Blackburn draws attention, liners in opener

Giants prospect gets early look, struck by two batted balls

Blackburn draws attention, liners in opener

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Clayton Blackburn experienced a couple of firsts Wednesday afternoon at Scottsdale Stadium. One was entirely positive; the other was a painful annoyance.

Fully aware that the Giants are seriously evaluating him as a potential starter, Blackburn raised his profile by contributing 1 2/3 scoreless innings to the Giants' 4-1 exhibition victory over the Los Angeles Angels.

But the rookie right-hander, who was expected to work two innings, departed one out prematurely when Cliff Pennington smashed an 0-2 changeup off his right calf in the fifth inning. The result was a single that prompted Giants manager Bruce Bochy to remove Blackburn, who took Craig Gentry's sharp grounder off his left shin one inning earlier. That ball caromed directly to third baseman Conor Gillaspie, who threw out Gentry.

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"Both of them were hit hard, but luckily they didn't hit me where it was going to hurt too bad," Blackburn said.

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Somewhat remarkably, the 23-year-old Blackburn said he had been struck by a batted ball only once previously in his career. Said Blackburn, "So, two in two innings, I was like, 'What the hell's going on?'"

What's happening is that Blackburn is bidding to become the Giants' next successful homegrown starting pitcher, following the likes of Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum and Madison Bumgarner. He finished 10-4 with a Pacific Coast League-leading 2.85 ERA in 23 appearances (20 starts) for Triple-A Sacramento a season ago.

"He didn't get called up last year, but he did a terrific job," Bochy said.

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Blackburn's progress has been slowed by health and conditioning issues, but this past offseason he found a trainer and a workout regimen that agreed with him.

"I just feel a lot better and a lot more prepared and that gives me more confidence," Blackburn said.

Blackburn realized that being assigned to pitch Wednesday reflected the organization's healthy curiosity about him. He said "it was obviously really cool" when pitching coach Dave Righetti told him he would work meaningful innings in the Cactus League opener.

Chris Heston, San Francisco's projected long reliever, probably is next in line to join the starting rotation if a vacancy arises. But, with a strong spring performance, Blackburn could force the Giants to consider him for a big league role sooner than later.

"Whether a spot opens up with San Francisco or I'm going back to Sacramento, I'm just looking to get what I can out of Spring Training and get better for the season, no matter where it might be," he said.

• Shortstop Brandon Crawford admitted he's enduring mild shoulder soreness, which will prevent him from playing defensively until next week. Crawford emphasized that he's not seriously hurt.

"I'll just kind of limit my throws a little bit," said Crawford, who experienced similar tenderness last year en route to winning the Gold Glove Award. "I make a lot of throws during the season."

Bochy revealed other plans for "slow-playing" his veterans: Crawford, center fielder Denard Span and catcher Buster Posey will divide designated-hitter duties, and Angel Pagan is tentatively slated to play left field for the first time next Tuesday against Cincinnati.

Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Haft-Baked Ideas, follow him on Twitter at @sfgiantsbeat and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.