SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Giants manager Bruce Bochy might have a better alternative than simply walking Josh Hamilton in key spots during the World Series.
Sidearming lefty Javier Lopez neutralized Philadelphia’s left-handed sluggers in the NL championship series and looks to do the same this week against Hamilton and the Texas Rangers.
Lopez’s unusual delivery and effective outings have caught a lot of eyes this postseason. Hamilton replicated the reliever’s motion with his left arm out to the side as he discussed facing the San Francisco specialist.
“The left-hander, the guy who comes from the side? That’s what popped out at me, flipping around and catching some of the games,” Hamilton said. “He comes from the side. He looks tough.”
Lopez will likely need to be as tough on Hamilton as he was on Jason Heyward, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard in the first two rounds of the playoffs if the Giants are going to win their first World Series since moving West in 1958.
With bullpens often playing a deciding role in postseason games, Lopez knows he will need to be ready any time the lineup gets near Hamilton’s third spot in the order starting in the middle of the game.
“These guys can bang it around the yard and Hamilton’s going to lead that charge,” Lopez said. “To have some experience of going in and facing some big-time lefties in those situations, hopefully that’s something I can build off.”
Lopez has appeared in seven of San Francisco’s 10 postseason games, allowing one hit, one walk and striking out six in five innings. Despite his limited time on the field, he was one of the Giants’ most valuable players in the NLCS against Philadelphia.
He came in to face Utley and Howard five times in the series, giving up a double to Howard but posting four strikeouts in those 10 at-bats. The Phillies split up their lefty sluggers for part of the series but that didn’t deter Lopez, who retired right-handed Placido Polanco all three times he faced him.
Lopez also struck out Heyward twice in his only appearances of the division series against Atlanta.
None of those stars came into their series hitting nearly as well as Hamilton right now. He batted .350 with four homers and seven RBIs to win the ALCS MVP award against the New York Yankees.
He reached safely in 15 of 28 plate appearances, getting seven hits and eight walks. The Yankees were so scared of him that they issued him an ALCS-record five intentional walks, including three in the Game 6 clincher.
“I don’t know how much I was surprised,” Lopez said of the intentional walks. “The guy’s a tremendous player. He’s an MVP candidate every year. You obviously play percentages and matchups and that’s what (the Yankees) were doing.”
The Giants will try to do the same by bringing in Lopez in key spots against Hamilton. With no other lefties in the middle of the Texas lineup, those appearances could be brief.
Hamilton and Lopez have faced off four times in their careers. One of those meetings came this past June when Lopez retired Hamilton on a groundout with two runners on while he was still pitching for Pittsburgh. Hamilton hit an RBI double and walked once in three plate appearances against Lopez back in 2008.
“I’ll be using some of that stuff, but you like to see what he’s been doing against lefties the last two or three weeks and see what his approach is,” Lopez said. “You just try to stay with your strengths and hope that you can find something you might be able to use.”
Rangers hitting coach Clint Hurdle, who managed Lopez in Colorado early in his career, sees a much more accomplished pitcher today.
“He was a rookie who was trying to keep one stroke, the sidearm stroke,” Hurdle said. “Now he has a lot of confidence. You look at him as almost three different arm angles with the slider and the fastball. It’s a very diverse package.”
When the Giants acquired Lopez at the trade deadline from Pittsburgh, the talk was more about how general manager Brian Sabean failed to add the big bat the team needed.
But with lefty relievers Jeremy Affeldt and Dan Runzler injured, Lopez filled a needed role. His responsibility only grew with his success and he is now probably the team’s second-most important reliever behind closer Brian Wilson.
Lopez had a 1.42 ERA in 27 regular-season appearances for the Giants. He allowed just five hits in 45 at-bats against lefties with two walks.
He also brings postseason experience, having won the World Series with Boston in 2007.
“This guy, since we got him, has done a terrific job,” Bochy said. “Nice to have a left-hander down there late in the ballgame. We have a couple to help us out here. But he’s certainly been a shot in the arm for this club. Not just in the playoffs, but getting here. And we worked him pretty hard there early and he’s just been terrific.”
The Giants now have Affeldt back, giving them a second left-hander to match up with Hamilton if they need. Affeldt wasn’t nearly as effective as Lopez this year, posting a 4.14 ERA and allowing a .290 average against lefties. Affeldt appeared three times in the playoffs, allowing one run and no hits.
He has never faced Hamilton in the regular season.
“I’ve looked at tape and stuff like that,” Affeldt said. “It’s a matter of executing pitches. He’s a dangerous hitter and we’ve just got to do our best to execute the pitches that we feel can get him out. Hopefully we feel we can get him out. … The fun thing about the World Series, a lot of times you have limited experience facing these guys.”
AP Baseball Writers Janie McCauley and Ben Walker and AP freelance writer Michael Wagaman contributed to this story.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.