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.

Now catching for the Fresno Grizzlies: Hector Sanchez

GARY KAZANJIAN/THE FRESNO BEE
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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Want the Grizzlies’ replica Giants World Series ring? Get in line — now

Want a San Francisco Giants World Series ring?

Better get in line.

Like sometime Friday would’ve worked, for good measures.

Fans started showing up as soon as 11 a.m. Friday to wait outside of Chukchansi Park for the replica World Series rings that the Fresno Grizzlies will give away before Saturday’s game against the Tucson Padres. General admission gates open at 6:05 p.m.

Only 2,500 fans (who aren’t season-ticket holders) will receive a ring, which means you’ll need to be among the first 625 fans to enter among the four gate entrances (one entrance along Fulton Mall and three entrances basically along H Street), if each gates receives an equal amount of ring giveaways.

And if past Grizzlies’ promotions serve as any indication, it’s going to be a wild atmosphere before the game as people wrap around Chukchansi Park to get into the ballpark and try to get the limited-edition ring. Fresno does love its freebies, ya know.

Saturday’s giveaway is the same replica ring that the San Francisco Giants gave out to 40,000 fans at AT&T Park during their World Series rings ceremony earlier this month. A quick glance on ebay showed rings selling for roughly $100, with bidding still going on.

“Oh, I’m keeping mine,” said Lemoore resident Jimmy Robbins, who along with wife Patty was the first in line for the ring. “Probably going to wear mine a few times.

“To camp out for something like this, I’ve never done it before. But it’s that important. I love the Giants. Been a Giants fan forever. Everybody and their brother is going to be here for this. We wanted to make sure we got one.”

And don’t try to show up at the gate with five tickets and try to get five rings all for yourself. The Grizzlies front office has made it clear that it’s one ring per person who is present with a ticket — not one ring per ticket.

Fewer than 1,000 tickets remained as of Friday evening.

There was a line of about 30 people along H Street on Friday.

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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 fresnobee.com 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.

Brock Bond (on way to Fresno Grizzlies?) wins Harry S. Jordan Award in Giants camp

Brock Bond wins the Harry S. Jordan Award given to the best player in his first major-league camp. (Associated Press photo)

Brock Bond likely won’t make the San Francisco Giants’ opening day roster, but the 27-year-old infielder was recognized for his effort Tuesday.

Bond is this year’s winner of  the Harry S. Jordan Award, given annually during spring training to the player who makes the biggest impression during his first major-league camp. The award is voted by Giants players, coaches and training staff.

During six minor-league seasons, the last three with the Fresno Grizzlies, Bond owns a career batting average of .313 with a .410 on-base percentage. This spring, he hit .435 (10 for 23) with two home runs in 13 Cactus League games.

Bond was reassigned to Triple-A Fresno on March 14, so there’s a good chance he opens the season in a Grizzlies uniform. He hit .332 with a .412 on-base percentage here last season.

In other notes:

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San Francisco Giants’ roster moves ‘bode well’ for Noonan

The Grizzlies’ Nick Noonan throws out a Omaha baserunner at first on May 12, 2012. (JOHN WALKER/THE FRESNO BEE)

Nick Noonan reestablished himself  last season with the Fresno Grizzlies. Now the 23-year-old infielder is getting another chance to break camp with the San Francisco Giants.

The Giants released veteran infielder Wilson Valdez Friday (along with reliever Ramon Ramirez) and brought back Noonan from their minor-league camp after optioning him to Triple-A Fresno on March 15. He’s in the lineup playing third base in today’s Cactus League game.

In fact, Noonan is the only healthy backup infield option left in camp. (Besides Joaquin Arias, who is assured of a roster spot.) Free-agent pickup Tony Abreu has been dealing with a leg injury all spring and the Giants reassigned Japanese import Kensuke Tanaka, who was struggling defensively, to Triple-A Fresno on Thursday.

Speaking with the team’s beat writers in Scottsdale, Ariz., Giants vice president Bobby Evans hinted that Noonan could be the favorite.

“We’ll continue to look at him,” Evans told CSN Bay Area’s Andrew Baggarly. “It does bode well for (Noonan) if Abreu can’t get healthy.”

It’s also possible the Giants could sign an infielder off the waiver wire or as other teams trim their rosters before Opening Day.

(What about Brock Bond, who was hitting .435 when he reassigned to Fresno? Bond got called up for a split-squad game  Tuesday and suffered an abdominal strain. Terrible timing.)

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