate is Vogelsong will miss six weeks. Enough time to read a classic. Let’s hope it proves time enough to only read one.

Vogelsong’s previous plate appearance was probably his best of the year. Executing a safety squeeze on the first pitch after Nationals reliever Craig Stammen entered the game, the picture-perfect sacrifice scored Brandon Belt with the first of three runs in the inning. The rally gave the Giants a 5-0 lead. Vogelsong was dealing, and having entered the game with an 8.06 ERA, the former All-Star seemed poised for an uplifting night.

The Giants went on to win 8-0, while the pitching staff combined for a three-hit shutout. Vogelsong allowed all three hits over five innings, while Javier Lopez, Jean Machi, Santiago Casilla, and Jeremy Affeldt followed with four combined no-hit innings.

So let’s weigh the starting pitching options. The names bandied around on the television postgame broadcast were Triple-A starters Mike Kickham and Chris Heston, while manager Bruce Bochy acknowledged that long-reliever Chad Gaudin will be considered as well.

Kickham is a big Missouri-born left-hander who owns a 4.72 ERA through nine starts at Fresno. A major red flag, however, is that right-handers are hitting .301 against him. Heston is a rudimentary right-hander coming off his best start of the year, holding Marlins Triple-A affiliate New Orleans to three hits over seven shutout innings on May 16. However, opposing hitters have hit .320 against Heston.

Gaudin has plenty of starting pitching experience, having gone wire-to-wire in the starting roation for the A’s in 2007. He hasn’t started a major league game since 2009 though. And Bochy expressed reluctance at shaking up the Giants’ bullpen, stating that Gaudin is capable of eating up valuable innings as a reliever.

However, moving the veteran right-hander Gaudin into the rotation would give the Giants the opportunity to promote their best Triple-A pitcher, Fresno closer Heath Hembree. Regarded as the best relief prospect in the organization, Hembree has notched 12 saves in 19 appearances this season, tabbing a 2.70 ERA while striking out 21 against five walks through 20 innings of work.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to read some Alexandre Dumas.

Cespedes does it all for A’s

May 19, 2013

For all the excitement surrounding Yoenis Cespedes’ game-winning home run Sunday, it should be noted that Cespedes initially got the A’s offense going with his legs, not his bat.

As Oakland mounted its third comeback win in as many days against the Royals, it was Cespedes’ all-out base running that allowed the A’s to get on the board in fourth inning. Kansas City already led 2-0. But after leading off the inning with a bloop single, Cespedes went from first to third on a single by Brandon Moss with as much intensity as you’re ever going to see on a take of 180 feet.

Moss smashed a hard chopper through the hole into right field, but the ball was hit so hard, Cespedes had to stutter-step around it to avoid having it hit him. Despite his late break for second, Cespedes accelerated quickly, and found another gear as he turned and burned around the bag at second, never hesitating as he sprinted towards third.

Royals right fielder Jeff Francoeur is renowned for having one of the best outfield throwing arms in the game, but Cespedes’ speed, agility, and intensity proved equally as impressive. And a slightly imperfect throw from Francoeur was all the window Cespedes needed to dart safely into third with a feet-first slide.

Not a bad effort for Cespedes, who may just lead the league in slowest walks from the on-deck circle to home plate prior to his at bats. His approach was so exaggerated in the final two games of the Royals series, both opposing starters – Ervin Santana and Luis Mendoza – had moments when they had to step off the mound during Cespedes’ antics.

But the Cuban sensation proved the hero Sunday. After crossing the plate with the A’s first run on Josh Donaldson’s sacrifice fly in the fourth, Cespedes later walloped a majestic home run to left-center off Royals reliever Kelvin Herrera to give the A’s a 4-3 lead, which held up for the win.

“He has a flair for that, there’s no question,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “We’ve seen him do late-inning stuff. Guy is throwing a hundred miles an hour – really didn’t need to do anything mechanically to try to catch up with it. Just saw it and hit it.”

With the win, the A’s not only rise above the .500 mark with a 23-22 record, but also in one-run victories. With three straight one-run wins to sweep the Royals, the A’s are now 8-6 on the season in one-run games.

“Personally, I’d rather see us win by 10 runs,” Melvin said. “But the fans get a kick out of it. We have a little bit of a flair for the dramatic in close games here at home. It makes for a little bit more excitement. Certainly for the fans, and for us too.”

Milone perseveres in Oakland

May 18, 2013

Ervin Santana’s first big-league win was a masterful one. Arriving in the Majors with the Angels in 2005, the right-hander fired a five-hit shutout against the White Sox in just his second major league start. But Santana wouldn’t notch his next complete game for quite some time – in 2008 to be precise – over three years later against the Royals.

Santana took the mound for those same Royals in Oakland Saturday night in search of his 100th career win. And judging by the top eight hitters in the A’s lineup, it seemed Santana was poised for another masterpiece.

But Eric Sogard would have none of that. Hitting in the No. 9 spot, Sogard was the only A’s hitter to solve Santana early on. The Oakland second baseman tallied a 2-for-3 night, including a leadoff double in the sixth that sparked a two-run rally. Backing a “Houdini” effort by starter Tommy Milone, it was all the runs the A’s would need, as they edged Kansas City 2-1. 

Milone looked to be in dire straits early on. The lefty couldn’t put anybody away the first time through the batting order, and his inability to do so ran his pitch count to 63 after just two innings. But Milone buckled down by allowing just one run through six innings to earn the win, upping his record to 4-5.

“That was Houdini,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “He [threw so many pitches early on] and goes six innings…. I’ve been impressed with a lot of his outings before – I don’t know any more than that.”

It was actually the Royals’ left-handed hitters that gave the southpaw trouble the first time through the order. Kansas City’s leading hitter Alex Gordon grinded out an 11-pitch at bat in the first inning, before pounding a double into the left-center gap. Gordon would score two pitches later on a bloop single by Billy Butler to plate the Royals’ only run of the night.

In the second, Milone responded to a lead-off single by Salvador Perez by surrendering back-to-back nine-pitch walks, first to the left-handed Mike Moustakas, then to righty Jeff Francouer, to load the bases. But that’s when the magic act began. Milone went on to induce a foul pop-out off the bat of Elliot Johnson, then struck out both Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar to strand the bases loaded. Kansas City would go on to leave seven runners on base throughout.

“Across the board it was just a terrific outing, for what could have been a come-ou-of-the-game-in-the-second-or-third-inning,” Melvin said.

Oakland’s offense pulled the proverbial rabbit out of the hat though, as the A’s took the lead in the bottom of the sixth. The rally came just in time to ensure the win for Milone, who made way for the bullpen to start the next inning.

And as should come as no surprise, the A’s bullpen kept the Royals bats on lockdown. Oakland relievers worked three shutout innings, facing just one over the minimum. Ryan Cook entered in the sixth, striking out two while lighting up the radar gun at 95 mph. After earning the win in Friday’s game, Sean Doolittle induced three straight groundouts in the eighth.

Then closer Grant Balfour emerged to record his eighth save of the year in eight opportunities. Mr. Perfect’s streak of consecutive save conversions is now at 26, dating back to May 5 of last season.