San Francisco Giants Morning Minute: Casilla’s Renewed Focus, Rookies Improving

Jun 23, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; San Francisco Giants relief pitcher Santiago Casilla (left) and catcher Trevor Brown (14) shake hands after defeating the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park. The Giants won 5-3. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 23, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; San Francisco Giants relief pitcher Santiago Casilla (left) and catcher Trevor Brown (14) shake hands after defeating the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park. The Giants won 5-3. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

On this edition of the San Francisco Giants Morning Minute, we discuss Casilla’s seemingly renewed focus, and rookies looking more comfortable.

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Good morning, San Francisco Giants’ fans, and welcome to another edition of the Giants Morning Minute. On Thursday, the Giants wrapped up their four-game series with the Pittsburgh Pirates with a 5-3 victory, sealing a series win by taking the final three games. Albert Suarez was the winner and Jon Niese was on the losing side. Santiago Casilla shut the door for his 16th save.

The Los Angeles Dodgers were off on Thursday, so the Giants gained half-game in the National League West to extend their lead to six games. Those two teams remain the only two in the division with winning records. The Giants also matched the Chicago Cubs (who lost on Thursday) and Texas Rangers (who were off) for the most wins in baseball with 47.

Here’s what went on in Pittsburgh.

1 – Casilla’s Focus Renewed with the New Baby?

Giants’ closer Santiago Casilla missed last weekend’s series against the Tampa Bay Rays as he and his wife welcomed new baby Keren to the world, but he’s back with the team now. He made two appearances in the series against Pittsburgh, and seemed to have renewed focus when he took the mound on Wednesday and Thursday.

When he took the mound in game three, the Giants were hanging on to a one-run lead after erasing a five-run deficit. It was up to Casilla, who was pitching for the first time in eight days, to hold that lead. He surrendered a leadoff single, and bad thoughts began to creep into everyone’s head as he has had issues with letting little problems snowball into bigger problems. Instead, with razor-sharp focus, Casilla got John Jaso to bounce into a force out, and then won an eight-pitch battle with Gregory Polanco by striking him out with a perfect fastball away. Jaso was running with the pitch, and catcher Buster Posey helped Casilla out by gunning him down.

In an unusual scenario for Casilla, he entered Thursday’s game with a two-run lead, marking the first time in nine June appearances that Casilla came into a game that wasn’t tied or a one-run game. He struck out the side in the ninth with only a single mixed in, looking as sharp as he has this season.

As oxymoronic as it may sound, maybe that new baby brought things more into focus for Casilla. He didn’t let those little things, like giving up a leadoff single or going to a full count after being ahead 0-2, impact his concentration. He kept that bullheaded closer’s mentality that he needs. As a whole, the entire bullpen looked as good as they have all season in the past two games, and Casilla is no exception. Maybe Keren is the jolt he needed.

2 – Williamson and Parker Looking More Comfortable

When Hunter Pence went down with a tore hamstring, a heavy burden was put on the shoulders of rookie outfielders Jarrett Parker and Mac Williamson. They didn’t get off to a great start with the larger roles, but as playing time has become more regular, they’ve both settled in and are looking more and more comfortable.

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Williamson has started both of the last two games, and they were two of the best games of his young career. On Wednesday, Williamson lashed a single in his first at-bat that came off the bat at 115 miles per hour, and took the first three walks of his young career. On Thursday, hitting third for the first time in a makeshift lineup, Williamson enjoyed the first three-hit game as a big leaguer. In the third inning, he hit a run-scoring single, and in the sixth, he crushed his second career home run, which landed 446 feet away from its starting point.

Parker enjoyed a nice series in Pittsburgh, picking up five hits in nine at-bats and extending his hitting streak to a career-best matching six games. He also collected a double, a run batted in, and a walk.

Both players have looked miles more confident and comfortable in the past few days than they were in the early days of the season. Williamson is squaring the ball up more frequently, and proving he can hit the ball very, very hard. He also struck out just once in nine plate appearances, a great improvement after starting the year with 11 strikeouts in 32 plate appearances.

Parker has shown an improved approach, and though he’s still striking out at a high rate (26.9 percent on the year), he’s using the entire field more. Instead of rolling over on pitches and grounding out weakly to second base, he’s starting to hit line drives up the middle and to left field. He’s not hitting home runs at an astronomical rate anymore, which was to be expected, but the power will come as he continues to hit line drives.

It’s amazing what more consistent playing time, and having the manager show confidence, will do for a young player.

Next: Giants Morning Minute: Huge Bullpen Game

And that will do it for another edition of the Giants Morning Minute. Up next, the Giants start a three-game weekend series with the Philadelphia Phillies. In a nice change of pace, the Giants are scheduled to see three right-hander starters from the Phillies. Jake Peavy and Zach Eflin are tasked with starting game one.