Position Battle Update - March 4th

Cactus League games are underway and speculation turns from wintertime conjecture to springtime observation. The Giants head into the first weekend of spring training play with a few emphatic declarations for playing time and a few disasters. The rest are blank slates waiting for impressions.

Story: Position: First Base
Contenders: Rich Aurilia, Ryan Klesko, Mark Sweeney, Lance Niekro

Did well/did not do well does not apply here because not one of the four men up for this position has produced something worth writing about. Each has played at least once this spring and none has had a hit. Lance Niekro walked once. Ryan Klesko and Rich Aurilia each struck out once.

The Battle so far: The race for first base is a dead, if boring, heat.

Position: 5th Starter
The Contenders: Russ Ortiz, Jonathan Sanchez, Tim Lincecum, Brad Hennessey, Kevin Correia

Did well: Russ Ortiz impressed in his first Giants appearance since exiting Game 6 of the 2002 World Series with a lead that would have secured a World Championship for the team. In the spring training opener against the Chicago Cubs Ortiz pitched three perfect innings, locating his pitches well enough to get three strikeouts. The right-hander also hit a three-run double in his only at bat. Critics say that Ortiz was facing hitters who were just starting their spring and who didn't have their timing down, but it is important to note that he has been in a rhythm since before the beginning of the Cactus League. He threw well in the Puerto Rico winter league during the off-season to get his mechanics back to a winning form.

Did not do well: Brad Hennessey and Kevin Correia were involved in the massive 21-2 meltdown against the split-squad Brewers on Friday. Inflated ERAs are not cause for concern this early--or in spring training at all, depending on who you listen to--but both right-handers have had chances come and go for them to prove they belong in the rotation. With the newer and more exciting pitchers in camp pushing them for the final rotation spot their time is now.

Hasn't done anything yet: All of the above pitchers can go either way in the fifth starter/bullpen debate, but Jonathan Sanchez's case is more compelling. He was effective as reliever after his callup in 2006, started a few games, then was demoted to AAA Fresno to work on his stamina to get him into the rotation permanently. Sanchez has yet to pitch in spring training after three games played.

Everyone wants to know what Tim Lincecum's deal is, of course. The early word is: nothing. The future of the Giants has not thrown a pitch in Cactus League competition.

The battle so far: Ortiz is the frontrunner but keep Sanchez and Lincecum in mind when the kids make their spring debuts.

Position: Backing Up Bonds
The Contenders: Klesko, Sweeney, Todd Linden

Did well: Todd Linden is the early leader statistically and in the battle for backing up Bonds. Linden has produced in all three games thus far: five hits, three RBI, one double, and two runs scored in eight at-bats. Bruce Bochy praised Linden's size, power, and speed before Saturday's game against Milwaukee. Catching the skipper's eye is essential in this race.

The battle so far: It is very difficult not to like Linden and not just right now. He played well after coming up from Fresno in late 2006 and is doing everything possible to win a permanent role on the major league roster.

Position: Closer
The Contenders: Armando Benitez, Brian Wilson, Billy Sadler

Did well: Brian Wilson has not allowed a run in two innings pitched. Neither has Billy Sadler and he has thrown two-thirds of an inning. Neither pitcher has thrown in a save situation yet because the Giants have not played a game that offered a save situation.

Did not do well: Armando Benitez loses ground in the closer competition just by not playing. More injury concerns are keeping him out of action and despite his best intentions to not to pitch competitively until he is 100 percent physically after rehabilitating his right knee over the past six months, the time out could be more detrimental than helpful.

The battle so far: Until one of these men pitches in a save situation it will be difficult to declare a clear-cut favorite much less a winner.

Positions: Utility Guys (Up to 3 spots)
The Contenders: Linden, Frandsen, Jason Ellison, Fred Lewis

Did well: Linden leads everyone on the roster offensively and not far behind him are his fellow outfielders Jason Ellison and Fred Lewis. Both are hitting well and playing often like Linden. Kevin Frandsen does not have a hit but has scored two runs. He has reached base in his way: by getting hit by pitches and taking walks. His .375 OBP makes the goose egg batting average look somewhat better.

Did not do well: Everyone listed here is doing well.

The battle so far: Even, and fun to watch. Some of the best position players that the minor league system has to offer are fighting for their major league lives here. Bring the popcorn.

Positions: Bullpen Non-Closers (4 Spots)
The Contenders: Wilson, Benitez, Correia, Hennessey, Sadler, Ortiz, Sanchez, Scott Munter, Jack Taschner, Erick Threets, Pat Misch

Did well: Erick Threets and Pat Misch saw their first action of the spring in Friday's game. Both debuts went well in the limited innings to go around where neither allowed a run.

Did not do well: Scott Munter and Jack Taschner look worse than the above relievers and are looking worse than their previous performances. Munter allowed a run, walked two batters, and gave up two hits in the 21-2 loss against the Brewers. Taschner almost let the game get away Thursday when he allowed one run on two hits, but he rebounded from that outing with a scoreless inning Saturday.

The battle so far: Of the three closer contenders two are looking to stick in the bullpen if they cannot win the closer role. Same scenario for the losers in the fifth starter race. The bullpen could have a new look if Munter and Taschner cannot get it together to let guys like Misch and Threets in. While the competition is tight, it is also wide open.

The Spot: Fresno's Outfield
The Contenders: Lewis, Nate Schierholtz, Dan Ortmeier, Eddy Martinez-Esteve, Clay Timpner

Did well: Dan Ortmeier had two RBI Thursday. Nate Schierholtz picked up a pinch-hit RBI Saturday.

Did not do well: Clay Timpner has two strikeouts and no hits so far. Eddy Martinez-Esteve has done nothing in one at-bat.

The battle so far: Lewis has been the only one to make a statement three games into the Cactus League season as he has had the most playing time of the AAA outfield bunch.



Chris has been a Giants fan since her days in utero. She loves baseball and writes about whatever she can get her hands on…even the Athletics. She's a Bay Area gal through and through. This is her 24th season of fandom. Love/hate mail can be sent to seasond_salt@yahoo.com, where the love mail gets top priority and the hate mail gets used for kindling.

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