SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Every year when the Giants would arrive in the desert, whether expecting to be pretenders or contenders, you could count on one thing.
When they played the Angels, they were gonna get waxed.
Mike Scioscia could bring his A lineup or Lake Elsinore and it wouldn’t matter. Those bright red jerseys would blur around the bases, and if the Giants were lucky, they’d take their thumping and nobody would get hurt. (One year Cody Ross wasn’t so lucky. He tore a calf muscle in the outfield at Tempe Diablo Stadium and began the year on the disabled list.)
“Those guys always swing the bat against us in the spring,” Matt Cain said. “I know I haven’t had good success against them.”
Until Wednesday. The Giants’ rotation is on quite an early roll and Cain didn’t drop the baton. He broke off several good curves and tossed three shutout innings in his first Cactus League appearance, allowing one hit and striking out two. He got Albert Pujols to pop up to shortstop.
Now all five Giants starters have seen exhibition action. And they’ve combined to allow one run in 17 innings. They’ve struck out nine and they have issued exactly one walk.
Sure, it’s the spring. A Cactus League ERA doesn’t lead to October baseball. But maybe it’s meaningful in a psychological way.
Everyone knows that so much of the Giants’ success is pinned to the rotation’s ability to bounce back from ranking 13th in the NL in ERA last season. It has to be a confidence builder for the rest of the team to see the starters throwing strikes and recording outs. The sooner a team can imbue itself with confidence, the better.
It’s not like the starters sit around and talk about this stuff, though.
“We haven’t said anything to each other,” said Cain, whose first start was washed out by a tarp malfunction in Mesa. “We just all kind of know that’s what we need to do. We didn’t carry the load we needed to last year.”
Notes: Pablo Sandoval had two RBI singles in the 3-2 victory – yes, victory – over the Angels at Scottsdale Stadium. (Check out the story I posted on the right-handed hitting guru that the Kung Fu Panda consulted this winter.) Heath Hembree bounced back from his walk-balk-error-wild pitch fiasco vs. the A's -- "He covered every box in screw ups," Bochy said -- to record the save with a 1-2-3 inning. Cult hero Mark Minicozzi also laced two singles, although his 2-for-4 game actually lowered his average to .556. Left-hander Jose De Paula had the most impressive performance, striking out three in two scoreless innings. Bochy said De Paula, who was claimed off waivers from the Padres this winter, “has been the talk around camp so far. Good breaking ball, pounding the strike zone to both sides. We didn’t know a lot about him, but he’s opening up some eyes here.” De Paula has one minor league option remaining, so it’s likely he’d be stashed at Triple-A Fresno to begin the season. But with two bullpen jobs up for grabs, and perhaps three if Yusmeiro Petit continues to struggle, the Giants are keeping an open mind on all these guys.