2 San Francisco Giants The key to the Giants' return to the postseason? Not Barry. A healthy Robb Nen

March 31, 2003

He is not Barry Bonds, he does not hit behind Barry Bonds, and he
is not the new manager depending on Barry Bonds. It is therefore
no surprise that closer Robb Nen has kept a relatively low
profile this spring. The amount of attention any Giants player
gets from the media and the public is usually proportional to how
closely his role relates to Bonds, and Nen is several degrees
removed.

But he is responsible for protecting many of the leads that Bonds
provides with his bat. That's why San Francisco is waiting with
great anticipation to see how quickly Nen can recover from the
right-shoulder surgery he had in November. The medical staff's
optimistic prognosis, that Nen would be at full strength by the
beginning of the season, was tempered by the fact that he only
began throwing his trademark slider midway through spring
training and had yet to regain his old velocity.

During last year's playoffs the Giants were reminded of how
important Nen's health is to their fortunes when he gamely
pitched despite the pain in his shoulder. He saved five of their
seven wins in the Division Series and the NLCS, but he clearly
wasn't throwing as hard as usual. In Game 4 of the World Series
the Giants ordered the pitch-speed display on the Pacific Bell
Park scoreboard turned off so it wouldn't be so obvious that Nen
had lost 5 mph on his fastball and slider, both of which normally
top 90 mph. The final sign that Nen wasn't right came when he
gave up a two-run double to Troy Glaus that completed the Angels'
comeback from a 5-0 deficit in what would have been the
Series-clinching win for the Giants. "At that point of the season
nobody's completely healthy," Nen says. "I probably wasn't quite
right, but that's not the reason we lost."

But if the 33-year-old Nen doesn't return to the form that has
earned him 314 career saves, it could be the reason that the
Giants don't make it back to the World Series. San Francisco has
a steady but unspectacular starting rotation, so the bullpen,
particularly Nen and setup men Felix Rodriguez and Tim Worrell,
are critical to the team's success. In fact, as hard as it may be
to believe about a team that features Bonds, who seems to go deep
every time a pitcher is foolish enough to come near the strike
zone, the Giants will be relying mostly on pitching and speed to
make another trip to the postseason.

Jason Schmidt has looked like a No. 1 starter for stretches in
his eight-year career, and new manager Felipe Alou is hoping that
the righthander will finally sustain his mastery over a full
season. Until then, lefthander Kirk Rueter, because of his
consistency, ranks as the team's closest thing to an ace. In a
cost-cutting move San Francisco traded Russ Ortiz, who had
averaged nearly 16 wins over the past four seasons, to the Braves
for promising lefty Damian Moss. "The pitching is going to be
fine," says Alou. "We have some guys who are in the prime of
their careers and some young pitchers who have already had some
success in the big leagues. It's a very professional staff, so we
know what we're going to get from them."

The offense is a bit of an uncertainty because the Giants have
recast many of the supporting roles around Bonds. Second baseman
Jeff Kent, rightfielder Reggie Sanders and third baseman David
Bell, who combined for 80 homers and 266 RBIs last season, were
all allowed to leave as free agents, and general manager Brian
Sabean replaced them with free agents Ray Durham, Jose Cruz Jr.
and Edgardo Alfonzo, respectively. The new trio won't produce as
many homers as the departed players, but Cruz, Durham and new
centerfielder Marquis Grissom will be far more dangerous on the
base paths. They should help ensure that San Francisco, which
finished 13th in the National League with only 74 steals last
year, moves up appreciably in that category.

San Francisco made a four-year, $26 million investment in
Alfonzo, and then Alou installed him in the crucial fifth spot in
the batting order behind Bonds, both of which are risky moves in
light of Alfonzo's declining power numbers and history of back
trouble. But even if Alfonzo or some of the other newcomers don't
live up to expectations, the Giants have Sabean, one of the best
G.M.'s in baseball at retooling on the fly, and most important,
they have Bonds, who appears primed to force further revision of
the record book. As long as that's the case, San Francisco fans
should keep their Octobers free. --P.T.

COLOR PHOTO: V.J. LOVERO TAKING THE FIFTH Free-agent pickup Alfonzo will play third and fill the crucial number 5 spot in the order behind Bonds. COLOR PHOTO: JED JACOBSOHN/GETTY IMAGES GRISSOM

IN FACT

Last October, Livan Hernandez became the first player to pitch in
the World Series in the same season that he led his league in
losses. He was tied with two other pitchers with 16 defeats.

ENEMY LINES
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Giants

"THIS CLUB has a great baseball man in Felipe Alou, but he's not a
great game manager. It'll be interesting to see how pitchers
react, because he'll use a very quick hook.... Jason Schmidt
still has a rep as a softy--electric stuff but happy to win 12 to
14 games. Damian Moss has a good changeup, but if he's not
perfect, he'll get rocked. Kirk Rueter is one of the game's
smartest pitchers. He works in, works out, and he wants the
ball.... Felix Rodriguez would be one of baseball's best closers
if he weren't so damn stubborn. He comes to spring training and
throws nothing but fastballs, because that's what got him here.
Well, guess what, Felix? Major league hitters clobber fastballs,
especially when they know they're coming.... Marquis Grissom did
well in L.A. last year, because he didn't play regularly. The
Giants will be asking him to hit righthanded pitching, and I'll
be surprised if he bats over .250. J.T. Snow has no power
left.... Some people think Edgardo Alfonzo isn't 100 percent
healthy, but if he is, he'll hit 25 homers and bat .300--an even
exchange for Kent.... Barry Bonds remains unbelievable. He'll
probably hit 55 homers if they pitch to him, but I still find him
to be a real clubhouse problem."

THE LINEUP
projected roster with 2002 statistics

BATTING ORDER

2B Durham
SS Aurilia
RF Cruz Jr.
LF Bonds
3B Alfonzo
1B Snow
CF Grissom
C Santiago

RAY DURHAM [#]

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

S-R 54 .289 15 70 26

RICH AURILIA

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

R 68 .257 15 61 1

JOSE CRUZ JR. [#]

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

S-R 95 .245 18 70 7

BARRY BONDS

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

L 3 .370 46 110 9

EDGARDO ALFONZO

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

R 78 .308 16 56 6

J.T. SNOW

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

L 242 .246 6 53 0

MARQUIS GRISSOM [#]

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

R 199 .277 17 60 5

BENITO SANTIAGO

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

R 154 .278 16 74 4

BENCH

MARVIN BENARD

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

L 324 .276 1 13 5

NEIFI PEREZ [#]

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

S-R 383 .236 3 37 8

ROTATION

PITCHER PVR W L IPS WHIP ERA

LH Kirk Rueter 55 14 8 6.2 1.27 3.23
RH Jason Schmidt 69 13 8 6.4 1.19 3.45
RH Livan Hernandez 123 12 16 6.5 1.41 4.38
LH Damian Moss [#] 118 12 6 6.0 1.28 3.42
RH Ryan Jensen 130 13 8 5.4 1.45 4.51

BULLPEN

PITCHER PVR W L S WHIP ERA

RH Robb Nen 41 6 2 43 1.14 2.20
RH Felix Rodriguez 134 8 6 0 1.19 4.17
RH Tim Worrell 162 8 2 0 1.18 2.25

[#] New acquisition
(R) Rookie
B-T: Bats-throws
IPS: Innings pitched per start
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 157)

2002 RECORD

95-66
second in NL West

MANAGER

Felipe Alou
first season with San Francisco

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)