SAN FRANCISCO (AP)—While his Milwaukee Brewers killed time in the Bay Area for two days before the majors’ final opener, new manager Ken Macha reconnected with several friends and favorite restaurants from his years managing the Oakland Athletics across the water.
When he finally gets to the San Francisco Giants’ waterfront ballpark on Tuesday, his trip will get a whole lot less relaxing in a hurry.
After losing their top two pitchers in the offseason, the reconfigured Brewers open with back-to-back games against NL Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum and 45-year-old Randy Johnson, who won a few trophies of his own before joining the Giants.
“Hey, Matt Cain is no day at the beach, either,” Macha said of the Giants’ Thursday starter. “They’ve got an excellent pitching staff, but that’s the big leagues. … But they’ve got to face our hitters. I think this club had some success against the Giants last year, and there are some guys here that have some pretty good numbers against Lincecum. So we’ll show up.”
The Brewers’ run to their first playoff appearance in more than a quarter-century was built on the pitching of midseason acquisition CC Sabathia and Ben Sheets, who won on opening day last season. His replacement in this opener is Jeff Suppan, the consistent but unremarkable right-hander who won 10 games last season.
Yet the top five hitters in Milwaukee’s dangerous lineup—Rickie Weeks, J.J. Hardy, Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder and Corey Hart—are all back in uniform, ready for a season-opening series full of tests from San Francisco’s starting rotation, which appears to be the Giants’ strength.
“There’s nothing like opening day,” said Brewers catcher Jason Kendall, another former Oaklander. “It’s kind of like Little League. When your first game is on Saturday, you can’t sleep on Friday night. You’re nervous, you’re excited, all of ‘em. You can’t beat opening day. It’s something special, and anybody that says different, they’re in the wrong profession.”
After Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger III, the lifesaving pilot who lives in nearby Danville, throws out the ceremonial first pitch, the Giants will see what a slightly younger arm can do for an encore to a remarkable 2008.
Lincecum won the Cy Young despite the Giants’ 72-90 record by going 18-5 with a 2.62 ERA and a major league-best 265 strikeouts. He’ll receive his trophy Wednesday night before the Giants debut of Johnson, the Bay Area native who signed to provide a veteran presence while chasing his 300th victory.
Lincecum didn’t shrink from the pressure of his first opening-day start, although he knows the Giants expect more out of him and themselves this season.
“It’s great, but I don’t make the decisions,” Lincecum said. “For me to be there, it’s awesome for me, but you put any one of our starters in that spot, and they’re going to do their job. Our rotation speaks for itself with the years and experience, so if I take the nod or Randy takes the nod or Cain or (Barry Zito) takes the nod, it doesn’t really matter to any of us. It’s just another game.”
The Giants are hoping to avoid five straight losing seasons for the first time since moving to the West Coast a half-century ago, and manager Bruce Bochy is counting on his rotation to do most of the heavy lifting. Milwaukee’s potent lineup will provide a good test, but Bochy also hopes his totally revamped infield can get off to a good start at the plate against the Brewers.
San Francisco will begin the season with newcomer Edgar Renteria at shortstop and three surprising youngsters around him: third baseman Pablo Sandoval, second baseman Emmanuel Burriss and first baseman Travis Ishikawa. All three are younger than 26, and none has more than 95 games of major league experience.
“Like everybody else, I’m anxious and excited to get this thing going,” Bochy said. “I like the way our corners have played, Sandoval and Ishikawa. They certainly helped answer some questions. If spring training is any indication, they will be just fine.”
Suppan isn’t the most fearsome opening-day starter, but he’ll remove some pressure from youngsters Yovani Gallardo and Manny Parra before they follow him in the rotation. Suppan also might know something about the Giants: He threw five scoreless innings against them on St. Patrick’s Day during spring training.
“I expect a very good year out of Soupy,” Kendall said. “He’s one of those guys that’s been there, done that, been in the big situations, been on winning teams, been on losing teams—he’s pretty much done it all in his career. He’s changed some things. His ball is moving, I think, more than I’ve seen it. I think it’s going to be a very good year for him.”