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June 7, 2010

On the Beat

Monday Update

by John Perrotto

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Bruce Bochy has been a major-league manager for 16 seasons, ranking him fourth among big-league skippers in continuous service behind Tony La Russa, Bobby Cox, and Joe Torre. Thus, Bochy has been around long enough to know what his Giants need to put themselves among the major leagues' elite teams.

"We've got to find a way to score some more runs," Bochy said. "If we can do that, we've got a chance to win a lot of games."

The Giants would seemingly rate an outstanding chance of getting to the postseason for the first time since 2003 if they could muster just league-average offensive production. However, the Giants are 14th in the National League and 23rd in the major leagues in runs scored with an average of 4.1 a game, and rank 20th in the majors and 12th in the NL in team True Average. Thus, they are wasting plenty of good pitching as the Giants' average of 3.5 runs allowed a game is second in the majors behind only the Padres.

Yet with teams still reluctant to pull the plug on the season and begin trading, the Giants' options for finding hitters are still limited. Therefore, Brian Sabean is doing what he can to bolster the offense and push the Giants to the top of the NL West, where they currently are in third place, 2 ½ games behind the first-place Padres.

The Giants called up their top hitting prospect, catcher Buster Posey, from Triple-A Fresno on May 29. On Friday, they brought up veteran outfielder Pat Burrell up from Fresno after he spent just four games with the Grizzlies. Burrell signed a minor-league contract with the Giants following his release by the Rays last month.

The Giants have shifted Posey to first base, opting to keep Bengie Molina behind the plate, and moved first baseman Aubrey Huff to left field in an effort to bolster the offense. Burrell will see part-time duty at both outfield corners. Posey has not been affected by the change of position, at least not offensively as he is hitting .433/.452/.652 in his first eight games.

"Buster has done a great job for us," Bochy said. "He's really given us a lift. He has good at-bat after good at-bat. He's not overmatched at all. And he's played a good first base. We knew he was a good hitter but we've been pleasantly surprised how well he has made the adjustments defensively. He's had a few rough patches, but for the most part, has looked good there."

Posey, though, understands that he was called up for his bat rather than his glove.

"I feel like being a catcher has helped me because you have to be able to separate your offense and your defense when you play that position," Posey said. "I'm feeling more comfortable at first base with each game and I'm trying to use my athleticism to help me there as much as I can while I learn the nuances of the position. The reason I'm here, though, is to help supply some offense and I'm not losing sight of that."

Burrell has never been known as a good defensive outfielder and spent last season and the first six weeks of this season as a designated hitter with the Rays. The Giants, though, will certainly live with his below-average defense if he can recapture the hitting form he showed during most of his years with the Phillies from 2000-08. Burrell had a .290 TAv in the NL with a .257/.367/485 slash line. However, he was a bust in the American League, hitting .218/.311/.361 with a .243 TAv. The Rays finally gave up on Burrell but the Giants believes one team's trash can be another team's treasure.

"The staff at Fresno was really impressed by the shape Pat was in, and said the bat speed is still there," Bochy said. "He's had a lot of success in the National League.  I don't know what happened to him in Tampa but I do know he was a dangerous hitter when he was in this league. Hopefully, he'll play for us like he did for the Phillies and give us the boost our offense could use."

Even though Burrell proved to be a $16-million mistake for his organization, Rays manager Joe Maddon believes the right-handed hitter could turn his career around.

"It didn't happen for him with us but it wasn't for a lack of effort," Maddon said. "He worked hard. He was always one of the first guys in the clubhouse every day, watching video of the pitchers and preparing for the game. He would even work on his defense almost every day even though he didn't play an inning in the outfield for us."

If Burrell does have something left, it would be a boon for the Giants on two levels. He would help their offense now and potentially prevent them from having to trade any of their pitching depth for another bat as the July 31 non-waiver deadline gets closer.

"We're going to give him a shot," Bochy said. "We need to score more runs. There is opportunity here if someone can help us."

Huff believes Burrell will help. The veteran first baseman/outfielder also believes that the Giants' offense will end up doing its share to help the franchise snap its seven-year playoff drought despite its weak numbers.

"If you look at our team, we have good hitters up and down the lineup," Huff said. "We may not have a lot of superstars but we do have good professional hitters. I said in spring training that if all of us just hit our career averages that we'll be fine. I still believe that. We've got too much talent to be last in the league in runs scored."

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The Orioles are on the road to oblivion again in 2010. They are 16-41, which gives them five fewer victories than any other team in the major leagues, and are 21 games behind the Rays in the American League East.

Now Juan Samuel is charged with trying to get the Orioles, who have had 12 straight losing seasons, turned around. The third-base coach was promoted to interim manager last Friday when the Orioles mercifully fired the affable Dave Trembley after he compiled a 187-283 record in a little more than three seasons. Trembley's .398 winning percentage is the second-worst in franchise history behind the .351 mark compiled by Jimmy Dykes when he went 54-100 in 1954, the franchise's first season in Baltimore. Samuel certainly has his work cut out for him. The Orioles are at the bottom of the standings on merit as they are last in the AL in both runs scored (3.25 a game) and runs allowed (5.13), and 11thin defensive efficiency (.683). Among major-league teams, the Orioles are 29th in runs scored, 27th in runs allowed and 23rd in defensive efficiency.

So what can Samuel do to get the Orioles on a better path? He believes just offering a new opportunity can be a start, saying "turn the page and let these guys know that: 'Hey, the season starts today. The past is the past. What we do from now on is what we are going to be judged on.' And I have full intention to push these guys as hard as I can. Push them to the limit."

The only thing the Orioles pushed in their first two games under Samuel was their losing streak to 10 games with consecutive defeats at the hands of the Red Sox before giving their new skipper his first win Sunday, 4-3 in 11 innings over Boston at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail said he will not choose a permanent manager until following the season. Samuel looks like a long shot to get the job at this point, but a surprise finish could change things.

The Baltimore Sun's esteemed Dan Connelly lists Samuel among these 12 possibilities to get the job, along with Gary Allenson (the Orioles' new third-base coach), bench coach Jeff Datz, and broadcaster Rick Dempsey, Dodgers third-base coach Larry Bowa, former major-league manager Phil Garner, Nationals senior adviser and former Orioles manager Davey Johnson, Mets special assignment scout and former major-league manager Bob Melvin, Triple-A Iowa manager Ryne Sandberg, ESPN analysts and former major-league managers Buck Showalter and Bobby Valentine, and former Indians manager Eric Wedge.

---

The Diamondbacks raised quite a few eyebrows around baseball in May, 2009 when they promoted farm director A.J. Hinch to manager after firing Bob Melvin. It seemed like a major gamble as Hinch was just 34 and had never managed a game at any level. And Hinch has not exactly made the unconventional move look good. The Diamondbacks are 22-35, tied with the Astros for the worst record in the NL, and 11 ½ games behind the Padres in the division race. Last year, the Diamondbacks were 58-75 after Hinch replaced Melvin.

The Diamondbacks lost 10 games in a row before beating the Rockies on Friday and Saturday. The skid seemed to leave even Hinch wondering if he was the right man for the job.

 "This group hasn't responded that well to me," Hinch said. "I'm not going to run from our reality. I'm scratching and clawing to find the right solution, but I'm not going to run from any accountability. If the finger gets pointed here directly, I'm supposed to be the rock on this team that stands in the middle of the fire, so I have no problem with that."

The Diamondbacks are leading the major leagues in home runs allowed (92) and strikeouts by batters (527) among other dubious categories. Ace starter Dan Haren looks at those numbers and is very blunt in thoughts about the state of the team.

"No offense to other teams, but if you look at other teams, like Pittsburgh or Houston, teams that are struggling, they don't have near the amount of talent that we have," Haren said. "So something's wrong and something's got to be done to fix it. I don't know what."

Diamondbacks managing general partner Ken Kendrick is certainly not happy and said last week that all phases of the operation are under evaluation, including the status of GM Josh Byrnes and Hinch. Byrnes is under contract through 2014 and Hinch is signed through 2012.

---

MLB Rumors and Rumblings: Cubs rookie Tyler Colvin has been taking playing time away from Kosuke Fukudome, and could soon be officially named the starting right fielder. … Rockies first baseman Todd Helton did not start the last two games of the weekend series with the Diamondbacks and some club insiders believe it could be the beginning of a phasing out of the veteran with right fielder Brad Hawpe moving to first base, Dexter Fowler being brought back from Triple-A Colorado Springs to play center field, and Carlos Gonzalez shifting from center field to right. … The Indians are expected to recall Michael Brantley from Triple-A Columbus in the near future and install him as the regular center fielder in place of Trevor Crowe now that Grady Sizemore will miss the rest of the season following knee surgery. … The Angels are considering dropping left-hander Brian Fuentes from the closer's role because of his troubles with right-handed hitters and replacing him with Fernando Rodney. Righties are hitting .263/.364/.711 against Fuentes compared to a .118/.167/.118 line by left-handers.

---

Three series to watch (all times Eastern):

Giants (30-25) at Reds (33-24), Monday-Thursday June 7-10
Barry Zito vs. Johnny Cueto, 7:10 p.m.; Matt Cain vs. Sam LeCure, 7:10 p.m.; Jonathan Sanchez vs. Aaron Harang, 7:10 p.m.; Todd Wellemeyer vs. Mike Leake, 12:35 p.m.

Cardinals (33-24) at Dodgers (33-24), Monday-Wednesday June 7-9
P.J. Walters vs. Carlos Monasterios, 10:10 p.m.; Chris Carpenter vs. Hiroki Kuroda, 10:10 p.m.; Adam Wainwright vs. Clayton Kershaw, 10:10 p.m.

Blue Jays (33-25) at Rays (37-20), Tuesday-Thursday June 8-10
Brian Tallet vs. Jeff Niemann, 7:10 p.m.; Shaun Marcum vs. David Price, 7:10 p.m.; Brett Cecil vs. Wade Davis, 7:10 p.m.

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see John's other articles. You can contact John by clicking here

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