Sabean may open door to Velez

Sabean may open door to Velez

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Giants general manager Brian Sabean didn't rule out the chance that Eugenio Velez could emerge as the club's Opening Day second baseman, if Ray Durham's lack of game activity continues into the weekend.

Sabean said on Tuesday that the Giants' consideration of Velez and outfielder Fred Lewis for everyday roles demonstrates that the club's established players shouldn't get too comfortable.

"We've said from Day 1 that the veterans are going to be responsible for holding down their jobs, if they can," Sabean said. "These other kids are ready. Who knows? It might be as soon as Opening Day. We haven't made any hard and fast decisions. The best players are going to play no matter what contract they have."

Sabean spoke before the Giants finished the Arizona portion of Spring Training with a 7-5 loss to the Chicago Cubs. San Francisco continues its exhibition schedule on Wednesday at Triple-A affiliate Fresno, followed by four Bay Area encounters, the final three against Oakland.

Sabean indicated that Durham must play most or all of those games to prove he's ready for the March 31 opener at Los Angeles. Durham owns a .436 exhibition average, an encouraging figure given his tremendous slump in 2007. But he missed his sixth game in a row Tuesday with what Sabean described as a touch of flu. Previously, a tight left hamstring bothered Durham.

"He'll still get enough time, but you have to stretch him out to see how he bounces back, between seven and nine innings," Sabean said.

Velez, widely considered the most exciting player in camp, is batting .303. He also stole his Spring Training-high 14th base in the first inning, even though the Cubs pitched out on the play.

Asked if he considered Durham and Velez in competition for the second base job, Sabean simply cited Durham's health. "The more Durham doesn't play, you're going to have to decide how he can start the season," Sabean said, echoing manager Bruce Bochy's recent suggestion that the 36-year-old switch-hitter could begin the season on the 15-day disabled list.

Sabean suggested that the Giants are reluctant to use Velez, who has struggled to find a suitable position, at third base, a spot he has tried this spring. The presence of utilityman Jose Castillo, who's capable at third, eliminates the urgency for Velez to spend time at the hot corner.

"A ball off the bat and the speed of the game is much different at that position," Sabean said.

Sabean addressed numerous other topics, including:

Spring Training
News and features:
Multimedia:
• Spring Training Spotlight: Giants  400K
• Rowand on facing his former team  400K
• Lansford offers Giants status report  400K
• Haft on life without Bonds  400K
• Kline discusses spring  400K
• Correia on his outing  400K
Spring Training info:
MLB.com coverage  |  Schedule  |  Ballpark  |  Tickets

• Whether he can determine how good -- or bad -- the Giants might do after compiling a Cactus League record of 8-20-2, worst in the Major Leagues: "No. Because we literally have not been able to get the lineup out there enough, and that's our goal in the remaining days, to extend these guys seven or nine innings and see what it looks like and try to come up with Opening Day starters. This could be one of those teams that how you start, lineup-wise, isn't going to be what happens week-to-week or month-to-month."

• The status of Dan Ortmeier, the switch-hitter who's striving simultaneously to hit (.225) and master first base: "I don't know if he's our first baseman, but he deserves to be on the team. We committed to him in the offseason. He struggled learning a new position. [Batting] left-handed has been somewhat of a mystery. Right-handed, he's a threat. Its up to Boch how he mixes and matches and what he does with Richie [Aurilia] on a given day at third or first. As Boch said, I can see Richie starting at one of the corners, I just don't know which one on Opening Day."

• The immediate future of shortstop Brian Bocock, presumed to be the temporary replacement, while Omar Vizquel recovers from left knee surgery: "I think that he [Bocock] has earned the right to maybe do that. Without anointing him right now, I can't see us changing our mind or going to the outside."

• Trade prospects. Sabean said that he has fielded many phone calls in the last two days, but most of them have dealt with teams trying to unload players out of Minor League options, or those on the fringes of making their respective clubs: "You don't want to, at the last minute, bring somebody in you have to take the remaining time to look at because you pretty much have to be sure of what you're getting ... There's not more time to experiment."

• Right-hander Merkin Valdez and left-hander Erick Threets, the relievers who are out of Minor League options. The likelihood that right-hander Vinnie Chulk will begin the season on the disabled list creates a job for at least one of them: "We've got enough time to continue to evaluate them. They're both going to pitch [Wednesday] in Fresno, which will be interesting. And there's a lot of outside interest, so we know they wouldn't get through waivers. If we wanted to do something trade-wise, we could probably get it done. If you just do the math and who's going on the DL and who's under contract, one of those guys is definitely going to make it. The other guy is still fighting for a spot."

Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.