Giants hope new lineup is improved

Jerseys hang in the San Francisco Giants clubhouse for spring training baseball at Scottsdale Stadium in Scottsdale, Ariz., Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2010. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

February 17, 2010 9:53:51 PM PST
The San Francisco Giants spent much of last season wasting some of the finest pitching in the National League.

Upgrading the offense was a top priority in the offseason, and as spring training begins manager Bruce Bochy likes his new lineup.

Center fielder Aaron Rowand is the top candidate to hit first, Bengie Molina is back after being courted by the New York Mets, and free agent signees Mark DeRosa and Aubrey Huff were added to boost an offense that was 13th in the NL in runs, 15th in home runs and last in OPS in 2009.

"It's a stronger lineup, one through eight. It is going to be stretched out more. It's a lineup that has experience," said Bochy, in his fourth season with the Giants. "I think they will work the pitchers more, along with being able to keep the line moving, as we say. That's getting big hits and more production throughout the order."

Despite their inept hitting, the Giants won 88 games behind repeat NL Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum and fellow hard-throwing starter Matt Cain.

Molina had 20 homers and 80 RBIs, second in both categories behind third baseman Pablo Sandoval, and is expected to cede his cleanup spot in the order (Sandoval will hit third) to Huff, who signed a one-year, $3 million contract to play first base. Huff hit .241 with 15 homers and 85 RBIs at Tampa Bay and Detroit last year, and he has 203 homers in a 10-year career.

DeRosa, who had offseason wrist surgery, signed a two-year, $12 million contract and is expected to start in left field, although he can also play right field and first and third base.

He and Molina are expected to follow Sandoval and Huff in the batting order. DeRosa is a career .275 hitter in 12 seasons and had a career-high 23 homers while playing in Cleveland and St. Louis last year.

"It's something Brian (general manager Sabean) worked hard on, to get the kind of players we wanted to get in here to improve this offense," Bochy said. "And I consider Bengie one of those guys, because even though he was with us, it looked like he might not be. To get him back, along with Huff and DeRosa, improves our situation."

Nate Schierholtz is the front-runner to replace Randy Winn in right field, although John Bowker and Eugenio Velez are candidates.

"We'd like to see Nate run with this. We think he is our best defender, and we talked about how important defense is in our ballpark. But that's going to be competitive, too," Bochy said.

Rookie left-hander Madison Bumgarner and newly signed free agent Todd Wellemeyer are in competition for the No 5 starting spot, Bochy said, behind Lincecum, Cain, Barry Zito and Jonathan Sanchez.

Bumgarner, 20, was the Giants' No. 1 draft pick in 2007 and was 1-0 with a 1.80 ERA in four September outings, one start. Wellemeyer has made 53 starts in the last two years, going 13-9 with St. Louis in 2008 and 7-10 with the Cardinals last season.

"It makes it more competitive when you sign a guy like Wellemeyer, I think it's fair to say. There are no givens here," Bochy said. We think a lot of Madison, but you always want depth. It is always good to have competition.

Catcher Buster Posey, the Giants' No. 1 pick in 2008, will also take ground balls at first in camp and could make the team as the backup catcher, Bochy said.

"We are going to stay open-minded with Buster. Everybody would be assuming he would go to triple-A and play every day and continue his growth as a player. But if we think we are better with Buster here and I can catch him two, three days a week, that's always a possibility," Bochy said.

NOTES: Travis Ishikawa, last year's starter at first base, suffered torn ligaments in his left foot while descending stairs at his home, Bochy said, and will have his foot in a boot for about a week. Ishikawa, who is battling for a reserve role behind Huff, has been able to hit in the batting cage. Second baseman Freddy Sanchez, coming off shoulder and knee surgery, saw the medical staff and will be reevaluated in a week to 10 days, Bochy said. "His knee feels great. We'll have to see where we're at with the shoulder," he said.