PHILADELPHIA – Even with two World Series rings, Giants manager Bruce Bochy will forever have his face on the dartboard for some fans, who criticize his preference for veterans or his wandering attention to advanced metrics.
But Bochy made a move in the ninth inning Thursday night that went against the grain.
He pinch-hit Roger Kieschnick for Jeff Francoeur.
Sure, he was getting the left-handed matchup against right-hander Jonathan Papelbon. But he also was taking out an experienced veteran in favor of a rookie who was playing in his second big league game – and making his first pinch-hitting appearance.
Kieschnick put the first pitch in play, and although a good first baseman might have been able to smother it, Michael Young is not a good first baseman by the wildest stretch. The hit tied the game and the Giants won 2-1.
[RECAP: Giants 2, Phillies 1]
“I told Frenchy, `I’m going to hit here,’” Bochy said of Francoeur, who is in an 0-for-15 that dropped his average to .167 in 13 games since the Kansas City Royals released him. “He was great about it. He’s all about winning.”
The Giants want to win over these last two months, no doubt. They see the value in finishing strong, especially since they’ll retain most of their core from the 2012 World Series, hope to add a few pieces, and chalk it all up to an aberration when they report to spring training next February. A strong finish will put some spirit in that cocktail.
But they also have to identify players who could be key contributors. And Francoeur won’t be one of them. Kieschnick might be.
Besides, Kieschnick actually hit better against lefties at Triple-A (.289) than right-handers (.268).
He’s been compared to Nate Schierholtz, and for good reason. He’s strong, athletic for his size, he’s a plus defensive outfielder and he has a good arm. Like Schierholtz, he’s dealt with a lot of injuries, too – both nagging and disabling.
You see now the kind of success that Schierholtz is having with the Chicago Cubs. He was one of the more sought after names at the trade deadline. If the Giants can grow an asset like that … well, they have to try, don’t they?
So pinch-hitting in the ninth inning to get a matchup is a good start for Bochy. We’ll see how he splits up the playing time in left field from here.
One of the reasons Bochy didn’t hesitate to send Kieschnick up to face Jonathan Papelbon: The poise he showed in his big league debut a night earlier.
“He had composure out there,” Bochy said. “He didn’t seem in awe of anything.”
Composure is something that has been an issue for Brandon Belt in his young career, and it’s something he’s improved this season. But he still tends to disappear in too many games – and that’s when he isn’t doing something noticeably bad like striking out four times or making an error with two outs in the ninth.
Obviously, Belt won’t get as many opportunities now that Brett Pill is on the roster. But it’s this simple: When Belt gets those opportunities, he has to take advantage of them.
He did well Thursday in a pinch-hitting appearance, drawing a walk from Papelbon. Bochy remarked that it was a good plate appearance.
It’s a start.
Say all you want about Francoeur at the plate, and the way he’s chasing pitches, you could. But his throws from the outfield are special to witness.
He had a direct hand in winning Thursday night’s game because of the run he prevented in the seventh inning. It was pinch runner Michael Martinez that he threw out at the plate, too.
Francoeur has played the Phillies plenty as a member of the Braves and Mets. Didn’t they know about his arm?
“Maybe they didn’t know I was in left field,” he said, smiling. “I’m usually on the other side.”
There might come a time this season when the Giants hold down Matt Cain’s workload, maybe limit him to 85 pitches or so, or even employ a six-man rotation. Anything to keep them as fresh as possible for next year, since it’s reasonable that last season’s workload has had a carryover effect.
But Cain doesn’t look like he wants or needs to be backed off at the moment. For all the warning signs and flashing lights in his final two starts before the All-Star break, he’s followed it up with three very solid outings since then. He has a 1.80 ERA and has thrown more than 100 pitches in each of them.
Cain never has acknowledged any injury issues. So that wasn’t part of his response when asked the difference since the break.
“Just trying to throw good strikes,” he said. “At times I was trying to make too good a pitch. I was doing too much thinking. It’s making the game simpler. In rough spots, you’re constantly trying to figure things out.”
Is it tough to think about lining things up for next season when there’s still two months of baseball to play?
“It is,” he said. “You know the numbers are stacked against us. We want to go the rest of the season playing well and having a good time. It’s no fun when you’re losing. We’ve done enough of that recently. No matter what happens, just enjoy it.”
I wonder what Cody Asche is going to tell his grandkids about his first major league hit. It was a rocket off the bat? It was a bunt that turned into a generous scoring decision when the pitcher slipped?
Or will his story be that he hit a rocket so hard that it knocked Sergio Romo off his feet?
Yeah. Go with that.
Baserunning wins games, too. Hunter Pence didn’t hesitate, barely making it from first to third on Brett Pill’s single in the ninth. Then Pill, a very good runner for his size, easily went from first to third on Kieschnick’s tying single. That allowed Pill to score the go-ahead run on Arias’ hit.
Pill and Kieschnick are both good athletes who won’t steal many bases for you, but they have another gear once they get going. It’s nice to find players like that who also can hit for power. On the basis of that alone, I think the Giants are going to score more runs with those guys in the lineup.
You might remember that when the Giants visited the White House in 2011, they took the train from Washington DC to Philadelphia. This time, they went by bus.
Turns out Major League Baseball and Amtrak are reworking their agreement and the league told the Giants to go another way.
So they did. And their buses got caught in Beltway traffic, which personally, is the worst I’ve ever experienced.
It took them 4 ½ hours to make the short drive – or as long as their flight lasted from San Francisco to Washington DC.
Thanks, I think, to MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki for letting me know about Federal Donuts and Fried Chicken here in Philadelphia. And here I was being good by avoiding cheesesteaks.
It’s off to Tropicana Field. Hope the Giants packed their turf shoes this time.