Giants' opener lifts lid on top spring stories

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Tim Lincecum got spring games off to a bang-up start by giving up four straight hits

Giants' opener lifts lid on top spring stories

Tim Lincecum got spring games off to a bang-up start by giving up four straight hits

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Picking up where we all left off 3½ months ago … the San Francisco Giants again took the field, champagne shampooed from their hair, confetti brushed from their shoulders, their fingers sized for rings, Tim Lincecum(notes) on the mound, Buster Posey(notes) behind the plate.

A splendor of spring is that results are meaningless. So the first game – Cactus or Grapefruit – wasn’t blemished by Lincecum giving up hits to the first four Arizona Diamondbacks batters. It was just kind of funny. (“Buster called too many sliders,” Lincecum deadpanned afterward.)

And the Giants roaring back with five runs in the second didn’t mean their hitters are ready for opening day, or that Diamondbacks starter Joe Saunders(notes) won’t be.

More interesting will be stories outside the foul lines as a full slate of games in Arizona and in Florida begin over the weekend. As players prepare for the season, the eight-month narrative begins to unfold, one that will end with a jubilant team celebrating a World Series title, just like the Giants did in early November.

A starting nine of spring storylines:

• Shaking the blues: Coming off a lackadaisical season, the fractious Dodgers appropriately begin with split-squad games Saturday against the Giants at Scottsdale and the Angels at Tempe. Eventually, they’ll need to get everyone in the same dugout, and hopefully for new manager Don Mattingly, giving 100 percent. It was obvious that several of the team’s most talented young players were going through the motions late last season, a disgraceful way to end Joe Torre’s managerial career and disrespectful to the 3 million-plus fans who flock into Dodger Stadium every season.

• Rearming the Cardinals: Contract negotiations with Albert Pujols(notes) are on hold, but St. Louis Cardinals executives have plenty to occupy their time. Finding a suitable replacement for injured Cy Young award contender Adam Wainwright(notes) is a serious challenge. The Cardinals’ farm system is devoid of big league-ready arms and nobody wants to trade a legitimate starter this time of year. Look at the back of the jerseys: Lohse and Lynn, McClellan and Batista, Snell and Tallet, Walters and Hill. The ones turned from home plate and looking at center field while balls fly over the fence will be eliminated from consideration.

• Red Sox reload: Carl Crawford(notes) will get over the fact that the Boston Red Sox had him followed by a private investigator before offering a $142 million contract as soon as the checks start rolling in. Adrian Gonzalez(notes), the other big bat the Red Sox added, might be looking in the rear-view for unmarked cars until he gets his contract extension in hand, though. By all accounts, Gonzalez is unsullied as a citizen. If he’s healthy, he’s golden, and so will be the Sox.

Bryce Harper’s(notes) hellacious hacks: Precocious, isn’t he? The 18-year-old phenom says he wants to make the Washington Nationals’ opening-day roster. That won’t happen, but Harper’s spring at-bats will be a treat. The first will come Monday at Port St. Lucie, Fla., against the Mets. If he puts a charge into a ball like he can – Harper hit his first 500-foot home run at age 15 – the New York tabloids might lead with an opposing player, something that normally doesn’t occur unless the Red Sox are beating the Yankees.

• Cabrera’s liquid portfolio: Miguel Cabrera(notes) will enter the batter’s box with two strikes, metaphorically speaking. A third alcohol-related incident likely would result in serious action by Major League Baseball. Just as likely, fan response to Cabrera in Tigerland at Lakeland, Fla., will be warm and supportive. He won’t play in a game for maybe a week because his DUI arrest delayed his training. But Cabrera’s every move will be watched closely.

• Newest diamond cathedral: The $100 million Salt River Fields at Talking Stick set on 140 acres of Native American land in north Scottsdale will open its turnstiles Saturday with the co-host Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies squaring off. Once the regulars leave the game in the middle innings, kids can play on the Wiffle ball field down the right-field line while mom and dad enjoy margaritas from the Salty Senorita stand. The Diamondbacks have already sold 120,000 tickets, 20 percent more than their entire spring attendance last year in Tucson.

Michael Young’s(notes) short sale: For all the brilliance they displayed in building a World Series team, the Texas Rangers have mystifyingly squandered the momentum by allowing Young’s twisting in the trade winds to dominate spring headlines. Young left camp for a few days to address a family matter, but will return and conduct himself as a professional. Whether he stays and the rift can be repaired is worth watching.

• Colon and Co. try on pinstriples: It’s flabbergasting that the New York Yankees are in this position: The admittedly overweight Bartolo Colon(notes), who last pitched more than 100 innings in 2005, is starting the spring opener Saturday against the Phillies. Freddy Garcia(notes) is another retread vying for one of the two rotation openings. Ivan Nova(notes) has Curtis Granderson(notes) in his corner. Andrew Brackman(notes) is a stalled, if not failed, prospect. Sergio Mitre(notes) is a reliever trying to start. It’s all a steep drop from Cliff Lee(notes) and Andy Pettitte(notes).

• Chicago hope: No, not the Cubs. The jury will be out on them far longer than the first few and heady days of spring games. White Sox ace Jake Peavy’s(notes) is coming of an encouraging 40-pitch side session in his recovery from shoulder surgery and he’s scheduled to start March 4. A healthy Peavy would thrust the White Sox into a serious discussion of AL Central superiority, joining the Twins and, perhaps, the Tigers. A rotation of Peavy, Mark Buehrle(notes), Gavin Floyd(notes), John Danks(notes) and Edwin Jackson(notes) would rival any in the league.

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