Not one hitter on the Giants’ roster had ever faced Indians right-hander Cody Allen before Sunday. But having watched Allen pitch to six hitters before he stepped to the plate with two outs in the ninth inning, throwing a fastball that reached 97 miles per hour on the AT&T Park radar gun, Brandon Hicks said he had a decent idea of what to expect.
"Yeah, you’ve got to be ready when a guy’s throwing like that," Hicks said. "I was going up saying to myself, I just want to be on time. I want to be ready if and when he throws a fastball."
Allen actually threw Hicks a first-pitch curve that missed for ball one. His second was a fastball at 96 mph, and Hicks turned on it for a three-run home run that broke a 1-1 tie in the ninth and gave the Giants a three-game sweep over the Indians. It was Hicks’ second career walk-off homer, the first coming on July 18, 2012, against the Rangers when the second baseman was playing for the Oakland A’s.
Nearly two years later, Hicks recalled off-hand the pitcher ("I think Michael Kirkman") and the pitch ("Changeup").
"Yeah," he said with a grin. "You don’t forget those."
This time, he’ll likely recall that the Indians decided to walk Brandon Crawford ahead of him with a runner on second and two outs to pitch to the right-hander who was hitless in his first three at-bats Sunday. Hicks foiled the strategy with his third homer of the season.
With Marco Scutaro continuing to rehab in Arizona, Hicks has started 15 of the Giants’ first 25 games at second base. The 28-year-old infielder, who was a non-roster invitee to spring training, is batting .224 with seven RBIs and, as manager Bruce Bochy said after Sunday’s game, "has gotten some big hits for us."
"The thing you like about him is he’s going to get his swings in, he wants to be up there," Bochy said.
Hicks seemingly wasn’t shy about getting his swings in during his previous short stints in the majors -- sometimes to his detriment. Before this season, he had 90 big-league at-bats from 2010-12 and had struck out in 42 of them -- a big reason, he has theorized, that he never really got an extended shot at the major-league level.
This season, Hicks has struck out 19 times in 49 at-bats but has also drawn 11 walks, and Bochy said he believes Hicks "really has done a nice job of two-strike hitting and being patient and laying off some tough pitches. It seems like he’s seeing the ball better and being more patient than probably what he was in the past."
Hicks agreed and attributed it to a more measured approach at the plate. He said he has struggled in the past "trying to do too much," and has concentrated this season on trying to "slow the game down, keep your head as still as possible and see the ball in your zone -- hit the pitch you want to hit instead of the pitch he wants you to swing at."
Hicks also started a highlight-reel double play in the third inning Sunday, ranging to his right to backhand Nick Swisher’s grounder and flipping the ball to Brandon Crawford, who barehanded the flip and threw Swisher out at first. Hicks has made some impressive plays at second and also booted some routine ones -- he has three errors -- and said that comes down to "focus."
He was locked in enough on Allen’s high fastball in the ninth, which Hicks lofted several rows deep into the bleachers in left field. It came too late for Ryan Vogelsong, who left in line for his first win of 2014 after throwing seven scoreless innings only to see Cleveland tie the game on Yan Gomes’ homer off Santiago Casilla in the eighth. But for the Giants it secured a sweep and a winning month of April, as they’re now 15-10.
"He’ll always remember that," Bochy said. "Two outs, you’re trying to end that game in the ninth. It doesn’t get any bigger than that."0• Tomorrow’s print story is all about Vogelsong, who followed up an outing last Monday in Colorado that he called "embarrassing" (1 1/3 innings, six hits, three walks, five runs) by throwing seven shutout innings against an Indians lineup featuring eight left-handers while walking two and striking out six.
Short version: Vogelsong said he watched video of the Colorado start and found a "pretty major flaw in my mechanics," having to do with his legs during his delivery, that he was able to correct before Sunday. He had trouble getting ahead -- throwing first-pitch strikes to just four of the first 18 hitters he faced -- but made pitches when he needed to. It’s the first time as a Giant that Vogelsong threw at least seven scoreless with six strikeouts.
Vogelsong said he isn’t satisfied with one good start after a bad one, but that he hasn’t let himself be affected by outside concerns over his inconsistency to start the season.
"I’ve been in that situation a few times, it’s not a good feeling," Vogelsong said. "But you have to try -- when it’s time to pitch the game, you have to worry about pitching the game."• Gomes’ home run off Casilla was the first allowed this season by the Giants’ righty and just the third earned run given up by the Giants bullpen at AT&T Park all season. It broke a streak of 19 consecutive scoreless innings at home by the relievers.
Casilla did recover to retire the next three hitters, and Sergio Romo worked a 1-2-3 ninth to be the pitcher of record when Hicks ended the game in the bottom of the inning. Romo retired three left-handed hitters, and lefties are now 2-for-16 against him on the season. Lefties hit .279 against Romo last season, and Bochy said Romo may be benefiting so far this year from the changeup he worked to develop in spring training.
"It’s a big pitch," Bochy said. "Especially a guy like Romo, who’s not going to power his way through them, you’ve got to mix it up and command the ball, and the changeup is a big pitch. Just gives them another pitch to think about and he used it well today."• Pablo Sandoval, who entered Sunday batting .165, had two hits off Indians right-hander Danny Salazar including a two-out double in the fourth. Sandoval then scored the Giants’ first run when Crawford doubled.
Sandoval’s double came on a fastball away that the third baseman lined to left field. He also recorded his first two-strike hit of the season, something of a surprise for Sandoval, who batted .222 with two strikes in 2013.
"I think he should be encouraged," Bochy said. "I thought he had better swings."
Sandoval said the opposite-field double was "a good sign," and that he’s trying not to pay attention to his numbers. The two hits Sunday upped his average to .180. Sandoval said he’s just trying to carry adjustments made with hitting coach Hensley Meulens in cage work over to the field.
"I felt better at the plate (Sunday)," Sandoval said. "I’m just trying to use the whole field, all fields. Don’t try to do too much, try to put a ball in play. That’s what I did today."• Also in a clear funk right now: Brandon Belt, who struck out four times Sunday, all on fastballs, all swinging. Belt has struck out in 11 of his last 15 at-bats and went hitless in this series, a stretch so bad that Bochy tried to offset it Sunday with a little humor.
"I may have to take that bat away," Bochy said. "It’s a bat made by ‘Chasm’ -- it’s got a big hole in it."
In seriousness, though, Bochy said he’ll have to talk with Belt before deciding whether to give him a day off as a mental break -- though that seems likely, as Bochy’d considered doing that Sunday before opting to keep Belt in for defense.
"He’s got to be frustrated," Bochy said. "As a hitter you think you’re right on it and you’re swinging right through them. It’s hard to get over that part of it because he’s seeing the ball well, he feels like he’s getting his swings off.
"He made a couple nice plays out there (Sunday) and probably saved us so that paid off. But as far as the offensive part, mentally, he may need a break. I’ll talk to him."• Remember that stretch about a week ago where the Giants couldn’t score to save their lives? Well, they’re 15-10, assured of a winning month, and in first place in the West as they prepare for a three-game visit from the San Diego Padres starting Monday. Here are the pitching probables:
Monday: RHP Tyson Ross (2-3, 3.16) vs. LHP Madison Bumgarner (2-2, 3.14)
Tuesday: LHP Eric Stults (1-2, 4.15) vs. RHP Matt Cain (0-3, 4.35)
Wednesday: LHP Robbie Erlin (1-3, 6.35) vs. RHP Tim Hudson (3-1, 2.19)