SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Bruce Bochy thought he might take it slow with Hunter Pence this spring. Pence, of course, had other ideas.
Pence, who was held back by intercostal soreness during the first week of workouts, insisted on playing the Cactus League opener. He drove in the first Giants run of the new year with a double off the wall in the bottom of the first inning.
“I just like to be out there Game 1,” Pence said. “It’s a message. It’s good to be out there. I have every intention of being ready to play every game of the season, so getting out there Game 1 is important to me.”
Bochy played plenty of regulars on the first day, but they were long gone when this one was decided in dramatic fashion. Chris Marrero, a non-roster invitee, hit a three-run walk-off homer as the Giants topped the Reds 6-4.
Marrero, 28, was one of the lead targets for a scouting staff that has made a habit of finding non-roster gems. The former first-round pick hit 23 homers for Boston’s Triple-A team and the Giants went after him hard when he became a minor league free agent. Marrero said his agent got a call within the first five minutes. It was an easy decision, in part because of the non-roster history here and in part because Marrero never got a call-up despite minor league success with the Red Sox.
“If this team wants you, it’s a good thing,” Marrero said of the Giants.
Marrero plays first base and the outfield, and while there are plenty of longtime big leaguers in camp, he certainly made a statement on the first day. The slider he hit went out to left in a hurry.
“He’s a right-handed bat with power,” Bochy said. “He threw out good at-bats on the first day. We’re excited he signed with us. He’s going to get some at-bats here.”
THE ACE: Bochy gave Madison Bumgarner the option of skipping this game and making his debut next week, but Bumgarner — who typically doesn’t throw off a mound until he gets to camp — wanted to face hitters. “I thought it’d be good to get out there and get my feet wet,” he said. Bumgarner worked with Nick Hundley, who made some friends the first time out.
PROSPECT WATCH: Clayton Blackburn delivered a bit of a message with two perfect innings: Don’t forget about me.
Blackburn has been bumped down the depth chart by Ty Blach and Tyler Beede, but he was sharp while striking out three. “He was right on, wasn’t he?” Bochy said.
Blackburn was a big story last spring, coming off a season where he led the PCL with a 2.85 ERA. He had a 4.36 ERA last season and that led to some offseason changes. Blackburn said he threw off a mound 10-12 times before coming to camp last year, but he limited it to a handful of sessions this year, instead focusing on flat-ground throws into a net.
“You only have so many bullets,” he said, noting there was some fatigue last season. “You can’t waste them all in the offseason.”
Blackburn was called up last season but never got into a game.
“There’s definitely a lot more hunger,” he said. “It’s always cool to get called up, but it was disappointing not to get in and not see any more time the rest of the year. It’s disappointing, but it’s part of the game.”
With a few more outings like Friday’s, Blackburn will get that second shot. His peripherals were just about the same across the board in 2015 and 2016, with the glaring difference being 12 additional homers in a hitter-friendly league. If he cuts back on the home runs, there’s no reason why Blackburn can’t get back in the mix here.
NOTEWORTHY: Jimmy Rollins was 1-for-2 in his Giants debut, with a run scored … Wynton Bernard, the speedy outfielder plucked from Detroit’s system, scored on a double and two wild pitches … Jae-gyun Hwang didn’t have the best debut. He struck out twice and stumbled (for an error) on a slow roller to third ... Healthy Joe Panik had two hits in two at-bats ... Orlando Calixte played second and short and Bochy lit up when talking about his versatility. Calixte will see time in the outfield this spring, too.
FAMILIAR FACES: It was 2010 Day at the ballpark, as Freddy Sanchez, Bengie Molina and Jeremy Affeldt were all on the field during BP. Molina and Affeldt were part of broadcast teams, but Sanchez was here with his under-9 travel ball team. Per Sanchez, the team is the best U9 team in Arizona.
QUOTABLE: “We feed off each other and I know he feeds off of me. Hunter is a special cat. He’s the most positive person you’ll ever come across, but it’s hard because he plays with the team-first mentality and he puts himself second and sometimes that gets really hard on a person and can weigh a person down. I like to be there with him and bounce things off of him and try to keep him light and energetic. I’m not saying I take anything away from him, but don’t let him carry this big burden. Be that guy for him. He can be Batman, I’ll be Robin.” --- Mike Morse during an interview that airs on my podcast this week. You can stream it online here or download it on iTunes here.