Giants

With future up in the air, Hunter Pence making the most of rehab assignment

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USATSI

With future up in the air, Hunter Pence making the most of rehab assignment

SACRAMENTO -- The scene at Raley Field on Saturday afternoon was a bit of a surreal one. After every round of batting practice at the minor league park, Hunter Pence would step a few feet from the cage and chat with Madison Bumgarner. 

Both have helped the Giants to multiple championships. Both are beloved in the city of San Francisco. Both are on rehab assignments. But right now, their situations could not be more different. 

Bumgarner was in Sacramento for the start of what will be a short rehab assignment. Pence is finishing up the second week of a second stint with the River Cats, and it's unclear what the Giants will do. They have six days to make a decision, whether that's calling Pence up, releasing him, or perhaps talking to him about staying in the minors a bit longer.

The third conversation has not been had yet. It probably doesn't matter, anyway. It's clear where Pence would like to be.

"I'm ready to play right now," Pence said. "This is where they want me right now, apparently, and so I'm going to go play as hard as I can where they want me."

There was never any doubt that Pence would do that, and teammates here say he has handled this potentially awkward assignment better than anyone else could. He has been a mentor for younger players, many of whom have come through minor league camp the past two seasons. Pence smiled his way through a pre-game workout Saturday and he has been a regular on the autograph line. He also has not taken this rehab stint for granted.

When Pence and the Giants decided to pause a previous assignment on May 6, he didn't just sit around and wait for his thumb to heal. He flew to Los Angeles for a few days and spent time with Doug Latta, a private instructor who overhauled Justin Turner's swing and has now found success with Mac Williamson.

"I'm very happy with it. I feel a lot better at the plate," Pence said. "I always think you've always got to adjust and improve."

The early results are promising. Pence is 20-for-54 since returning, with three doubles and a grand slam. He is standing more upright, with his hands a bit more relaxed, but the big stride and powerful swing remain. As Pence described it, "it's still me."

"I still haven't mastered it," he said. "I'm still improving every day, but I feel a lot better at the plate each day. Since the adjustment, I have a really good idea of what I want to do and I've felt way better."

Now, it's up to the front office to decide how they feel. There have been no indications that a decision is close, but players at two levels are watching. Mac Williamson is the everyday left fielder in the big leagues, but down here, you'll find plenty who believe Pence at the very least deserves another shot on the roster. Pence won't ruffle any feathers. But he would like another run. That's why he flew down to Los Angeles.

"I want to learn everything I can to be the best player I can to help us win," he said. "The ultimate goal is to win the World Series, and you've got to be the best player you can to do that."

Pence the hero with walk-off single vs Padres

Pence the hero with walk-off single vs Padres

BOX SCORE

 

SAN FRANCISCO -- Hunter Pence hit a two-run double down the first-base line with the bases loaded and one out in the 11th inning, sending the San Francisco Giants past the San Diego Padres 3-2 on Sunday.

Brad Hand (1-4) got in trouble fast. He allowed Andrew McCutchen's one-out double, then intentionally walked Buster Posey and hit Brandon Crawford with his first offering. Pence followed with his 11th career walk-off hit and first since another against Hand two years ago. Pence raised his arms once the ball got past first baseman Eric Hosmer.

Cory Spangenberg had put San Diego ahead in the top of the 11th with a single.

The Giants' rally spoiled a chance for victory by journeyman reliever Robert Stock in his long-awaited major league debut at age 28. He worked out of a tough spot in the 10th after a call-up earlier in the day from Triple-A El Paso.

Manuel Margot led off the game with a home run, and drew a leadoff walk in the 11th from San Francisco reliever Reyes Moronta. After Ty Blach (5-5) relieved, Spangenberg singled off first baseman Brandon Belt's glove.

A solo homer by each team was it until the 11th.

Joe Panik doubled leading off the 10th before Stock retired the side with a pair of strikeouts.

Belt hit a two-out double in the eighth against Kirby Yates. Padres right fielder Hunter Renfroe made a magnificent catch in foul territory on McCutchen's flyball, rolling into the first row of fans after the grab.

Posey doubled and singled for the Giants, who concluded a stretch of 17 straight games without a break.

Margot began the game with a 3-2 drive into the left-field bleachers for his second homer of the year. It was his fifth career leadoff home run after hitting four last season. The Giants tied it on a leadoff homer by Gorkys Hernandez in the sixth, his ninth after none in 2017.

McCutchen's one-out single in the fourth was the Giants' first hit off Padres starter Eric Lauer.

Giants rookie Dereck Rodriguez stuck out six and walked one over seven innings, allowing one run on four hits in his fifth major league start and third at home - where he remains unbeaten.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Padres: Travis Jankowski was a late scratch with left quadriceps soreness and Matt Szczur replaced him in left field. ... C Austin Hedges went hitless in his return from the disabled list. He was activated and started, batting seventh, after being sidelined since May 1 with tendinitis in his right elbow. ... RHP Jordan Lyles, scratched in the bottom of the first Saturday just before his scheduled start, was placed on the DL retroactive to Thursday with inflammation in his pitching elbow. He will go home to San Diego and be examined Monday but the injury isn't considered serious - there is believed to be no structural damage - and as of now the training staff didn't plan to do any additional exams, though manager Andy Green acknowledged that could change.

Giants: Manager Bruce Bochy is encouraged by RHP Johnny Cueto's first rehab outing as he works back from a sprained pitching elbow. Cueto went 3 2-3 scoreless innings throwing 38 pitches with no walks for Triple-A Sacramento on Saturday and rejoined the Giants on Sunday for a bullpen session. The plan is for another off the mound in five days and likely two more rehab starts, and the next could be with Class A San Jose. "Right now he feels great," Bochy said.

UP NEXT

Padres: LHP Joey Lucchesi (3-3, 3.86 ERA) takes the mound for the series opener at Texas, making his second start since returning from the DL for a right hip strain.

Giants: Following their first off day since June 7 on Monday, LHP Derek Holland (5-7, 4.48) will pitch Tuesday night against Colorado looking to win back-to-back outings for the first time in 2018.

Crawford does the heavy lifting, and the little things, in Giants win

Crawford does the heavy lifting, and the little things, in Giants win

SAN FRANCISCO — Quietly, Brandon Crawford spent much of his day saving teammates.

When Nick Hundley’s throw down to second in the fifth inning drifted, Crawford deftly moved a few feet off the bag, grabbed the ball and placed a nifty tag down on Manuel Margot to erase a runner in scoring position. In the seventh, Pablo Sandoval had trouble finding a two-out pop-up into the midday sun. Crawford, his glove shielding his eyes, kept creeping and creeping until he was standing in Sandoval’s place at third, and he gloved the ball to end the inning. An inning later, Tony Watson got what looked like a double-play ball back to the mound, but his throw to second was low. Crawford did well to scoop it, getting the lead runner out on a force play. 

Then there were the contributions that were impossible to miss. 

Crawford broke an 0-for-18 mini-skid with a scorched triple off the wall in the fourth inning. That brought Andrew McCutchen home with the game-tying run. Two innings later, the likely All-Star starter went the opposite way for a two-run double that would hold up in a 5-3 win over San Diego. 

On many days, Crawford might weigh the offensive and defensive contributions equally. But when you’re riding a mini slump … 

“I always want to make plays out there for sure, but when you’re 0-for…I don’t even know, I’m not going to lie, the triple and doubles felt better today,” he said, smiling. 

They were sorely needed, too. The Giants were caught off-guard when Jordan Lyles was a late scratch with elbow tightness, and they struggled against hard-throwing lefty Matt Strahm until Crawford broke through. He said he had seen signs in recent days that his swing from May and early June was returning.

“You just know him. You know it’s a matter of time,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “What a great game, and we needed it. We needed someone to come through. This guy was throwing well…when you’re in a game like this you need someone to deliver and Craw did it.”

The contributions backed Andrew Suarez, who continues to get better and better and show signs of his maturity on the mound. Suarez discovered early that his slider had abandoned him, so he teamed up with catcher Nick Hundley to go sinker-changeup heavy. That led to three double plays in the first four innings. 

Crawford was in the middle of those, and so much that went right on this day. But he’s a bit of a perfectionist, and the ending of this one stuck with him. Crawford was one of three Giants who couldn’t get under a high pop-up to center in the ninth that dropped for a sun-aided double. His throwing error on a tough roller led to some anxiety as the Padres tried to come back. 

“It’s frustrating, I’m not going to lie,” he said. “I’ve always said I try to not take at-bats to defense of defense to at-bats. I try to separate things. Obviously I want to go 3-for-3 any day but I wanted to make those plays.”

They were minor blips on a day that otherwise showed all the reasons why Crawford very likely will be starting for the National League All-Star team next month, and they won’t cost him any sleep. Not during a week when his wife gave birth to the couple’s fourth child, a second Crawford son. 

“A little tiring for a couple of days,” Crawford said of his week, “But they’re still in Arizona, so I’m getting good sleep right now.”