Forget rising temperatures, or blooming flowers, or whether or not that little varmint Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow.
Spring has officially arrived when pitchers and catchers report for Spring Training and the new MLB season gets underway.
And for the San Francisco Giants, it is another reminder to leave 2013 in the dust and get back on track to hopefully making another playoff run.
Particularly because, of all the things that ailed the team last season, they suddenly didn’t the stellar pitching staff that they had relied on in season’s past.
While making a full blown prediction on how the entire Giants’ staff will fair this year doesn’t mean a whole lot — and because I think that full season predictions are worthless and have no shelf life — it’s fair to assume, at least for starters, that San Francisco’s pitching rotation will be greatly improved on the bump this year.
Not just because of the tools they added in the off-season, but because their pitching core is ready to work very hard to make sure that their 2013 performance was a fluke, not a habit.
An extra eye on staying healthy is a good start in ensuring that San Francisco’s pitchers are in top form. After all, the string of injuries that the Giants dealt with in 2013 included hits to both their starting rotation as well as their bullpen.
Ryan Vogelsong, who spent the extended time on the disabled list last year due to a hand injury he sustained against the Washington Nationals, explained at Giants media day this January what he was doing to be extra prepared for the 2014 season.
Vogelsong said watching video helped him learn how his body has changed with age:
“One of the things that I learned this off-season is that, as you get older, your rib cage tightens. As a pitcher that’s not a good thing to happen. It tightens you up, it slows your arm down, you don’t get as much rotation because your ribs are tight…”
Even those who weren’t hit by the injury bullet took steps over the winter to improve on their game.
Tim Lincecum is one example of that. As a main face of the franchise and a magnet for criticism, Lincecum told the media he knew that he would have to improve on his game to be a positive piece of the Giants starting rotation in 2014:
“There are a lot of good ways to play and to get a good result out of it. It’s not necessarily about me hitting 94-95 on the gun. It’s about being economical with it, and getting my outs where they are. Just improving on every opportunity that I get to go out there.”
This isn’t to say that all the pressure is on guys like The Freak who have been with the club for several seasons now.
The addition of veteran Tim Hudson should ensure some balance in the five-man rotation. Matt Cain explained that Hudson was a complimentary pickup for the Giants to make in the off-season:
“I think (the Giants) did a good job of bringing in pieces that we needed with what we already had. The guys that they’ve added… they did a really good job of adding guys that they think would fit in with the rest of the team. And I think that’s going to show and that we’re going to have a lot of fun out there.”
Said Jeremy Affeldt said that Hudson doesn’t just bring experience to the table, but elements other players can learn from as well:
“He’s a competitor. He knows how to win, he wants to win. And his statistics when he has a three-run lead are a joke when it comes to winning. I think that’s exciting for us to have. A guy that knows how to seal up games, go deep into ballgames and pitch well… I’m selfishly happy because he throws a split-finger, which I think he throws with more consistency than I do. So I’d like to learn a lot from him on that.”
All of that sounds like the Giants are off to a good start on getting their pitching game back on track. But what’s really going to drive them is the desire to have more notches in the win column than the season past.
The mood at club level at AT&T Park when the Giants met with the media in 2014 was certainly different than it had been the year before. There was no afterglow from a World Series. There was no World Baseball Classic to look forward to hosting.
Instead there was a certain edge in the air. An attitude that had manifested out of a winter spent pondering what could be done better in the season to come.
Affeldt said of carrying that attitude into 2014 Spring Training:
“I think guys feel fresh, I think they feel ready. A bit of excitement about them. And maybe even a fire beneath them from what happened last year.”
Vogelsong echoed that with the simple response:
“Last year was probably the most frustrating year that I had…”