Vogelsong intent on regaining command, consistency
First outing helps right-hander build confidence of comeback season
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The season was spring, but Ryan Vogelsong's attitude smoldered like the summer.
Vogelsong had five months to stew over his disappointing 2013 season. So it figured that the 36-year-old right-hander, who approaches the craft of pitching with the utmost of gravity, would try to accomplish more than just tune up his arm Friday against the Milwaukee Brewers.
Vogelsong justified his status as the Giants' projected No. 5 starter, working two scoreless innings and receiving the decision in San Francisco's 4-3 split-squad triumph. His performance complemented a satisfying afternoon for Giants starters, as Madison Bumgarner preceded Vogelsong by blanking the Brewers for two innings, and Edwin Escobar shut out Oakland for two innings in a 7-6 split-squad loss.
But Bumgarner is the probable Opening Day starter, and Escobar is widely considered a promising prospect. By contrast, Vogelsong's striving to brush off the angst that descended upon him last season, when he finished 4-6 with a 5.73 ERA in 19 starts. Vogelsong's ineffectiveness was interrupted by a fractured right pinky finger sustained when he was hit by a pitch from Washington's Craig Stammen on May 20. After the season ended, the Giants briefly cast Vogelsong into free agency when they declined to pick up his $6.5 million option. He ultimately re-signed with the Giants for one year and $5 million.
"I've had a lot of stuff run through my mind in the offseason," Vogelsong admitted. Thus, his objective against the Brewers "was just to have a good first step on track to have a great season."
Vogelsong added that though he didn't reflect on the possibility that he could have been wearing a different uniform, he felt more intense and nervous than he usually would in his first spring appearance.
"You guys know me. I'm always pretty intense, but it came easily today," he said. "It wasn't forced. It wasn't like I had to talk myself into getting ready to throw a game today. It came to me pretty easy. And that's the way it was in 2011 and 2012."
Vogelsong not only compiled a 27-16 record with a 3.05 ERA in those seasons, but he also made the National League All-Star team in 2011 and was the Giants' leading winner (3-0) in the 2012 postseason. Aware that their starters must summon the effectiveness they maintained from 2009-12 to thrive in a competitive NL West, the Giants would welcome seeing Vogelsong come close to regaining his recent form.
Against the Brewers, Vogelsong yielded a triple to the first hitter he faced, Jeff Bianchi, who hit a hanging curveball. But Vogelsong escaped by coaxing Elian Herrera's popup, Scooter Gennett's fielder's choice to first baseman Mark Minicozzi that wiped out Bianchi at home plate and Logan Schafer's fly to left field. Vogelsong finished his afternoon with a perfect fourth inning.
For now, Giants manager Bruce Bochy merely wants to see Vogelsong re-establish consistent pitching mechanics.
"More than anything, to stay on his delivery," Bochy said.
Simply put, that will improve Vogelsong's control of his pitches and make him more difficult to hit. Last season, he allowed an average of 10.8 hits per nine innings, compared with 8.1 in 2012. His ratio of strikeouts per nine innings (5.8) dipped from 2012 (7.5), and last year's opponents reached him for more homers (1.3) and walks (3.3) every nine innings compared with the season before (0.8, 2.9).
Vogelsong agreed that sharpening his motion could make a considerable difference.
"I hope the hard work I put in on my delivery this offseason is going to make my location more consistent than it was last year," he said. "You can talk about velocities all you want, but at the end of the day, I think location is going to hurt me the most. So that was a big focus of mine, to get back to locating the ball and not worrying about what the radar gun says."
But Vogelsong liked hearing that his fastball ranged from 88-90 mph.
"That's a really good sign, I guess," said Vogelsong, who tends to gain 1-2 mph of velocity as the season progresses. "Radar guns are radar guns, sometimes -- you never know what's right or wrong -- but [the ball] feels good coming out of my hands. So I guess that's the most important thing."