Giants

Gregor Blanco eager to take another shot at job in Giants outfield

blanco_back.jpg
USATSI

Gregor Blanco eager to take another shot at job in Giants outfield

SAN FRANCISCO — Six years ago, Gregor Blanco came to Scottsdale Stadium as a little-known outfielder looking for a bench job. It was clear early that spring that Blanco would be a valued member of Bruce Bochy’s outfield. 

Now 34 years old, Blanco is hoping for a repeat performance. 

Since that first spring breakout, Blanco has won two titles, made a catch that will forever be remembered in San Francisco, developed into a fan favorite, and set his family up financially. He also has spent a year away, playing 90 games for the rival Diamondbacks. 

Blanco returned to the Giants late in the offseason, breaking the news of his minor league deal on Instagram. He was all smiles Tuesday after putting the orange and black back on, taking several photos of his cleats to post on his social media pages. 

“This is home for me,” Blanco said. “I’m really excited and hungry. I worked really hard in the winter so that I can show my abilities again.”

Blanco batted .246 for the Diamondbacks, posting a .694 OPS with three homers and 15 stolen bases. His numbers in 2016 — his last year with the Giants — were lower, but Blanco believes he has plenty left. Statcast’s metrics show that Blanco is still one of the faster players in the big leagues -- per Sprint Speed, he is the fastest on the Giants roster -- and he was 15-for-16 on the bases last season. Most importantly, the Giants still believe in Blanco’s versatile glove. He’s an option to split time with Austin Jackson in center and back up both corner spots. 

“A guy like Gregor, who we know really well and he’s played a role in our success, it’s good to have him back,” Bochy said.

Bochy said Gorkys Hernandez will also be in that mix in center, and noted Steven Duggar is a rookie “that we’re going to take a good strong look at in center field.” Blanco, Hernandez and Jarrett Parker are out of minor league options, so there’s some urgency there. Mac Williamson and Austin Slater are also competing for an outfield bench spot, although both have options remaining. 

It’s a familiar group, and that vibe extends past the outfield. Blanco spent some time Tuesday catching up with Hector Sanchez, who also is back on a minor league deal. Sanchez found that his locker is right next to Pablo Sandoval’s.

The next few weeks will be spent fighting for jobs, but on Day 1, it was all about enjoying being back with the Giants.

“I feel like I’m a kid again,” Blanco said. 

The Mac Williamson Show rolls on: 'It's been fun to watch'

macsidebar.jpg
USATSI

The Mac Williamson Show rolls on: 'It's been fun to watch'

SAN FRANCISCO — During his pre-game media session on Tuesday, Bruce Bochy was asked about the “elephant in the room.” What will he do with Mac Williamson when Hunter Pence is ready to come off the disabled list?

“That’s a big elephant,” Bochy joked. 

These things do tend to settle themselves, and in the fifth inning against the Nationals, it looked like the most unfortunate resolution might be in play. Williamson went hard after a Bryce Harper pop-up in foul territory and slammed his head and neck into the padded wall alongside the home bullpen. He took a second to take inventory of his body and trainer Dave Groeschner walked him back to his position. When he got to the dugout, Williamson was given a quick concussion test. He came back fine. 

There’s another way to settle a position battle, and Williamson showed it an inning later. His laser shot into the net beyond the center field wall was the difference in a 4-3 win over Washington. It was also his third homer in five starts since being recalled. He has three of the four hardest-hit homers of the season for the Giants in just 19 at-bats. 

At the moment, there’s no way the Giants can think about removing Williamson from left field. If anything, Bochy needs to ponder moving him up in the order. 

“We’ve talked about what a shot in the arm he’s been,” Bochy said. “It’s been fun to watch. Good for him, because he’s worked hard at it.”

Williamson’s offseason mechanical adjustments are well chronicled at this point. But the key Tuesday may have been the confidence that comes with making changes that click. In the past, coaches have been frustrated by an occasional lack of aggression in big spots. When Williamson came up with two outs in the sixth, he got a first-pitch curveball from Tanner Roark and smoked it towards the batter’s eye. 

“Now his confidence is so high,” Bochy said. “He’s up here and having success here against good pitching. It’s something we need, a guy who can provide offense and power, and he’s more than done that.”

Williamson was not alone on this night. Brandon Belt, who recently made a swing adjustment of his own, homered for the fifth time in six games. Ty Blach overcame a bout of food poisoning that cost him nine pounds over the weekend and managed to give Bochy five innings. Reyes Moronta went two and got his first career win. Sam Dyson, relegated to mop-up duty early in the year, induced a big double play to get out of the eighth. Hunter Strickland shut it down for a second consecutive night. 

The end result is a team that is now rolling. The Giants have taken back-to-back series from the Angels and Nationals. They are hitting for power and continue to pitch well. They’ll have their hands full Wednesday when they go up against Max Scherzer, but they have a new secret weapon, and Williamson hopes to be up for the task. He said he’s sure he’ll be sore once the adrenaline wears off, but he did not sound like a player who will need a day off. Any issues he had as he got up from the brutal-looking collision were not related to the bruise on his elbow or tweak to his calf. 

“I was just a little frustrated that I didn’t come up with the play, to be honest,” he said. “I had it in my glove.”

He more than made up for it an inning later. 

What happens to Williamson when Pence returns? Bochy addresses issue

macpenceusatsap.jpg
USATSI/AP

What happens to Williamson when Pence returns? Bochy addresses issue

SAN FRANCISCO — The outfielders met on the field before batting practice Tuesday to do some extra throwing, and in left field Mac Williamson and Hunter Pence stood side by side. That’s fine at 4:15 p.m., but how will it work when Pence is healthy and both are eligible to play left?

“We’ll cross that bridge when Hunter is ready and we think he’s ready,” Bochy said. “They always tell you it’s a good problem, so hopefully we have a good problem here.”

Pence took early BP and later joined in with the regular session, and his thumb is said to be feeling good. He’ll be eligible to start a rehab assignment before the end of the homestand and Bochy said he would need a few games in San Jose or Sacramento. 

After that … it gets complicated. 

The issue isn’t as much about playing them both as it is about fitting both on the roster. Williamson has two monstrous homers in four starts and anything close to that production will keep him around. The Giants are in desperate need of that kind of game-changing talent. Pence was batting .172 at the time he was put on the disabled list with no homers. 

Austin Jackson is batting just .211 and was out of the leadoff spot Monday, but he was brought in as the starting center fielder and his problems don’t appear to be health-related. Gregor Blanco has a .817 OPS and is leading off against some right-handers. Gorkys Hernandez has a .708 OPS in limited time and Bochy likes his versatility as a defensive replacement. 

Throw in Andrew McCutchen and that’s six outfielders for five spots, and the Giants are not going to keep six outfielders on the active roster. These things often sort themselves out, and there’s some time before Pence is back and done with his rehab assignment, but an awkward situation doesn’t appear to be clearing anytime soon.