Hunter Pence

Giants enter offseason 'very concerned' about their defense

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USATI

Giants enter offseason 'very concerned' about their defense

SAN FRANCISCO — Brian Sabean knew in March that his team had some issues. By May, he knew that the deficit was mathematically overwhelming. In September, he watched the Giants stumble to the finish line and finish in last place in the National League West. 

On the third day of October, Sabean — having watched all that — sent a passionate message to the fans.

“We had a last-place season. That can happen in sports, just like you have a lost year in life,” he said. “But we’re not last-place people and we’re not a last-place organization. We’re the furthest thing from that … This isn’t a ‘blow it up,’ this isn’t a rebuild. We hope it’s a reset. 

“Now, what it’s going to take and how that plays out to go from where we finished to being competitive to a playoff team, that’s incumbent on all of us to figure out. That’s been going on for months. The autopsy has been going on for months. I don’t know how much more we can tolerate knowing that the patient got sick and why it got sick. Fortunately, it didn’t die.”

At times Tuesday, the four men on a podium at AT&T Park looked like they had witnessed a death. This was not the press conference they wanted to be giving, in part because of the date. Sabean, Larry Baer, Bobby Evans and Bruce Bochy sum up every season from that podium, but it’s rare that they’re doing so before the first playoff game. Never have they had to do so after such a wildly disappointing run. 

There were few details, because it’s too soon to give details. Any coaching changes will be announced later, and the roster is healthy heading into the offseason, for the most part. While the Giants have spent months formulating an offseason plan, tampering laws exist and they’re also just not sure which players might be available. 

There was a general outline, though, and you didn’t have to read between the lines much. The clear priority is fixing the outfield defense, with the thought that doing so would have a cascading effect. The outfield was worth negative 45 defensive runs saved, per the Fielding Bible, a distant last in the majors. The A’s were 29th at negative 32. The Dodgers, by comparison, saved 14 runs in their outfield, per that metric. 

The eye test matches the numbers, and the Giants believe a change in center field can lead to much better results for a pitching staff that disappointed in 2017. Denard Span is preparing to move to left field, and team executives hinted Tuesday that they could also make a move in right and perhaps limit Hunter Pence’s playing time if there’s a complete outfield overhaul.

“Defense is something we’re very concerned about,” Evans said. “It’s one of the ways we can help support our pitching, and it’s important we support our pitching with excellent defense. We struggled in that area this year.”

The Giants have a list of defensive-minded outfielders they will pursue, and the focus is on trades, not free agency. They’re not thought to be big fans of players like Lorenzo Cain, who is 31. The focus is on getting younger and more athletic, and hopefully finding a center fielder who would be under team control for several years. 

In a perfect world, the Giants would add right-handed power with their new outfielder. It may be tough to do otherwise, although Evans joked Tuesday that the team might get Madison Bumgarner more at-bats next year. While Bochy would love a masher to take over the cleanup spot and protect Buster Posey, team executives were vague about that pursuit on Tuesday. 

They did not, however, waffle on how much work is to be done. 

“We can’t come back next season with the same roster and expect different results,” Evans said. 

Giants lineup: Pence leading off to start final series of 2017 season

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USATSI

Giants lineup: Pence leading off to start final series of 2017 season

The Giants start their last series this season Friday night in front of their home fans against the Padres. Here's Bruce Bochy's nine.

San Diego Padres (70-89)

1. Manuel Margot (R) CF
2. Carlos Asuaje (L) 2B
3. Wil Myers (R) 1B
4. Yangervis Solarte (S) SS
5. Cory Spangenberg (L) 3B
6. Hunter Renfroe (R) RF
7. Travis Jankowski (L) LF
8. Austin Hedges (R) C
9. Jordan Lyles (R) P

San Francisco Giants (62-97)

1. Hunter Pence (R) RF
2. Joe Panik (L) 2B
3. Denard Span (L) CF
4. Buster Posey (R) 1B
5. Brandon Crawford (L) SS
6. Pablo Sandoval (S) 3B
7. Jarrett Parker (L) LF
8. Nick Hundley (R) C
9. Chris Stratton (R) P

Johnny Cueto slowed Hunter Pence down, but the Rockies couldn't

Johnny Cueto slowed Hunter Pence down, but the Rockies couldn't

SAN FRANCISCO — Hunter Pence walked into the dugout 30 minutes before Tuesday’s game, slid his bat into the rack, and smiled. 

“I’m hitting leadoff tonight,” he said, noting that it’s a spot for speedsters. 

On this night, it was a spot that was slowed down. Pence kept the bat steady on a couple of big swings that led the Giants to a 4-3 win. He accompanied that with a home run jog that was one of the comedic highlights in a season sorely lacking them. 

Pence’s fifth-inning blast to dead center was the go-ahead shot at the time, and Pence made his usual quick trip around first and second. When he approached third, he was confronted by a strange sight. Johnny Cueto, who had singled, turned and held his hand up. The two hit the bag a few feet apart, and Cueto practically walked home. He took 13 seconds to go the final 90 feet, and Pence — once nicknamed Full Throttle by his manager — had no choice but to follow in a power-walk of his own. 

“I was like, ‘I’m not the starting pitcher.’ They expend a lot of energy — every pitch is like a sprint,” Pence said. “You’ve got to take it easy if they tell you to take it easy.”

Pence has 218 career homers. He said this was the slowest jog of his career, and that’s exactly what Cueto wanted. 

“Obviously I was very happy when he hit the home run, and I just kept telling him to go ahead and slow down and enjoy the homer, because you're always running so fast,” Cueto said through interpreter Erwin Higueros. 

The home run power-walk was a funny moment, but it was also instructive. Pence brings the same energy and enjoyable attitude every day. In Cueto, his neighbor in the clubhouse, he has found a similar player. He said he’s hopeful that Cueto returns next season — as is expected — and noted that it’s a positive trait to have fun in this kind of season. 

“That’s imperative and it’s extremely important to keep that passion,” Pence said. “It’s not just about the standings. We love competing.”

Cueto showed his own fire by getting a lead into the seventh despite a soaring early pitch count. When Hunter Strickland coughed it up in the eighth, the Giants bounced right back. Pence ended the night with a sacrifice fly to center with the bases loaded. That capped a big night for him, one that left him smiling from start to finish. 

“It’s always a good time when you’re hitting a homer,” he said. 

Perhaps that’s why Cueto forced him to soak it all in.