Giants Pitchers, Don Nelson, Rich Hardin
by Glenn Dickey
May 23, 2007

ONE PART of the Giants rebuilding program is going gang-busters: Their emphasis on young pitching.

For years, the Giants have concentrated on pitching in the draft, and they have two gems now in Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum. Both came to the majors with much advance publicity, and both have lived up to their publicity.

Though Cain came up earlier, he is actually about four months younger than Lincecum; both were born in 1984, Lincecum in June, Cain in October. Cain was drafted out of high school by the Giants in 2002. Lincecum was drafted out of college (Washington) last spring.

Cain struggled with his command in his rookie season last year, but came of age with a one-hit shutout against the A’s in inter-league play on May 21 last year. He still struggles with his control at times – 29 walks in 57 innings this year – but he has overpowering stuff. He’s given up only 41 hits in those 57 innings, which is probably the best indication of his ability. He also is only 2-4 – but that’s because the Giants offense has often been anemic behind him.

From the moment Cain first pitched for the Giants, those of us who saw him predicted great success, but Lincecum may be even more impressive. He’s brought frequent comparisons with Houston ace Roy Oswalt. I see him as very much like Tim Hudson, though with a better fast ball. He has Hudson’s build and variety of pitches.

In Lincecum’s major league debut, he gave up two-run homers to Shawn Victorino and Ryan Howard of the Phillies, but when I talked to Giants manager Bruce Bochy the next day, he wasn’t bothered.

“He made two bad pitches,” said Bochy, “but he’ll learn. He got in a 2-0 hole to Howard and came in with too good a pitch.” Bochy noted that, whenhe managed that team that toured Japan in the winter, he talked to Roger Clemons. “He told me that, when he got into a 2-0 hole, he’d just as soon start over by walking the guy, rather than giving in with too good a pitch. Tim will learn that.”

Since then, the baby-faced righthander – when I saw him in the Giants dressing room for the first time, I thought he might be the batboy – has beaten the Houston Astros twice, the last time on Tuesday night. His poise has been as impressive as his stuff.

In a way, Noah Lowry has been more of a surprise than either Cain or Lincecum. After an impressive start to his major league career, Lowry struggled last year. Frankly, I thought he was no better than Kirk Rueter, who was always overvalued by Giants management. But this season, Lowry has bounced back and pitched consistently well. He’s also a nice counterpart to Cain and Lincecum, winning with control and guile rather than an overpowering fast ball.

So, the Giants have three young pitchers who can form a strong nucleus for future staffs. This year, they’ve been augmented by veteran Matt Morris, who is finally justifying that three-year, $27 million contract he signed before last season. Morris’s complete game win on Sunday at the Coliseum was the best I’ve seen from him as a Giant. Of course, he was pitching against the A’s, who can often look helpless against good pitching.

Since we’re dealing with pitching positives here, I won’t discuss Barry Zito.

As usual, the news isn’t so rosy about the Giants’ young position players. Todd Linden was finally released this year. Lance Niekro, who Giants people had told me for years would be a really good major league hitter, is back in the minors. The pitchers have figured him out. Kevin Frandsen, once billed as the next Robby Thompson, is a serviceable player who can play several positions, but he seems like a career reserve.

Fred Lewis had a spectacular first game for the Giants when they brought him up this month, hitting for the cycle against Colorado, but there are serious question marks about him. Again, he’s a player I’d heard about for years from the Giants, an outfielder with both speed and some power, but he’s already 26. One of the big problems the Giants have with their “prospects” is that they are late coming up to the majors. A player’s physical peak is supposed to be in the years between 27 and 32, so when a player comes up at 26, he’s going to have a very limited upside.

Last year, Lewis had what the Giants media guide calls his “career year” with Fresno, hitting .276 with 20 doubles, 11 triples, 12 home runs, 85 runs scored, 57 RBIs in 120 games. That would be a very nice line – if he’d done it with the Giants. In the Pacific Coast League, a notorious hitter’s league, you probably have to discount that about 20 per cent.

In all likelihood, Lewis will stay with the Giants, but like Frandsen, he looks more like a career reserve than a star.

The Giants’ failure to develop position players has forced them to look at the free agent market for those players, but that’s getting to be harder and harder because the price for top-line free agents has taken a huge bump. The Giants learned how grim life can be without Barry Bonds when his three knee surgeries sidelined him for most of the 2005 season. This year, he’s their only serious power threat, and even when he’s hitting home runs, the Giants have a mediocre offense.

So, the short-term and long-term prognosis for this team are the same: Outstanding pitching, which will keep them in most games, but inconsistent hitting, which will cause them to lose some games even when they get good pitching. That’s the recipe for a .500 team – at best.

NELSON’S RETIREMENT: No, I don’t think Don Nelson will retire. The NBA season is very grueling, especially for a coach who is now 67, but Nelson will chill out for awhile in Maui and realize why he came back – he was bored.

But I also think there was a lot of calculation in his announcement that he might not want to come back. In the immediate aftermath of the Warriors meltdown against the Jazz, there might have been some criticism of the team, but Nelson became the big story instead. Nobody ever accused Nellie of not being media-savvy.

THE LEGEND GROWS: Jack Cust was a life-saver for the A’s, as he hit eight home runs in his first 13 games as a DH after Mike Piazza went on the disabled list, but he’s likely to be no more than a footnote in baseball history.

Hitters often get in a “zone” and have short stretches of incredible hitting. Eric Byrnes was like that with the A’s. He’d have stretches when he seemed to be channeling Joe Hardy, but then he’d follow with something like 3-for-40.

My all-time favorite, though, is Dino Restelli. Few of you will even know that name, but Restelli was an outfielder for the San Francisco Seals of the PCL when he was brought up by the Pittsburgh Pirates in May, 1949

Restelli hit eight home runs in his first 10 games. His major league career, though, lasted for only 93 games, and he hit just five more home runs in the last 80 games.

A’S HEALTH: If Rich Harden ever recovers from his latest injury, the A’s will try to change his pitching motion, because that’s what is getting him injured.

“We have to be careful with that, because his pitching motion is also what makes him so good,” said pitching coach Curt Young. “But we’ll have to make some change because we want to keep him healthy.”

The A’s have had another stretch of injuries which makes many fans question the club’s trainers, but there’s been no real pattern to their injuries. With some, it’s been a congenital problem: Mark Kotsay had had back problems before he came to the A’s, Milton Bradley has had injury problems throughout his career. Bobby Crosby and Eric Chavez probably hurt themselves before last season with excessive work on the weights – but that was their decision, not the club’s. It’s hard to know how trainers could have prevented Huston Street’s nerve problem or Justin Duchscherer’s strained hip or the elbow problems of Chavez and rookie Travis Buck. Conversely, Frank Thomas stayed healthy last year against long odds.

Injuries are up throughout baseball. Former A’s coach and current Texas manager Ron Washington is on his third set of outfielders. So, it isn’t just the A’s, but it’s maddening, nonetheless.

NBA SHAME: If the San Antonio Spurs win the NBA championship, which I believe they will, it should come with an asterisk.

In the fifth game of the series between the Spurs and Phoenix Suns, Robert Horry threw an elbow hard into the face of the Suns’ Steve Nash. Amare Stoudamire and Boris Diaw came off the Phoenix bench in protest but did not touch Horry or any San Antonio player.

NBA commissioner David Stern suspended Horry for two games, as he should have, but then also suspended the two Phoenix players for one game, which was ridiculous. Stern virtually handed the Spurs a win in game six, and San Antonio then won it in seven.

Stern’s whole time as NBA commissioner has always been about the money. He has no feeling for the game, and this was the clearest indication of it.

SPORTS, CONCERT TICKETS: Tickets for The Police concert on June 13 at the Oakland Coliseum, and the various appearances of Diana Krall – June 20-21 at the Mountain Winery in Saratogo, August 14 at Harvey’s at Lake Tahoe and August 15 at the Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco – are available on the TICKETS! TICKETS! TICKETS! link on my Home Page. Tickets are also available for the All-Star game at AT&T Park, the Jersey Boys, and for hot summer concert tours featuring Justin Timberlake, Christina Aguilera and Kenny Chesney, among others. Click on the Bay Area or national links below and the whole list will come up.

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