May 2009

Determination

I understand Sports Illustrated last week highlighted the number of walks I’ve drawn so far this season, which was zero at the time. I now have two – one on May 12 and another on May 14.
The bottom line is I’m an aggressive hitter. I swing at pitches I think I can hit. When I see a pitch I can hit early in the count, I go for it. I swing at a lot of 3-1 pitches because they’re pitches I can hit. I’m not waiting, hoping for a walk. Would you rather have a guy who has 40 walks but only 30 RBIs and five HRs, or a guy who walks only a few times but gets 90 RBIs and 15 HRs? I want to hit and score runs.
The other thing I want to talk about is stolen bases. Teams have been running on us. I know it’s been disappointing for fans to see that. A defense has to execute three acts almost perfectly to catch a runner stealing. The pitcher has to get the pitch to the plate quickly. This is key because that act sets the sequence in motion. Then the catcher has to catch, release and fire to the bag quickly. And the fielder has to make the tag quickly.
Everything needs to click together. No one player can make it happen alone.
Last year, I had probably the best defensive year of my career – five passed balls all season, five errors and I threw out almost 40 percent of runners trying to steal, which was well above the league average.
So it’s kind of disappointing when I hear fans or guys on the radio taking me on for the steals. I’m the same player I was last year. As we get everyone working together, we’ll catch more runners and teams won’t be so quick to run on us.
I’m looking forward to returning to the Bay Area for our game Monday against the Braves. Traveling can be tough on your body and mind, especially the road trips when you’re in a city just two days. The last road trip, the one before this one, we went from San Francisco to Chicago, which is two hours ahead. You get in late, put your luggage down and go to sleep. You play the game the next night then come back to your room and pack because you’re leaving the next day after the game right from the ballpark.
Then you go to Colorado, which is another time zone. Then turn around in two days and go to LA – and play three tough games against the division leader.
I’ve been thinking about that last game against LA while I’m on this road trip. It went to 13 innings. We had no pitchers left to use. We fought and fought and Randy hit a two-run single in the 13th for the 7-5 win. As we struggle a little on the road this week, losing to the Padres despite great pitching from Zito and Sanchez, I think about that game – and others – when I watched this team come through. That game in LA showed who we are – that we’re fighters, that if we’re down a few runs, we can make something happen.
We all believe that. And we know we’re all in this together. This is a great group of guys – which is not to say we don’t get after each other. We do. But it’s all about pushing each other to perform as well as we know we can. No matter what happened yesterday or the day before, we arrive at the ballpark with the mindset that we can win every game.
We have Timmy tonight. I like our chances.

A Few Answers

Willkan writes: “On last night’s broadcast (4/28 vs Dodgers) the Giants’ announcers were commenting on Sanchez having a change-up but never throwing it. He uses his splitter as a change-up, they said. Isn’t a change-up easier to throw?”

Different pitches are easier for different pitchers. Whatever the pitcher has thrown for a long time is the easiest pitch to throw. If he’s been throwing a knuckleball for 20 years, and you want him to throw a curveball — which is easier for most people – that pitcher would say the knuckleball is easier because that’s what he’s most comfortable with. Sanchez is more accustomed to throwing a splitter for strikes. The change-up is not as comfortable for him because he’s not as used to it.

Here’s the second part of Wilkan’s question: “I don’t understand these fireballers who throw mid to upper nineties with a hard slider to go with it, but they don’t throw a change-up. It seems to me that someone throwing 95 would benefit greatly by having a 75 mph change up. Could you comment on this in a future post?”

You’re generally not going to see anyone who throws 100 mph throw a 75 mph change-up. You can’t slow your body down enough to take 25 mph off your pitch without the batter noticing the change in your motion. A pitcher’s change-up is usually between 10 and 15 mph slower than his fastball – that’s as much as he can reduce the velocity without tipping off the batter.

That leads me to the answer to your question. The speed of a change-up for a pitcher who throws a 100 mph fastball is going to be about 90 mph. Well, the average velocity of a ML fastball is 90 mph. That’s what batters see every day. So if the fireballer throws a 90-mph change-up, the batter has a very good chance of hitting it because he sees it all the time. Therefore, the fireballer has a better chance of fooling the batter by throwing a hard slider that goes out of the strike zone.

This is from giant_leslie@yahoo.com on April 29: “I just wanted to mention that I really see your influence on Sandoval. The other night, the second game vs. the Dodgers in this series, Sandoval was jumping up and down yelling and throwing his water bottle around with such excitement, and when someone got on first, he was SOO happy! He looked back at you as if to be like “BENGIE!! DID YOU SEE THAT??” and you nodded your head with a sense of calmness. I know how much you like Sandoval, and I just wanted to commend you on all of the time and effort you spend with him.”

As I’ve said before, I love Pablo’s spirit and heart. He has brought so much joy to the game for me last year and this year. Maybe I enjoy him so much because he’s so different from me. I don’t like showing emotion. I keep as even as I can. But sometimes I try to make him calm down a little. I tell him we’ve still got a game to play and there will be time to celebrate when the game is over.

From mikeysaldana@yahoo.com: “I saw you having a tough time catching wild pitches but you managed to hold on. I think I only saw one get by you. I just voted for you and all the other giants for the all star game! It’s good to see the giants doing great again, and I’m making sure everyone knows because I’m posting it up on my status on myspace everyday! Keep up the winning and the hot hands!”

One thing to understand is the difference between a wild pitch that’s a fastball and a wild pitch that’s a breaking ball. Fastballs are coming in too fast to move your body. You can’t block them with your body. You have to throw your glove at it. That’s your only chance. A breaking ball is different. You were expecting the pitch to come one place and it comes in a different place. You should be able to block it with your legs and chest.

I was happy to see a note from a fan in England: “Hey Bengie. Great blog – thanks for giving us UK baseball nuts a chance to read what it’s really like playing in the majors. I stay up every night to catch the giants on mlb.tv as we are like 7 hours ahead of west coast (don’t think my employers are happy but its worth it!) Mark (mes4@hotmail.co.uk).

Mark, while you’re in England watching baseball in your free time, I’m in the U.S. watching soccer in my free time. I’m a huge soccer fan, as you probably are, too, living in England. Not sure what team you follow but mine is Manchester United. I watch as much soccer as I can. Every day, I flip through ESPN2 and the Spanish stations to find whatever game is on.

And finally a note from Jingles: “Hey Benjie, you forgot to mention the FANATICAL bus driver, Jingles (aka: Rally Pumpkin) and the way he decorates the bus when he drives the team in So Cal. LOL! Hope to see you again when you’re back in LA May 8-10. All the BEST to you and the rest of the Giants. Take Care, Jingles.”

I read this post and then, sure enough, when we got off our plane in Los Angeles last Thursday night, Jingles was right outside the gate. He wasn’t our bus driver this time but he showed up anyway. He was there all by himself with an orange jersey, his big San Francisco Giants hat, and a trumpet or something in his hand. He’s a cool, great guy. He made me smile when I saw him there – a one-man welcome party.

More later.

Manny, etc.

All the talk here in L.A., as you might imagine, is about Manny. Not so much in our clubhouse, although of course it comes up. But it’s splashed all over the newspapers and on TV and the all reporters want to know what we think.

Here’s what I think. I know he’s a rival and a Dodger, but he’s a good friend of mine, too. He’s a nice guy. You don’t want to see something like this happen to anybody.

My first reaction when I saw it on the news Thursday morning was, “Wow, why would he do that? He’s already a superstar. He’s a guy who’s so talented he doesn’t need any of that.” You start asking yourself all those kinds of questions.

When all the steroid stuff first came out, back a few years before the Congressional hearings, I had mixed feelings because a lot of the stuff that guys were getting in trouble for wasn’t banned yet in the major leagues. I’m sure they were thinking, “OK if this is going to get me over the hump, give me a little edge, I’ll try it.”

But now the rules are clear. Now there is no excuse to be using any of it. It’s against the rules, and obviously it puts the clean players at a real disadvantage. I don’t want to see Matt Cain or any of our pitchers going up against a batter who is on steroids. It’s not fair to that pitcher. It’s not fair to anyone.

Do I worry that the players who test positive make fans suspicious of all of us? I can’t let myself worry about it. People are going to think what they’re going to think. People need to remember there are plenty of guys who have had great careers who didn’t do any of that. Most players are successful because we have worked, and continue to work, really, really hard.

So I guess fans have to decide for themselves how they want to judge a player. I’m someone who stays away from judging anyone. All of us have our faults and have made our mistakes. So if I see my friend Manny tonight, if he’s working out with the team before the game, I’ll tell him just to hang there and that I’m thinking about him.

Yesterday, as you know, we had a great game in Colorado. I had two home runs in my first two at-bats. People ask sometimes, after a game like that, if I know right away I’m in a zone. The answer is hardly ever. Most of the time, the pitcher dictates what kind of swing you take. It’s not like you can put a ball on a tee and go out there with your best swing. I was lucky that I got a hanging slider my first at-bat and a fastball down the middle on the second. To tell you the truth, I haven’t been seeing too many of those pitches this season. Pitchers generally give me nothing in the strike zone.

My third at-bat, I got ahead in the count, which kind of frees up your swing. You can put more into it. (When you’re behind in the count, you take a little bit off your swing because you’re looking to just put the ball in play.) I really, really hit that ball hard – harder than the first two home runs. I thought it was gone when I hit it. But the wind picked up and was blowing in. When I saw the fielder get under it, I knew it wasn’t going out. If it had, it would have the first time I hit three home runs in a game.

Then I had the weird at-bat. I swung, the ball bounced off the plate, hit my hand then trickled down the third-base line about 40 feel from home plate. I didn’t run because I knew it had hit my hand and was a foul ball.

But the umpire didn’t call it. He said he didn’t see it or hear it, so he couldn’t call it. Our runner scored, but obviously I was thrown out at first base. So here’s a lesson to you Little Leaguers: Don’t assume anything. Run everything out. That’s what I should have done.

Another lesson for young players from yesterday’s game: Never give up. Did you see Matt Cain? He was really struggling, especially early on. He couldn’t find the strike zone. He was walking guys – three in the first inning. He had all kinds of trouble. But he got Todd Helton to hit into a double play and then struck out the next guy, I think, to get out of the inning.

He never found his rhythm yesterday, so it was a perfect example of just bearing down. He wasn’t hitting his spots and he knew it. But he came out with the win because just kept plugging away one batter at a time.

Matt and I didn’t talk too much during the game because he was trying to keep his focus. But after the game, he came up to me and said, “Thank you for getting me through that.”

I told him, “This is the type of game where you earn your money. It’s easy to come out and play when you have all your pitches working. It’s not easy at all to pitch when you don’t.”

So the Dodgers tonight. Can’t wait to get back on the field. Every game is important but the ones against the division leader – especially when the division leader happens to be the Dodgers – are especially exciting.

In my next post, I’ll answer some of the questions you’ve been leaving for me. Keep them coming. I really like hearing what’s on your mind.