BASEBALL: Casilla settles into Giants’ closer role

SAN FRANCISCO – Without a jet-black beard or open jersey flapping in the wind, Santiago Casilla looks tame trotting in to pitch the ninth inning compared to the man he’s replaced.
“I have a little bit of aggressiveness, too,” Casilla said through a translator after saving the Giants’ 4-1 win over San Diego on Sunday. “But I prefer to go a little more relaxed because I have noticed when I get too pumped up, then I can make some mistakes.”
Likewise, Casilla has done his part to calm anyone who saw the loss of closer Brian Wilson to elbow surgery as the first crack in the Giants’ hull this season.
Casilla has converted his four save opportunities, including one in each of the Giants’ past three wins as they finished April with a 12-10 record. With a day off Monday, the Giants begin a three-game set tonight at home against the Miami Marlins.
“I think if you look at the month and our record, it’s pretty good considering I don’t think we’ve played our best ball,” said manager Bruce Bochy. “For us to be where we’re at, I’ll take it.
“It needs to get better if we’re going to have a successful season. But to get through the month and have your closer down, and dealing with a couple little things, I think overall it’s been a pretty good month.”
Count among those little things a defense that committed the second-most errors in baseball and a lineup that carried over a trend from last season by struggling to come up with hits with runners in scoring position.
The Giants are hitting .197 in those situations after a 1-for-7 performance Sunday against the Padres. They wasted two leadoff doubles in that game before Joaquin Arias came up with a clutch two-out, two-run triple in the sixth.
“You know our pitching’s going to be good,” said Brett Pill, “so just build on that, start hitting better with runners in scoring position, and I think we’ll do good.”
Catcher Buster Posey returned as though he didn’t miss a beat, never mind the majority of last season, and is hitting .353 with four home runs. Even Bochy admitted to some surprise at Posey’s start after he fractured his left leg last May in a home-plate collision against the Marlins.
Center fielder Angel Pagan has also homered four times as the Giants’ leadoff hitter, despite a relatively low on-base percentage (.281). Melky Cabrera is settled in batting behind Pagan and in front of Pablo Sandoval, who leads the Giants with 14 RBIs.
In Aubrey Huff’s absence, it appears for now the Giants will platoon Brandon Belt and Pill. Belt had the game-winning hit against the Padres on Saturday, but Bochy started the right-handed Pill on Sunday against a left-hander.
With Wilson sidelined, Bochy had said the Giants would close by committee, but Casilla has been the first option. He struck out the top three hitters in Cincinnati’s order to seal a one-run win Thursday, worked around his own throwing error against the Padres on Saturday night and stranded a one-out walk Sunday.
Casilla said closing is not new to him.
“I have done it in winter league,” he said. “I have done it in the minor leagues.”
He was also 6 for 6 in save opportunities while filling in for an injured Wilson last August and September. Casilla said during that time Wilson gave him some advice, including tightening up his slider.
“I always feel comfortable (pitching), regardless of the situation,” Casilla said. But he added, “I usually pitch better when the situation is more pressure.”

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