Fresno Team Report | May 21

"Sabean's Choice" may not be coming to a theatre near you, but the Giants general manager has a difficult decision ahead of him when Russ Ortiz is ready to pitch again. Tim Lincecum will be directly affected by the move the front office makes. Possible scenarios spell out changes to come in both Fresno and San Francisco.

Record: 23-21; Second place in the Pacific South Division (4 1/2 games behind Sacramento)

The Fresno Grizzlies and the San Francisco Giants have a symbiotic relationship. The parent club benefits from every team in the minor league system, but the ties between Triple-A and the majors are strongest.

This week their link is more important than it has been in a while. Russ Ortiz is due to return from an elbow injury, and when he does, roster decisions must be made at both the Triple-A and major league level. The best choice is not immediately clear.

San Francisco's starting pitching has surprised fans and media all season. Among the surprises was Ortiz's month of April. The fifth starter won two games in the first month of the season including one masterful start in Pittsburgh where he missed pitching a complete game by 1/3 of an inning.

Everyone who follows the Giants has heard the Tim Lincecum story. Two excellent starts in the toughest ballparks for pitchers in the National League make his debut against Philadelphia look like a spot of lint on the red carpet under his feet.

Those other guys haven't been too bad either. Aside from Barry Zito's uneven nature in his last few starts, the new ace earned all that money the Giants brass threw at him. Noah Lowry and Matt Morris returned from poor seasons in 2006 to contribute this year.

In his latest start, Morris threw a complete game two-hitter to take the team lead in wins with five, and both he and Lowry have improved on their earned run averages from last year; nearly 5.00 for both, now their ERA marks are sitting at 3.04 for the young left-hander Lowry and 3.16 for Morris after his masterful performance Sunday.

Fresno contributed as much as the team could to help the Giants when they sent Lincecum up and gave Ortiz a rehab start last Thursday. Ortiz won the game throwing 5 2/3 innings. He allowed two runs and struck out four batters.

The problem in San Francisco is the bullpen -- and the problem could be solved by Grizzly arms ready and waiting. When Ortiz is activated, he will go directly to the Giants bullpen. This was the best choice. It adheres to the old rule of "if ain't broke, don't fix it" and it provides a boost to the bullpen as long as Ortiz repeats his success in a diminished role.

The right-hander has expressed a desire to remain in the starting rotation, but would not object to pitching in the bullpen. Lincecum has done more than enough to earn his spot in the rotation. Lincecum, like Ortiz, has the work ethic and attitude to pitch in any role he is asked.

A roster spot must be cleared for Ortiz. A struggling relief pitcher would most likely be sent down to Fresno, perhaps Jonathan Sanchez. Sanchez has been wildly inconsistent as the Giants search for his proper role. If there was no room for him in the rotation before, there certainly isn't now. He's not getting it done in relief.

Brian Sabean has proved this season that he has no qualms in releasing or demoting a struggling player with Todd Linden and Lance Niekro cut this month. Vinnie Chulk is a candidate to be outright released if the quality of his pitching is any indication. Chulk's 4.34 ERA doesn't look completely terrible, but he does not inspire confidence with his unreliable pitching appearances.

Pat Misch and Scott Munter appeared in previous Fresno reports focusing on the core of the Grizzly bullpen. Should San Francisco decide to remove two pitchers from its active roster, Misch and Munter would be in consideration to move up. Munter hasn't allowed a run in seven appearances since April 26. Misch has 36 strikeouts in 33 1/3 innings -- the most innings pitched of all relievers. These two arms are finished in Fresno, but at least one pitcher is due to arrive there soon.

Ortiz expected to return all along. He left Fresno Thursday to join his Giants teammates in Oakland for their interleague series this weekend. Great buzz is building for Roy Oswalt/Tim Lincecum II on Tuesday night at AT&T Park.

Player of the week: Pat Misch

Misch saved the day last Monday when he relieved starter Chris Begg to get his second win of the year. Begg lasted 2 1/3 innings in a game that was halted by rain. Misch pitched Tuesday when the suspended game resumed and allowed one run with six strikeouts over 4 2/3 innings. He appeared for one scoreless inning in Friday's game and had two strikeouts.

By the numbers: .500

Fresno has held steady at an even record. In their last seven games, they have alternated wins and losses. They split the series with Omaha after getting swept by Iowa and won the series opener against Salt Lake. The Grizzlies dropped Game 2 due to Matt Palmer's disastrous start, before they rebounded behind Travis Blackley to win Saturday. A win Sunday pushes the team's record over the even mark. In light of the winning and losing trend, it is not known how long the winning record will last.


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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