OAKLAND – This was not the spring training of their dreams. For one thing, their starters were shaky until the final innings, and as Bruce Bochy so often shrugs and says, the Giants win with their arms and lose with their arms.
A year ago, they cobbled together a veteran rotation, then rode the powerful rubber arm of Madison Bumgarner to a third World Series title in five years. It was Superman and the underdogs. By any means necessary. And not to get greedy or anything, but with the season opening Monday, the 2015 Giants already are throwing out the first pitch.
Their theme sounds something like this: Who says we can’t repeat? Who cares that the skeptics think they are too old, too hobbled, and always unlucky in odd-numbered years? Who can forget all those magical, memorable recent moments?
“Nobody gave us a chance to do anything last year, either,” Tim Hudson reminded after Saturday’s 2-1 victory over the A’s, “and we won the World Series. What can you say?”
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The crafty right-hander jokingly suggested the Giants could throw Bumgarner out there for 162 starts. The more realistic hope is that, with the exception of the struggling Jake Peavy, these last few outings provided a more accurate barometer of what lies ahead: solid infield defense, timely hitting, strong starting pitching.
In his best outing of the spring, Hudson, who is 39 and coming off ankle surgery, turned back the clock for most of his five innings. Appearing at O.co Coliseum for the first time since the A’s traded him to Atlanta after the 2004 season, he had good movement on his sliders and fastballs and stayed down in the strike zone.
After allowing four hits and no runs, he even enjoyed a sentimental moment when he walked off the mound as his former Oakland teammate Barry Zito jogged out for the sixth.
“That was kind of cool,” Hudson said. “All I needed was (Mark) Mulder to come in after him.”
That once-celebrated Zito-Hudson-Mulder rotation is but a distant memory these days. The current A’s rent; they don’t buy. “Makeover” doesn’t even fully describe what has happened to Bob Melvin’s team. Scratch below the surface of Billy Beane’s latest experiment, and only two or three of the familiar bearded fellows remain.
Instead, you’ll find Ike Davis. Brett Lawrie. Ben Zobrist. Billy Butler. On and on it goes. Someone leaves; someone new arrives. Yet interestingly and to the surprise of many, the A’s thrived among the chaos, finishing tied with Kansas City for the best spring training record.
The defending World Series champs, by contrast, spun a two-month mystery. Angel Pagan’s balky back is a major concern. Hunter Pence is sidelined for several weeks. Compensating for the loss of Pablo Sandoval’s booming bat will be a challenge. Left field remains an issue; infielder Matt Duffy fielded balls out there Friday.
But in Bochy’s world, the sun rises or sets with his starters, and questions about the rotation also linger. Hudson and Matt Cain are coming off surgery. Peavy, who was ineffective throughout the National League Championship Series and World Series, is tinkering with a four-seam changeup to try to offset his loss of velocity. Tim Lincecum spent the winter working on his mechanics, and as of Saturday, he maintained a tenuous hold on the fifth rotation spot.
About the latest forecast, though: Bumgarner is a marvel. Cain threw well Friday. Hudson and Lincecum were sharp Saturday.
“A good way to finish spring training, a well-pitched game, well-played game,” Bochy said. “I feel a lot better about where we’re at with this rotation. I’ll be honest – I thought (Hudson) would be the one guy who would be the furthest behind. He has really come on strong here. His arm strength, his pitches. He’s where you want your guys before you open up the season.”
As he is probably entering his final season, the last word belongs to the amiable Hudson. “You try not to look at the numbers so much if they’re bad numbers,” he said with a grin, “and if they’re good numbers, you highlight them as much as you can. Things have gone a little better for us of late.”
Call The Bee’s Ailene Voisin, (916) 321-1208.