Giants, sans Bonds, ready for new brand of small ball


So long to the longball in San Francisco.

The 2008 Giants are minus home run king Barry Bonds and the power No. 25 provided in the middle of the lineup. Even though the club parted ways with Bonds way back in September, his absence will be talked about almost every time San Francisco struggles to score runs this year.

the looks of it, that could be often. But this team insists it will instead be defined by the little things: aggressive baserunning, clutch hits, consistent pitching and defense.

In the pitching-heavy NL West, runs are always at a premium &

and the Giants finished in last place in the division last year.

"We're trying to put up runs," new center fielder Aaron Rowand said. "That's the name of the game. We're not going to live and die by the longball, but we've got some guys who can hit the ball out of the ballpark. It's not all small ball. It's inevitable you're going to hit some home runs."

San Francisco sure hopes that's the case, or it could be a long season for fans who became so used to seeing Bonds splash balls into McCovey Cove beyond the right-field fence of the Giants' waterfront ballpark.

One thing is clear so far: The chemistry without Bonds was noticeable from Day — of spring training. Some veterans have even expressed they might feel more free to be themselves without the 43-year-old slugger's larger-than-life presence in his corner of the clubhouse and in the batter's box.

Bonds was indicted in November on perjury and obstruction of justice charges and still hasn't found a job with another team. Still, the Giants will miss his 762 career homers and the fanfare he brought to the ballpark &

but certainly not the drama that surrounds his every move and utterance.

They are also ready to move forward from the fallout of December's Mitchell Report, which raised questions about whether Giants officials might have known that Bonds or other players were allegedly using steroids and performance-enhancing drugs.

Team owner Peter Magowan and general manager Brian Sabean met with commissioner Bud Selig or his representatives about the matter during spring training.

Everybody is eager for a fresh start now.

Second-year manager Bruce Bochy has been saying since late last season that his team must change the culture in the clubhouse.

"We just need to go out there and play the game the way it should be, and that's to play hard with a warrior spirit," Bochy said. "We're not changing anything, we just want to have that type of attitude this year.

"I hope they all look back to last year for a brief time to think back what they could have done differently and learn from the year that we had. As an offensive club, hopefully we understand we're not going to be a team that's going to hit the ball out of the ballpark."

Bochy has to be hoping for much more than what his Giants did in 2007, his first year managing in the Bay Area after leaving the San Diego Padres. San Francisco missed the playoffs for the fourth straight season and finished at the bottom of the division. In fact, the Dodgers (82-80) and Giants (71-91) brought up the rear in the NL West for just the second time since division play began in 1969.

"The key for us is to get off to a decent start and at one point in the year you have to go on a good run," infielder Rich Aurilia said. "We've got to do the little things &

steal bases, get base hits, sacrifice flies and go first to third. We realize that's the type of game we have to play. And that style is what we veterans have to instill in the young guys."

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the franchise's move West to San Francisco from New York, so there will be hype around that &

but probably to a lesser extent than what surrounded the club for the All-Star festivities and Bonds' chase of Hank Aaron's home run record last summer.

Aside from catcher Bengie Molina, who had a career year offensively in 2007 and will bat in Bonds' old cleanup spot, most of the Giants will be looking to bounce back from poor seasons. Namely, $126 million pitcher Barry Zito, the 2002 AL Cy Young Award winner with Oakland.

Zito, whose contract has since been topped by the Mets' Johan Santana and his $137.5 million deal, had his first losing campaign in eight major league seasons, posting career worsts with an 11-13 record and 4.53 ERA in 196 2-3 innings. It marked the first time Zito hadn't reached 200 innings since he was a rookie.

Zito had his struggles this spring, too.

"It's just timing," said Zito, confident he can bounce back this season. "Everything in pitching is timing."

In addition, San Francisco will start the season without 11-time Gold Glove shortstop Omar Vizquel as he recovers from left knee surgery. Lefty starter Noah Lowry is out following an operation on his forearm during spring training, and infielder Kevin Frandsen is done for the year after rupturing his left Achilles' tendon last week.

The Giants still plan to be competitive.

"I think this is a major league team, right?" Molina said. "We all know that. ... We're about trying to get a group of guys going for the same thing, and that's to win that day and not to think about the next day or the next week."

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