Opening Day Loss Brings Up Bad Signs

Rael EnteenCorrespondent IApril 1, 2008

It’s only one game, but that one game seemed to have everything Giants fans were worried about heading into this season.

A weak offense?

Check. The Giant hitters never got a ball to the warning track and mustered only five singles total while getting shut out by mediocre Dodger pitching. Brad Penny has some good stuff but imagine what will happen to the Giant bats when Johan Santana is on the mound.

Zito roughed up?

Check. And of course most of the damage took place in the first inning, a disastrous aspect of Zito’s game that led to his dismal season in 2007. Worst of all, Giants fan public enemy number one Jeff Kent, who is beyond washed up and almost started the season on the disabled list, did the damage with a two-run blast in the first inning. Zito served up a 'fastball' right over the plat and made Kent look like he was in the middle his 2000 MVP season again. The $126 million dollar pitcher’s fastball topped out around 84 and neither his curveball nor his changeup seemed to fool anyone.

A reminder that management is not committing to its promise of a younger, faster and more exciting team built around pitching and defense?

Check. While the offensive woes were expected and almost excusable given the lineup, the Giants helped out the Dodgers with mental mistakes throughout the game. The top offseason acquisition Aaron Rowand missed two cutoff men and rookie shortstop Brian Bocock was picked off and looked like he wasn’t even paying attention on the play.

Bocock is one of the other problems: he made a fantastic defensive play at one point but the bottom line is he hasn’t played above Class A ball and hit under .250 last year at that level. I understand that Bocock is only starting because Omar Vizquel isn’t healthy yet and that the team wants to focus on defense, which is not Eugenio Velez’s strength, but at least he has plenty of minor league and limited major league experience and could offer the Giants a better table-setter than Dave Roberts.

As Velez showed with his pinch-hit appearance, he is capable of reaching base anytime he makes contact with his blazing speed. Unfortunately, he never had a chance to test Russell Martin but some stolen bases are inevitable if he keeps getting at-bats. A difference-maker like that should not be relegated to a bench role, especially given the starters that played instead of him: Jose Castillo, the starting third baseman, was picked up off waivers from the lowly Marlins just over a week ago.

I can’t comprehend what’s going on in the decision-making process of this franchise. Castillo is a mediocre player at best and should have no future with the organization in this long rebuilding process. So why is he starting? Either put in Velez at shortstop or third or move Rich Aurilia over to the hot corner and give Daniel Ortmeier a shot to take over first-base duties. While he struggled in spring training, Ortmeier has shown promise and has a better chance of becoming a starter in the bleak future than Aurilia or Castillo.

Bruce Bochy promised that Velez will get a start at some point in this season-opening series with the Dodgers, and hopefully the speedster will get his chance tonight. And at some point this season, either due to guys like Durham or Roberts hovering around the Mendoza line or more serious injuries to some of the dinosaurs on the team, the rest of the youngsters—Fred Lewis, Rajai Davis and Ortmeier—will get their chance to start and invigorate the team enough to avoid a 100-loss season.

It seems far too early to get this pessimistic, but this Opening Day loss could be very telling of the Giants’ struggles throughout the season. Maybe Zito will tweak his mechanics again and find another two or three miles an hour to add to his fastball and perhaps Velez will become a permanent starter after a dazzling performance in his start in this series forces Bochy to reconsider his lineup. But I’m not optimistic about either development given Zito’s typical first start and the Giants’ history with allowing young players a chance to develop in the show.

At least Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum are starting the next two games and Velez will get his much-deserved first start, so we can hope to pull off a 2-1 win one of these nights and avoid a series-opening sweep to our biggest rivals.