Thursday night could be major tuneup for Fresno Grizzlies’ Mike Kickham

Yes, Mike Kickham is still scheduled to be on the mound Thursday for the Fresno Grizzlies in their 7:05 p.m. series finale against the Oklahoma City RedHawks at Chukchansi Park.

But next week, who knows.

The 24-year-old left-hander is a leading candidate to fill the vacancy in the San Francisco Giants’ starting rotation created by Ryan Vogelsong’s broken pinky.

After tonight, Kickham’s next scheduled start would be Tuesday. Interestingly, that’s the same day the Giants will need another starter. So that part fits.

Also, Kickham has been pitching well lately. After a rocky April in which he struggled to throw his 93-94 mph fastball for strikes, Kickham has produced four straight quality starts.

Earlier this week in the Grizzlies clubhouse, I asked Kickham if Thursday’s start would come with any extra pressure. He seemed genuinely nonplussed.

“You always want to think about yourself pitching in the majors and you go out there every start to showcase what you’ve got,” Kickham said. “I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing and not let some situation get in my head.”

Here are some facts and figures, courtesy of Grizzlies PR man extraordinaire Chris Kutz:

*** Over his last 4 starts, Kickham is 2-1 with a 1.80 ERA and 25 strikeouts against 6 walks.

*** His 50 strikeouts this season are tied for 5th in the Pacific Coast League.

*** His has won two straight starts. He has never won three consecutive starts in his career.

Kickham began the season as the No. 5 rated prospect in the Giants’ farm system, according to Baseball America. His opponent tonight, RH Jarred Cosart, is No. 7 in the Houston Astros chain. So it’s a good matchup tonight at The Chuk.

San Francisco Giants promote Brett Pill to majors

The Fresno Grizzlies’ hottest hitter is back in a major-league uniform.

The San Francisco Giants recalled first baseman Brett Pill from Triple-A Fresno on Monday morning and optioned outfielder Francisco Peguero back to the Grizzlies.

Pill hit .341 with nine home runs and 47 RBIs in 32 games with the Grizzlies. The 28-year-old’s RBI total lead all of affiliated baseball.

Reports by Giants beat writers suggest Pill could serve as the Giants’ designated hitter during a two-game interleague series starting Tuesday against he Toronto Blue Jays.

Peguero hit .188 (3 for 16) in six games with San Francisco. He is hitting .415 in 16 games with the Grizzlies.

The Grizzlies have two more games in Memphis before returning home Thursday night to begin an eight-game homestand against the New Orleans Zephyrs.

It’s official: Kaiser Pass Road to open Wednesday

One of the Sierra’s most spectacular roads — and some would say most hazardous – opens for the season Wednesday, May 15.

Three backpackers stop for a picture along the John Muir Trail between Silver Pass and Edison Lake in the Sierra National Forest.

For most of its 20-mile length from Huntington Lake in the Sierra National Forest, Kaiser Pass Road feels more like a goat path: 1 1/2 lanes wide, steep, winding, exposed and full of potholes.  There are a few places where you pray some gargantuan RV towing a trailered boat isn’t coming the other direction. Because one of you has to back up to the nearest turnout. And, oh yeah, there’s a 1,000-foot drop just outside your window with no guardrail.

So why do I drive it so often every summer and fall? Because Kaiser Pass Road places you right in the heart of several prime Sierra destinations, many as uncrowded as the range has to offer. Just past the High Sierra Ranger Station, about 14 miles from Huntington Lake, the road splits. One fork leads to Edison Lake, passing Mono Hot Springs. The other leads to Florence Lake.

I can think of few places that rival Mono Hot Springs for a camping trip. You can fish from the South Fork of the San Joaquin River, go swimming in spring-fed Doris Lake (a singular delight) or hike to any number of places. All with the convenience of the Mono Hot Springs Resort and its cafe, store, lodgings and recently renovated bath house. (Free soaking is available on the other side of the river.)

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Now catching for the Fresno Grizzlies: Hector Sanchez

Hector Sanchez, shown here during a 2012 Triple-A rehab assignment, becomes the Fresno Grizzlies’ full-time catcher effective immediately.

If you thought Hector Sanchez was frustrated by his recent demotion to Triple-A Fresno, think again.

Sure, Sanchez would rather be in the big leagues. But he also wants to play. And the 23-year-old catcher wasn’t doing much of that with the San Francisco Giants. He had only appeared in 11 games, six of them as a pinch-hitter. He hit .150 (3 for 20) with one RBI.

Sanchez made his Fresno Grizzlies’ season debut in Monday’s 7-5 victory over the Colorado Springs Sky Sox. It was his first time wearing a catcher’s mask since April 18 in Milwaukee and the first time he squatted nine innings since April 14 in Chicago.

“It’s probably the biggest reason why I’m here,” Sanchez said. “This is what I need, to play day by day and get ready. I’ll get to play every day and get my timing back.”

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High water levels on the San Joaquin River

Water levels on the San Joaquin River are higher than usual through May due to increased flows mandated by the restoration agreement. This stretch is located near Sycamore Island Park. (KURTIS ALEXANDER/THE FRESNO BEE)

Earlier this month Metro reporter Kurtis Alexander and I drove out to Sycamore Island Park to do some kayaking on the San Joaquin River.

I neglected to check the flow levels before we left — something all paddlers should do — but the river was noticeably higher. And it’s even higher now.

Of course, this is all a result of the federally mandated restoration program. From April 12 through May 7, total releases from Friant Dam are scheduled at 1,060 cubic feet per second. Which is a lot for the San Joaquin. To put 1,060 cfs in perspective, consider that the minimum flows before the settlement were 100 cfs — barely a trickle. (You can see the entire schedule for 2013 here.)

What does this mean for people who use the river? It means they must pay attention and use proper paddling techniques, because narrow stretches along the river now boast significantly stronger current. And if that current carries you off to the side, especially when coming around a bend, you’re susceptible to being swept into submerged root systems. These “strainers” pose one of the biggest dangers on the river. When people get stuck in them, the current makes it impossible to break free and they typically drown.

There are some navigational hazards of the man-made variety, too. As part of the restoration, biologists from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife have installed monitoring stations to track planted salmon fingerlings as they cruise the river. One of these stations is located at Scout Island, between the Fig Garden and San Joaquin country clubs, and it’s set up in an area where the river is extremely narrow.

Making life interesting for boaters, one leg of the monitoring station extends out from the Fresno side while the other extends out a few yards upstream from the Madera side. Both are marked with pink ribbons (and there are warning signs upstream) but aren’t easy to avoid when you’re  navigating a 13-foot kayak through a narrow stretch of river.

In fact, it’s like a mini-slalom course.

Sierra Nevada roads beginning to thaw out

Wishon Reservoir, as it appeared from a helicopter during a PG&E snow survey in April 2007. Similar to 2012-13, 2007 was also a low snow year. (ERIC ZAMORA / THE FRESNO BEE)

A dry winter in the southern Sierra Nevada isn’t necessarily good news for local outdoors enthusiasts.

But the below-average snowpack does ensure that some popular access roads will open earlier than usual.

In the Sierra National Forest, McKinley Grove Road is scheduled to open April 26 all the way to Wishon Reservoir. The road to Courtright Reservoir, which sits 1,500 feet higher in elevation, will open at a later date.

No official opening date has been set for Kaiser Pass Road, which connects Huntington Lake to Edison and Florence lakes as well as Mono Hot Springs.

However, the owners of both the Mono Hot Springs Resort and Vermilion Valley Resort have indicated on their Facebook pages that they expect to be open for business May 11.  That’s two weeks earlier than the traditional Memorial Day weekend opening date for Kaiser Pass Road.

In the Bass Lake area, roads such as Beasore, Central Camp and Sky Ranch are open only to their respective snow lines. The Sierra Vista National Scenic Byway out of North Fork is open to Mammoth Pool.

At Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, very little snow exists below 7,000 feet in the most heavily visited areas.

The road to Panoramic Point has been open for weeks, and Highway 180 opened Friday to the Yucca Point gate,  providing access to Junction View and the Yucca Point Trailhead.

Highway 180 will open all the way to Cedar Grove at noon April 26. From then until May 22, Cedar Grove will be open for day-use only, and visitors are advised to bring water and food since none will be available. Campgrounds on the canyon floor will open May 22.

Further south, Moro Rock/Crescent Meadow Road is currently open and will be kept open, weather permitting. In addition, Mineral King Road is scheduled to open May 22.

Officials at Yosemite National Park are still assessing when Tioga Road and Glacier Point Road will open for the summer. Tioga Road in particular poses potential avalanche dangers.

Lineups and starting pitchers for today’s Fresno Grizzlies game

Tonight at Chukchansi Park, the Fresno Grizzlies will try to earn their first win of the season after dropping Thursday’s season opener 9-1 to the Tacoma Rainiers. First pitch is 7:05 p.m.

Here are the lineups:

Tacoma: Endy Chavez CF, Nate Tenbrink 2B, Alex Liddi 3B, Carlos Peguero RF, Mike Zunino C, Rich Poythress 1B, Eric Thames DH, Denny Almonte LF, Carlos Triunfel SS

Fresno: Gary Brown CF, Kensuke Tanaka 2B, Francisco Peguero RF, Brett Pill 1B, Roger Kieschnick LF, Juan Perez 3B, Cole Gillespie DH, Jackson Williams C, Carter Jurica SS

On the mound, Rainiers RH Andrew Carraway will oppose Grizzlies RH Chris Heston, who is making his Triple-A debut after winning the Eastern League Pitcher of the Year award last season at Double-A Richmond.

Keep up with Fresno Grizzlies’ opening day

Fresno Grizzlies catcher Jackson Williams takes his swings in the batting cage on Wednesday at Chukchansi Park (MARK CROSSE/THE FRESNO BEE)

10:10 p.m. update: It’s over, mercifully. Tacoma wins 9-1 over the Fresno Grizzlies at Chukchansi Park in both teams’ Pacific Coast League opener.

First pitch Friday is 7:05 p.m.

9:15 p.m. update: This one has officially gotten out of hand. More poor defense and a couple Tacoma hits, and it’s suddenly 9-1 Rainiers in the sixth.

Tonight’s game won’t make manager Bob Mariano’s highlight reel, that’s for sure.

8:57 p.m. update: Tacoma extends its lead to 5-1 on an error and an RBI single by Eric Thames in the fifth. Fresno stater Yusmeiro Petit lasted 4 2/3 innings, allowing eight hits and five runs (three earned)

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Meet your 2013 Fresno Grizzlies

The Fresno Grizzlies just announced their 2013 opening day roster. Here are the 25 names, by position, and be sure to check Monday’s paper or later tonight for a more in-depth look.

The Grizzlies begin the 144-game Pacific Coast League season Thursday at Chukchansi Park against the Tacoma Rainiers. First pitch is 7:05 p.m.

Without further adieu, meet your 2013 Grizzlies:

Catchers: Johnny Monell, Jackson Williams

Infielders: Juan Ciriaco, Carter Jurica, Todd Linden, Juan Perez, Kensuke Tanaka

Outfielders: Gary Brown, Chris Dominguez, Cole Gillespie, Roger Kieschnick, Francisco Peguero

Pitchers: Boof Bonser, Jake Dunning, Steve Edlefsen, Heath Hembree, Chris Heston, Michael Kickham, Andrew Kown,  Mitch Lively, Jean Machi,  Yusmeiro Petit, Ramon Ramirez, Sandy Rosario, Dan Runzler

Fresno Grizzlies’ 2013 roster begins to take shape

The Fresno Grizzlies’ opening day roster won’t be finalized until Tuesday or Wednesday, media relations coordinator Chris Kutz says, but the parent-club San Francisco Giants made some roster moves Saturday that give us a clearer picture.

*** The Giants decided to go with three catchers (Buster Posey, Hector Sanchez, Guillermo Quiroz), so that meant reassigning outfielder Cole Gillespie to Triple-A Fresno. Gillespie joins a crowded outfield expected to include Francisco Peguero, who was optioned earlier in the week, Gary Brown, Roger Kieschnick and Juan Perez.

(That’s five guys for three spots, which means one of those guys may end up elsewhere or someone has to switch positions. Perez was originally drafted a second baseman, so that might be an option.)

*** Nick Noonan got the nod as a utility infielder (congrats to him), but it also leaves the Grizzlies kind of short on the infield. Todd Linden could be back at first base and Ehire Adrianza is a good bet shortstop. Brock Bond would be a natural fit at second base, but he strained a ribcage muscle a couple weeks ago and may not be ready opening day. Third base? We’ll see.

*** With Quiroz in the majors, look for Jackson Williams to be behind the plate most nights. Johnny Monell and Tyler LaTorre are other possibilities.

*** Brett Pill (knee) will begin the season on the disabled list and could rehab with the Grizzlies.

*** Yusmeiro Petit, second in the Pacific Coast League in ERA last season (3.46) cleared waivers and has accepted an assignment to Fresno. Look for him to front a starting rotation that includes prospects Chris Heston and Michael Kickham, up from Double-A Richmond, and perhaps former prospect Boof Bonser.

*** Heath Hembree pitched lights out at the end of spring training. He’ll be at the end of a bullpen that likely includes veterans Ramon Ramirez (who accepted a Triple-A assignment) and Jean Machi, lefty Dan Runzler, sinkerballer Steve Edlefsen and others.

*** Stay tuned for more. Grizzlies manager Bob Mariano, his coaching staff and most of the players are scheduled to fly into Fresno on Monday morning from Arizona.