April ended in a tough way for the San Jose Giants, as they suffered a three-game sweep at Lancaster and lost five of their final eight games in the month. But the team's struggles have the threat to be prolonged, as injuries and roster issues have begun to plague the team.
It started when Ben Copeland hit the disabled list. Copeland -- who had been leading the team in RBI before going on the DL on April 24 -- suffered an oblique strain. He is expected to be out until at least mid-May, and perhaps even longer. That has left the team without one of its most versatile weapons and best middle-of-the-order bats, and the team was already far from the most imposing offensive team in the league.
What was unexpected was how Copeland's injury would start a series of dominoes falling in the San Jose outfield. Copeland was replaced on the roster by Joey Dyche, who had batted .225 in San Jose in 2006 before an injury, but had been batting .288 in Augusta this year. Dyche was injured in his second game with San Jose, rupturing his spleen, and will miss the rest of the year.
That left the Giants frustratingly short in the outfield, and it got worse. Ariel Nunez -- a 21-year old outfielder who had batted .203 in the Rookie League in 2006 and had been serving as the team's fourth outfielder -- suddenly left the team for undisclosed reasons. That left the Giants with only two healthy outfielders.
Part of the situation has been resolved by another call-up, summoning 21-year old James Simmons from extended Spring Training. Simmons also was in the Rookie League in 2006, batting .278 with some speed. But the Giants lineup remains affected by the hole left by Copeland. Simmons is a fine hitter, but may not be ready for the High-A level, and is more of a leadoff hitter with speed than the middle-of-the-order hitter that he is replacing. For now the spot in the batting order has been filled by Anthony Contreras, a versatile infielder and former San Jose State Spartan. Contreras will also take some pressure off the outfielders by playing in left occasionally.
Injuries have also hampered the starting rotation. Starter Yosandy Ibanez has been placed on the disabled list with a lower back strain. Ibanez was possibly injured in his worst start of the year, a one-plus inning outing in Lancaster, where he gave up three runs on two hits and four walks. It's unknown how much time he'll miss.
Ibanez was replaced in the rotation by Gregorio Martinez, who was a starter for San Jose in 2006, but disappointed with a 4.49 ERA. Martinez had started the year in the bullpen, but looked effective in his first start on April 30, when he gave up just one run in under six innings of work.
That injury has brought up a bit of rumor that the Giants may consider bringing up someone from Augusta. The GreenJackets have nine pitchers who could start, with four pairs of piggybacking starters. They have three pitchers who have been dominating, including Adam Cowart, who was roughed up in his start on May 1.
The result: the starters have had to share time, and the bullpen in Augusta has had almost no work. A transaction to promote a pitcher from Augusta would create a lot of playing time for both the pitcher coming up, and the pitchers left in Augusta. There has also been a bit of talk the Giants may consider moving Ibanez to the bullpen when he returns.
The team has also brought in Tyler Von Schell. Von Schell had been playing with the Fresno Grizzlies this year, but has not seen much playing time. The veteran first baseman will spell William Thompson at first, and also get time as the team's designated hitter. While Von Schell is not filling in for any injuries, he comes in and brings the Giants a legitimate presence in the lineup.
However, despite all the injuries, the Giants are soldiering on, They won the spot start by Gregorio Martinez, and followed that up with a strong start by Joe Martinez to start off the month of May. It remains to be seen how the team will hold up in the long run, however.
Player of the Week: Anthony Contreras
In Copeland's absence, Contreras has stepped up his play on his old home diamond in college. Contreras has gotten on base two times in each of the games since moving into the No. 3 spot in the order. He's batting .379 in the last week, and has collected two doubles and three walks in that time. He also has nine RBI, so he has truly filled Copeland's shoes.
By The Numbers: 0.54
That's the rise in earned run average the team has had in the past week, mostly after getting pounded by the league's best hitting team, the Lancaster JetHawks. They went into the series with a 2.91 ERA, and came into Tuesday's game with a 3.45 ERA. That ERA had been lowered as the team got back on the mound and done well in their final two games against the High Desert Mavericks to close out the month.
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