SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Thursday afternoon's game brought a devastating hit to the lineup when Hunter Pence went down with a fractured forearm, but the morning workout provided nothing but good news on the injury front. Right-handers Matt Cain and Tim Hudson threw to hitters, Cain for the second time this spring and Hudson for the first.
“Both of them threw well,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “Huddy was real impressive for the first time facing hitters.”
Hudson, who had ankle surgery in January, is just a small step behind Cain, who is coming off elbow surgery. Hudson will throw one more live BP session and said he doesn’t anticipate any setbacks. His right ankle feels better than it did a year ago, when he was coming off a fracture. This time, he’s just recovering from a procedure that removed bone chips.
“Nothing is going on in it at all,” he said of his ankle. “I’ve just got to get the rest of my old ailments ready.”
Cain is expected to start a spring game sometime around March 10, with Hudson possibly following the next day. The Giants have talked about having Hudson follow Cain in the rotation so that Hudson and Jake Peavy are split up. The staff believes those two are too similar.
“We can (split them) by putting Cain between those two,” Bochy said.
It was another right-hander, Ryan Vogelsong, who started Thursday against the Cubs. Vogelsong was long gone by the time the prospects and non-roster invitees rallied for an 8-6 win, the first for the Giants in three Cactus League games. Some highlights and lowlights …
LEADING OFF: Vogelsong became the first Giants starter to get through a clean first inning, but he gave up a grand slam to Cubs prospect Kyle Schwarber in the second. Vogelsong was happy with how his arm felt but he said he lost his focus a bit in the second inning, which was a strange one since home plate ump Dale Scott got hurt and wasn’t replaced behind the plate until midway through Vogelsong’s second frame. Vogelsong said that's the first time he has ever had balls and strikes called from behind the mound.
“I lost my focus a little bit,” Vogelsong said. “I got in the stretch and rushed a little bit. Other than that, everything was pretty good. All my pitches are close to being where I want them already. From that standpoint, it was good … The ball was down and it was moving pretty much how I want it to. You don’t ever want to give up a home run or a grand slam, (but) I’ll take it on the first day. I’ve just got to work on the mental side.”
FLASHING LEATHER: Justin Maxwell made a diving catch on a sinking liner to right with the bases loaded in the fifth. Maxwell popped up quickly and made a strong throw to the plate, but Addison Russell slid in safely after tagging at third. The Giants like Maxwell’s power from the right side, but it’s been his athleticism that has jumped out so far. He also stole a base. With the Pence injury, the opportunity is sitting right in front of Maxwell.
STOCK UP: Right-hander Chris Heston pitched two shutout innings, striking out two, including Kris Bryant, viewed by many as the top hitting prospect in baseball. Heston had a nice year for Triple-A Fresno last season; he still could get a look up here at some point if the Giants need depth beyond Vogelsong and Yusmeiro Petit.
FAMILIAR FACE: Barry Zito started one of the first games I ever covered on this beat (in March of 2012) and I went down to the scouts section and wrote down the velocity of his fastballs: 82, 81, 81, 83, 82, 81, 82, 83. So, it was a little shocking when the San Francisco Chronicle’s Susan Slusser tweeted that a scout at Zito’s A’s debut had him 86-89 in the first inning. Zito maxed out at 86 in his final season with the Giants -- apparently the year off really did do him some good. Well, except for the two-run homer he gave up in his second inning.
NOTEWORTHY: Christian Arroyo, a first-round pick in 2013, entered at shortstop in the sixth inning and went 2 for 2 with two runs and an RBI … Daniel Carbonell, a 23-year-old Cuban outfielder, hit a two-run homer … Adam Duvall got off to a nice start this week with a homer in the Cactus League opener, but he made a crucial throwing error in the big second inning Thursday and got thrown out at second while trying to stretch a base hit … Jean Machi struck out two in one inning of work.
ROUGH DAY: It wasn’t a good game for Hunters. Strickland came in shortly after Pence got hurt and gave up a solo homer. After allowing six bombs last October, Strickland has given up homers in each of his first two Cactus League appearances.
“It’s not easy to deal with that adversity but he’s having to deal with it,” Bochy said. “He’s handling it fine.”
CLOSING THOUGHT: Just my opinion here, but forget the Allen Craig rumors (he hit .215 last season and is owed $26.5 million through the 2017 season, but thanks for saying he’s a “great fit,” Red Sox beat guys!) … and forget the other names you’ll here bandied about. The most logical move is to move Gregor Blanco to right field for the season’s first two-to-four weeks and go with an Aoki-Pagan-Blanco outfield. This is why the Giants have Blanco (who, as you might remember, plays right field at AT&T Park pretty well) and it’s why they gave him a two-year deal when he was arbitration eligible this offseason. He always starts the season as a backup and always gets his 400 at-bats.
Starting tomorrow morning, I don’t think the question will be: “Who plays right field?”
I think it will be: “How does this alter the lineup?”
Bochy has hinted a couple times that he’d like to get a look at Aoki in the leadoff spot, and you can bet he’ll noodle on an Opening Day lineup that has Aoki hitting first and Angel Pagan batting third or fifth until Pence returns. Aoki has shown a real ability to work counts in his career and through the first three games down here, and it doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense to have Aoki and Blanco hitting at the bottom of the order together.
We’ll find out more tomorrow …