SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – As summer grows long in the minor leagues, players look for ways to break up the monotony of their daily routine. Last season, Mitch Lively, a pitcher in the Giants' system, did that in Fresno by putting a ball in flight.
Granted, the ball was not round, and Lively used his foot, not his right arm. A two-sport athlete at Sacramento State who punted for the football team from 2003 to 2006, Lively brought a football out before games and unleashed punts toward his fellow relievers on the Triple-A Grizzlies.
"He said he was good, but he really wasn't," right-hander Dan Otero said. "No, he could really kick it. We all got out there to try to catch it. I think it hit a couple people in the face."
Right-hander Heath Hembree said "try" was a relative term.
"I don't think anybody was brave enough," Hembree said. "He'd kick it, and we'd run over and wait off to the side until it landed and then pick it up."
Lively, who is from Susanville, has the second-best career average (40.83 yards) at Sac State among punters with at least 50 attempts.
These days, he says, he "can still put it up there." But it's recreational now as Lively, 27, tries to make more of an impression with his arm.
He went 8-4 with a 2.99 ERA in 47 games for Fresno last season and earned an invitation to his second big-league camp. The victories and his 69 strikeouts in 78 1/3 innings were career highs for Lively, who was drafted by the Colorado Rockies in the 16th round in 2007. This spring, he hasn't allowed a run in three outings for the Giants.
"He's got enough fastball control he throws down well, he throws in to lefties, and he's not afraid to use both sides of the plate," Giants pitching coach Dave Righetti said. "His off-speed stuff is getting there – he's got a nice split he uses and a little slider.
"I know he hasn't thrown a lot, but he's been trying, and as long as he's here, I'll keep pitching him every couple days and see what we've got."
Another thing Lively has going for him, Righetti said, is "that angle."
At 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds, Lively has a football player's build, and he comes over the top with his delivery, giving his pitches a distinct downhill angle. Last year, he complemented it by pounding the strike zone (23 walks, his fewest over a full season since 2008) and said he felt that was a big reason for his success.
"I'd rather get hit around than go walk guys," Lively said. "It's just competitive nature."
A spot on the Giants' Opening Day roster is unlikely, though Righetti pointed out the Giants brought up several relievers from Fresno during last season, including Steve Edlefsen, Shane Loux and George Kontos.
"One of your guys who (is) throwing a lot may need a break," Righetti said. "It's hard to say at this point, but this guy, he's definitely on the radar. (I) like the way he's doing his thing."
Following last season, Lively went to Venezuela to play winter ball. Back in California, he was about to start ramping up for this season, he said, when he found out he needed an appendectomy.
The Jan. 4 procedure set him back a few weeks on running and weightlifting, but "as far as my arm, everything's been good," he said.
"My goal is to go at least to the exhibition games (in San Francisco in late March)," said Lively, who was among mid-March cuts last spring. "That's what I told myself my goal is. Anything after that's a plus."
Torres returns – Outfielder Andres Torres returned to the Giants' lineup in their 2-1 win over the Rangers on Monday and showed that the abdominal strain that sidelined him for two weeks hasn't drained his strength.
Torres went hitless in four at-bats but drove a ball to the warning track off Yu Darvish on his first swing. Then, after striking out chasing a high fastball with the bases loaded in the fourth, Torres snapped his bat over his knee in frustration.
"My knee's fine," Torres said afterward. "The bat is broke."
Et cetera – Madison Bumgarner had his best outing of the spring, allowing one hit and striking out four in four scoreless innings. Catcher Buster Posey said the left-hander "moved the ball to both sides of the plate as well as I've seen him this spring."
Tony Abreu, who began camp as a candidate for the utility infield role, started at third base and went 1 for 2 in his spring debut. Abreu, who has been battling a strained quadriceps, limped noticeably running out a single. He had ice over his left knee afterward and said his leg "hurts today, but tomorrow, every day, better."
The Giants will host Japan's World Baseball Classic team in a scrimmage Thursday.
Call The Bee's Matt Kawahara, (916) 321-1015.