Thursday, June 13 2024

Five observations from Giants’ season-opening series vs. Padres originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

SAN DIEGO — Blake Snell might have been the busiest man at Petco Park this weekend, even though he didn’t pitch in a big league game and spent Friday night in Scottsdale for a simulated game against Giants minor leaguers.

For the three days that he was in San Diego, Snell seemed to never not be in conversation. He caught up with former teammates, coaches, media members and plenty of ushers and security guards.

When he stopped for Giants reporters on Sunday morning, Snell was all smiles. His arm feels good after he threw 71 pitches on Friday night, although he said he’s genuinely not sure what the next step is. He’s lined up to start as soon as Wednesday at Dodger Stadium, but if that’s the plan, nobody is giving it away.

Snell was a spectator this weekend, but he liked what he saw. Or, at least he did before Sunday’s blowout.

“We’re really good,” he said. “We’re going to be really good. We have more key pieces coming back.”

Those pieces will solve what was Sunday’s biggest problem. With Snell not ready and Alex Cobb and Robbie Ray on the IL, Daulton Jefferies got the call. He gave up nine runs and rookie Kai-Wei Teng piled on in a 13-4 loss. It was an ugly day, but that rotation spot should soon belong to Snell. Cobb could return as soon as the second week of April.

The rotation will be fine, and for most of the weekend, the Giants looked like they should be more than fine as a team. It’s very, very early, but you can learn some things from every series. Here are five that stood out at Petco Park:

Chasing Gold

After Matt Chapman hit two homers on Friday night, Bob Melvin started his postgame press conference by talking about a subtle play the third baseman made in the ninth inning. With a shift on, Chapman had to wait for Nick Ahmed to get to the bag for a 5-6-3 double play, but the two veterans handled it beautifully. Melvin was impressed by the touch Chapman showed on the throw to second.

“We worked on that in spring training a little bit,” Chapman said. “What was going through my head was just making sure we got one out. I wasn’t trying to necessarily turn the double play, I was just trying to make sure I made it an easy catch for him to step on the base. Obviously he’s a great shortstop so he was able to turn it.”

Over four games, Chapman had about a half-dozen plays that he made look far too easy. Of course, there were highlight-reel additions, too:

“I made a joke with him today: I know it’s you and (Nolan) Arenado’s first year in the same league, so you’re battling for that Gold Glove,” Jordan Hicks said.

The Giants knew they were getting an all-world defender in Chapman and adding Ahmed has made the left side of the infield one of their greatest strengths, even if it’s subtle at times.

Old School Vibes

With two on, no outs, and the Giants trailing by a run in the top of the seventh on Opening Day, Patrick Bailey put down a perfect bunt in front of the plate. Both runners advanced, and Mike Krukow remarked, “See, Bob Melvin knows what he’s doing.” During that sequence, he certainly did.

Ahmed followed with a single past the drawn-in infield to tie the game. Jung Hoo Lee‘s sacrifice fly to center gave the Giants the lead.

“I was really comfortable with the way Nick was swinging the bat and has swung it all spring and he knocked in our first run. It felt like one of those games that was going to be low-scoring and every run counted,” Melvin said. “We ended up getting two runs out of it.”

The Giants were actually 10th in successful sacrifice bunts last season, so this isn’t a total Kapler-to-Melvin switch, but still, there should be a noticeable uptick. In Melvin’s two years with the Padres, they had 26 more bunt attempts than the Giants, even though they had lineups led by sluggers like Juan Soto, Manny Machado and Fernando Tatis Jr.  Melvin’s A’s teams were often at the bottom of the league in sacrifices, but he said it was something he liked to do with the bottom of the Padres lineup.

The situational hitting was terrific — and much improved from last year — all weekend long. The Giants had just two hits through five innings on Saturday but had three runs thanks to two sacrifice flies.

Worth Watching

Not a lot of attention was paid to the bullpen this spring for a couple of reasons. The top five in the pecking order were set coming into camp, and all of the flashy offseason additions were meant to address position groups with greater needs.

But in this series, the bullpen was the biggest weakness. Not counting Tyler Fitzgerald, eight Giants relievers appeared in the series and seven — all but Landen Roupp — gave up a run.

Luke Jackson allowed three before going on the IL. Camilo Doval has two on his line, although his appearance on Saturday was probably similar to a few he had the last couple of years; he often appears to lack his usual stuff when he enters in non-save situations and gives up a lot of his runs on those days.

The bullpen is certainly worth watching at Dodger Stadium and for the first couple of weeks, although it’s a group that is often easy to fix internally, and the Giants appear to be very well-positioned for that.

Roupp could be a starter long-term, but he has the stuff to be a good reliever now, and the staff is trying it. Given how many experienced starters are ahead of him on the depth chart, this seems the best path for him in 2024. The same could be true for Carson Whisenhunt, who struck out six in three one-hit innings in his Triple-A debut, or Mason Black, who threw five strong innings in his start.

If both Snell and Cobb return soon, Keaton Winn could find himself in the bullpen. Hicks was dominant in his starting debut, but he could be an option for relief innings down the stretch if Ray returns on time and everyone else is healthy. 
There are a lot of ways to strengthen this bullpen. Some might be used sooner than later.

Rocket Launchers

The Giants had 17 hard-hit balls (an exit velo of 95 or above) on Friday night. A day later, they had 14. They had a dozen on Opening Day, and even in Sunday’s clunker, they had 10 of them. Last season, they had double-digit hard-hit balls in less than half of their games.

“It’s a contagious thing,” Michael Conforto said. “Guys say it all the time. You watch a guy grind a two-strike count and put the barrel on the ball and take really good swings with really good takes, it kinda just inspires the next guy and wears out the pitchers. That’s something we preached in spring training and did a lot in spring training, as well. The guys are showing up to play when the games count.”

Conforto was right in the middle of things, hitting two homers, including a grand slam. A return to his New York Mets form would be huge for the lineup. Chapman had 10 hard-hit balls in the series, including outs at 114 and 110 mph.

There have been a lot of barrels early on, and they haven’t even gotten much from Jorge Soler — the strongest hitter on the team — yet.

He Belongs

Jung Hoo Lee provided a lot of the highlights on the first weekend, and his productive arrival might have been the biggest long-term development for the organization. They certainly feel very good about committing six years to Lee at the moment.

Lee went 4-for-14 with four walks and three RBI and picked up his first homer during the series. The impressive thing wasn’t just that Lee hit the ground running, it was how he piled up those numbers. He barrelled the ball all weekend, and he swung and missed just twice on 81 pitches.

The Dodgers will provide a better test, but Lee certainly appears to be ready to live up to the hype. The Giants might have an All-Star on their hands, and at the very least they appear to have a couple of the Rookie of the Year frontrunners in Lee and Kyle Harrison. Since Buster Posey won in 2010, only one Giant — Matt Duffy, who was second in 2015 — has even finished in the top five for the award.

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Source: Yahoo Sports


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