Three of the largest presences as Giants coaches and players met with the media Friday ahead of Saturday’s annual FanFest at AT&T Park weren’t even there.
Newly acquired starting pitchers Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija were not scheduled to be at FanFest, and staff ace Madison Bumgarner was a late scratch. But the image of a rotation led by those three seemed to be on everyone’s mind, infusing the usual sense of optimism as the Giants convened for the unofficial beginning to spring.
“I think we’ve kind of put ourselves at the top of the pack with the moves we made this offseason,” first baseman Brandon Belt said. “The rotation looks outstanding. And we’ve added another good player (center fielder Denard Span) to an already really good defense.”
“The group we had was strong,” right fielder Hunter Pence said. “And then to add these – I don’t know what you would call them, blue-chip, or some of the best players in the league – to an already great team, the expectations, the excitement, the eagerness, it’s as high as it gets.”
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The Giants opened their pocketbook this offseason to sign Cueto (six years, $130 million), Samardzija (five years, $90 million) and Span (three years, $31 million) and give an extension to shortstop Brandon Crawford (six years, $75 million). Those moves did not go unnoticed – either nationally or by the guys in the clubhouse.
Crawford said Friday he has noticed “expectations for us nationally (entering 2016) are a little bit higher than most, which we aren’t used to – usually people aren’t picking us to win anything right out of the gate.”
“We’re excited,” Pence said. “I think the momentum of the big additions … and a lot of the young talent that came through last year, I think the momentum and the expectations and the potential is at an all-time high. And that’s exciting.”
Health was a big issue for the Giants last year, with Pence suffering a broken forearm in spring training. Starting pitchers Matt Cain and Jake Peavy began the season with injuries, and over the course of the year, every lineup regular except catcher Buster Posey and third baseman Matt Duffy missed significant time.
A theme of Friday’s media day was players assuring they’re healthy entering spring training. Pence, coming off an abdominal injury in August, said he feels “stronger and better than ever” after incorporating pilates into his offseason workouts. Second baseman Joe Panik said he feels “100 percent” recovered from his back inflammation. First baseman Brandon Belt and outfielder Gregor Blanco, both of whom finished last season on the concussion disabled list, said they feel fully recovered, though Belt still has one evaluation to pass.
Brian Sabean, vice president of baseball operations, said the Giants are healthy for spring training, which begins when pitchers and catchers report to Scottsdale, Ariz., on Wednesday.
“We’re happy for that,” Sabean said. “We’re happy that the guys that weren’t able to play their usual workload last year are really in a position to do so. That’s everybody’s first and biggest concern.”
That concern was a key to the Giants’ decision to add to their rotation, which had only two starters (Bumgarner and Chris Heston) with 30 starts last season and one (Bumgarner) with at least 200 innings. Cueto and Samardzija both have eclipsed 200 innings in each of the past two seasons, and the Giants hope their additions will help ease the burden on a bullpen that was heavily taxed in 2015.
“From a workload standpoint, we’re very hopeful this is one of the better (rotations) that we’ve had,” Sabean said.
The question mark is Cain, who returned from two elbow injuries last year to record a 5.79 ERA in limited innings. Pitching coach Dave Righetti said Cain remains a “wild card,” but Righetti was encouraged by Cain’s final start of 2015, when he appeared to be locating pitches in a way “he hadn’t done in a long time.” Cain said Friday he’s “definitely feeling really good” and has “no restrictions” on his activity entering the spring.
“I feel really good about our rotation,” Cain said. “I know that we’ve got a lot of talent. I know what people have been saying – it’s on paper. But that’s something we need to back up as well. There’s something to be said, but to go out and do it means a lot more.”
- Location: Scottsdale (Ariz.) Stadium
- First practice: Pitchers and catchers, Feb. 18, position players, Feb. 23
- First game: March 2, vs. Angels, 12:05 p.m.
- Opening Day: April 4, at Milwaukee, 11:10 a.m.
- Home opener: April 7, vs. L.A. Dodgers, 1:35 p.m.
- Location: Hohokam Stadium, Mesa, Ariz.
- First practice: Pitchers and catchers, Feb. 21, position players, Feb. 26
- First game: March 3, at Angels (Tempe, Ariz.), 12:10 p.m.
- Opening Day: April 4, vs. Chicago White Sox, 7:05 p.m.