2 San Francisco Giants

Barry Bonds isn't the only player the club needs to return to form
April 02, 2006

There was verylittle difference between Jason Schmidt's spring training and Barry Bonds's,with the exception of the reality show cameras that followed Bonds around, therelease of a best-selling book that painted Bonds as a steroid-abusing boor andthe debate over whether or not Bonds is a blight on the sport who should bedenied a place in the Hall of Fame.

O.K., maybetheir spring experiences weren't that similar. But Schmidt did come into campwith the same objective as his notorious teammate: to prove that he'ssufficiently recovered from an injury last season to reclaim his status as anelite player. Schmidt and Bonds are in the same boat--it's just that Barry'send of the boat also contains a La-Z-Boy recliner, a TV camera crew and hordesof media.

Though Bonds'scomeback is key to the Giants' run production, Schmidt's return to form is onlyslightly less important to their chances of winning the division afterfinishing 75-87, a 16-game slide from the year before. The signing offree-agent righthander Matt Morris will help the rotation, but while Morris isa solid No. 2, Schmidt, 33, is Cy Young Award material when he's at his best.The righty was second in that voting in 2003, when he was 17-5 with aleague-leading 2.34 ERA, and fourth the following season (18-7, 3.20). ButSchmidt dipped to 12-7 last year, partly because a groin injury hampered himnearly the entire season. "I think the first game of the year was the onlytime I really felt normal," he says. "Because of the injury I was neverreally able to get my entire body into my pitches. I only felt like I was atabout 80 percent effectiveness."

That injuryhelped motivate Schmidt to modify his off-season conditioning program. He spentpart of the winter at the Athletes' Performance Institute in Tempe, Ariz.,where his workouts often included throwing with Red Sox ace Curt Schilling--andpicking his brain afterward. "It was helpful just to learn about histhrowing regimen, how he takes care of his arm, how he approaches the gamementally," Schmidt says. "I just wanted to consider possible new waysof doing things."

It was logicalfor Schmidt to seek the advice of another power pitcher, because he suffered atroubling loss of velocity last season. Even before the groin injury, hisfastball, typically in the low- to mid-90-mph range, was reaching only the high80s. The power outage was a mystery even to Schmidt, who insists that he didn'thave shoulder or elbow problems, as some observers guessed. He says that a fewteammates whispered that the steam on his old fastball might have been theresult of performance-enhancing drugs, and that they were now seeing Schmidtoff the juice--speculation that still rankles him. Whatever the reason, at theAll-Star break, Schmidt was 6-5 with a 5.01 ERA, and there were rumors that SanFrancisco was considering trading him rather than picking up his $10.5 millionoption for 2006.

Schmidt didn'texactly calm the club's fears when he implied in a June interview that he mightnever regain his velocity and would have to change his approach on the mound.He did that with some success in the second half of last year, when he was 6-2,3.66. But the uncertainty still lingers as to whether Schmidt, who threw 172innings last season after averaging 2161/3 the previous two years, can again bethe hard-throwing, innings-eating ace that the team needs. The answer iscrucial to the organization and to Schmidt, because he will be a free agent atthe end of the year.

Schmidt andpitching coach Dave Righetti use the word encouraging when they describe howSchmidt threw in the spring, but neither will make a final assessment untilthey see how he performs in games that matter. "The main thing is that heworked out hard over the off-season, and he has no physical problems,"Righetti says.

In fact,Schmidt's conditioning program left him leaner and more muscular. "I'mimpressed by how hard he must have worked," says manager Felipe Alou."He looks like a new man." The Giants would gladly settle for the oldone.

IN FACT
The Giants had the fewest plate appearances per game (37.5) and saw the fewestpitches per game (133.5) of any team in the majors last season. They alsostruck out the fewest times (901) in the NL.

CONSIDER THIS
a modest proposal

The Giants havegiven the first base job to Lance Niekro, hoping that his 12 homers in 278 atbats as a rookie last year portend better things to come. With a veteran-heavyroster designed to win in 2006, though, manager Felipe Alou should give MarkSweeney (right) a big chunk of the playing time. Sweeney, 36, who forced hisway into a platoon role last year with the Padres, is a better hitter thanNiekro, thanks to excellent plate discipline, which makes for a high OBP (.377in 2004, .395 last year). Niekro may have more raw power, but his free-swingingapproach puts fewer runs on the board.

THE LINEUP
projected roster with 2005 statistics

2005 RECORD75-87
third in NL West

MANAGER
Felipe Alou
fourth season with San Francisco

BATTINGORDER

CF Winn
SS Vizquel
2B Durham
LF Bonds
RF Alou
3B Feliz
1B Niekro
C Matheny

 

RANDY WINN
B-T S-R
PVR 65
BA .306
HR 20
RBI 63
SB 19

BARRY BONDS
B-T L
PVR 44
BA .286
HR 5
RBI 10
SB 0

OMAR VIZQUEL
B-T S-R
PVR 200
BA .271
HR 3
RBI 45
SB 24

PEDRO FELIZ
B-T R
PVR 62
BA .250
HR 20
RBI 81
SB 0

MIKE MATHENY
B-T R
PVR 217
BA .242
HR 13
RBI 59
SB 0

LANCE NIEKRO
B-T R
PVR 173
BA .252
HR 12
RBI 46
SB 0

RAY DURHAM
B-T S-R
PVR 171
BA .290
HR 12
RBI 62
SB 6

MOISES ALOU
B-T R
PVR 98
BA .321
HR 19
RBI 63
SB 5

BENCH

STEVE FINLEY[New acquisition]
B-T L
PVR 301
BA .222
HR 12
RBI 54
SB 8

MARK SWEENEY[New acquisition]
B-T L
PVR 249
BA .294
HR 8
RBI 40
SB 4

[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]
ROTATION

PITCHER PVR W L K WHIP ERA
RH Jason Schmidt 29 12 7 165 1.42 4.40
RH Matt Morris
[New acquisition]
63 14 10 117 1.28 4.11
LH Noah Lowry 124 13 13 172 1.31 3.78
RH Matt Cain (R) 115 2 1 30 0.93 2.33
RH Jamey Wright
[New acquisition]
198 8 16 101 1.65 5.46

[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]
BULLPEN

PITCHER PVR W L SV WHIP ERA
RH Armando Benitez 39 2 3 19 1.37 4.50
RH Tim Worrell
[New acquisition]
247 1 2 1 1.46 4.07
LH Steve Kline
[New acquisition]
287 2 4 0 1.46 4.28


New acquisition
(R) Rookie
B-T: Bats-throws
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 59)

ON DECK
coming to a ballpark near you this summer...

Once the jewelof the Giants' minor league system, righthander Merkin Valdez, 24, finallylooks ready to live up to his billing (8.1 strikeouts per nine innings in 24games at Double A last year, including 19 starts). There's no room in the SanFrancisco rotation, but Valdez threw so well in the spring--G.M. Brian Sabeancalled his stuff "electric"--that the Giants, who think Valdez may becloser material, will likely find a spot for him in the bullpen soon.

PHOTOBRAD MANGIN LITTLEHELP FROM A FRIEND
Schmidt sought conditioning advice from Schilling, another power pitcher comingoff an injury.
TWO PHOTOSRICK SCUTERI/US PRESSWIRE (SWEENEY); MLB PHOTOS/GETTY IMAGES (CORREIA) ILLUSTRATION

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)