San Francisco Giants

With Scutaro ailing, Giants get ‘creative’ with No. 2 spot

SAN FRANCISCO -- With Marco Scutaro expected to start the season on the DL due to his ailing back, Giants manager Bruce Bochy today laid out his plan for how he’ll handle the No. 2 spot in the order to start the season.

Bochy said the Giants will use a tandem of Brandon Belt against right-handed starters and Hunter Pence against lefties, with whoever isn’t hitting second on a given day likely dropping down to the No. 2 spot. Belt hit second Friday night against A’s righty Jesse Chavez in the second game of the preseason Bay Bridge series.

Belt has two career starts in the No. 2 spot and Pence a total of 65. Neither is what you might call the "prototypical" two-hole hitter -- if you still think of that as a hitter whose main objective is to move the leadoff hitter up a base. Belt and Pence have a combined two sacrifice bunts in their careers.

Then again, Bochy said Friday, "As you know, I don’t like to bunt a lot.”

"They’re good on-base guys, their numbers are good," Bochy said. "You get one of your better hitters at the top of the order. Both of them run well."

Joaquin Arias and Brandon Crawford are also possible candidates for a start, Bochy said. But his plan underscores a shift in thinking in recent years about the role of the No. 2 guy -- something of which you didn’t need to look far Friday for another example.

The A’s in the second half of last season started batting Josh Donaldson, their best hitter in 2013, in the two-spot more often. Other such big producers as Robinson Cano, Jose Bautista and Chase Utley all spent time last season in the No. 2 hole.

A’s manager Bob Melvin said he believes "the dynamic of that spot has changed. It used to be that guy who would hit-and-run or bunt. That’s not the case with us." Melvin cited the fact the No. 2 hitter is among the most likely to bat with runners on base, and over the course of a 162-game season will get more at-bats than lower spots in the order, so it does make sense to have a run producer there.

"It has a lot to do with the makeup of your team (as well)," Melvin said. "We’re not a team that’s going to be bunting a lot in the two-hole. We don’t give away outs. We try to work pitchers, one-through-nine down the lineup.

"You don’t see us hit and run a whole lot. We will steal when we have the chance to steal bases, but we’re trying to grind on pitchers and get the pitch counts up, and we have a whole host of guys who are able to do that."

In the Giants’ case, Belt (.841) and Pence (.822) were their top hitters in terms of OPS in 2013. So while Bochy didn’t describe the No. 2 hole as "a new sabermetric spot," like Melvin did Friday, the numbers are there to support it.

* Both managers said they intend to finalize their rosters Saturday, though neither tipped his hand about decisions before Friday’s game.

For the Giants, Bochy did make it sound as though Brandon Hicks has stated his case for a backup infield spot along with Ehire Adrianza with Hicks’ performance in spring. A non-roster invitee to camp, Hicks entered Friday batting .364 (16-for-44) this spring with three home runs, seven doubles and 11 RBIs.

Hicks, a 28-year-old who spent much of 2012 in Sacramento with the River Cats, also had nine walks to just 11 strikeouts. That’s a positive sign for Hicks, who has struck out in 42 of his 90 career major-league at-bats, 64 of which came with the A’s in 2012.

Bochy also said the Giants have considered using left-handed reliever David Huff in Jeremy Affeldt’s role with the latter expected to start the season on the disabled list.

"That is something we did discuss as another left-hander in the sixth or seventh inning if we have some lefties coming up," Bochy said. "That’s probably not (Huff’s) niche to be honest, but I like the way he’s throwing the ball."

* On the A’s side, Melvin was reticent to discuss his impending cuts, saying he has yet to inform on-the-bubble players either way. One of those is catcher Stephen Vogt, who if the A’s opt not to carry three catchers to start the season is likely headed to Triple-A just months after catching all five games of the A.L. Division Series last October.

Melvin said he’d "prefer not to comment on that until it actually happens, if indeed that does happen."

Also needing clarity are the final spots in the A’s bullpen, opened by long reliever Jesse Chavez’s move to the rotation and set-up man Ryan Cook starting the season on the DL. Melvin said left-hander Fernando Abad is "in a good position" to make the team, while Drew Pomeranz and Evan Scribner are both candidates for the long relief role.

Melvin did say the A’s have been "thrilled to death" with what they’ve seen this spring from Pomeranz, whom they acquired over the offseason in the Brett Anderson trade.

"We targeted him potentially for length and if he makes the team it’ll be in a (long relief) role," Melvin said. If not, Pomeranz would start the year in Triple-A and be stretched out for rotation depth.

* Members of both teams also expressed support of changes to Major League Baseball’s performance-enhancing drug agreement announced Friday.

Among the changes are increasing the penalty for a first testing violation from 50 to 80 games and for a second violation from 100 games to 162. Also, players suspended during a season for a violation will not be eligible to return for that year’s postseason.

Bochy said he hadn’t had time to go over the changes in depth, "But it sounds like the players are all for it -- they wanted to put a little more pressure on these guys, they want to clean up the game, so I applaud them. And I’m for it, too. I think … we needed a little tighter or stiffer drug policy, and so I’m all for it and I’m glad to hear the players are, the union. I think it’s good for the game."

In addition, baseball announced the number of in-season random urine tests will increase from 1,400 to 3,200 in addition to the two currently mandatory for each player. There will also be 400 random blood tests for hGH detection in addition to the 1,200 mandatory tests conducted during spring training.

A’s shortstop Jed Lowrie said he believes those changes may send a stronger message than even the increase in games per suspension.

"This is my belief, that if your odds of getting caught go up, that’s a stronger deterrent than the number of games you actually get suspended," Lowrie said. "I’m happy to see both go up."

Melvin said of the drug rules: "I think they need to be stricter, and I think they’re doing the right thing."

* With the possibility of rain during Saturday’s series finale, the Giants sent projected starter Ryan Vogelsong back to Arizona, where he’ll face minor-league hitters. Melvin said the A’s hadn’t made any changes to their pitching plans. Both Dan Straily and Tommy Milone are tentatively scheduled to pitch in the game.

* The A’s announced that tickets to Opening Night on Monday, March 31 against the Cleveland Indians are sold out. Individual tickets to the rest of the series remain on sale.