SAN FRANCISCO — For the first time since 1993, the Giants entered the All-Star break with the best record in baseball. They expect to get even stronger soon after the four-day break this week.
Hunter Pence could start a rehab assignment in about a week, manager Bruce Bochy said before Sunday’s game, and he should be back in the big leagues by the end of the month. Bochy said the current timetable has him “really close” to returning on the next homestand. The Giants visit San Diego, Boston and New York right out of the break and return home July 25 to host the Reds.
“We’re seeing the light at the end of the tunnel with Hunter,” Bochy said.
Pence had hamstring surgery on June 9 and was expected to miss six-to-eight weeks. A return July 25 would put him at the front end of that estimate. Pence took BP with the rest of the team Sunday and ran sprints at 80 percent effort.
The Giants should get another key bat back before the next homestand. Second baseman Joe Panik (concussion) has shown significant improvement the last couple days and may be playing minor league games before the end of this week. He could join the Giants in Boston or New York. Panik will stay in San Francisco during the break to continue his rehab work.
The other missing starter, Matt Duffy, is a bit further away. Duffy (Achilles) has taken a break from running because he felt some soreness, but he’ll test his leg out on Monday. Like Panik, he's sticking around during the break to work with trainers.
“We’re hopeful that when he tests it out he’ll turn the corner,” Bochy said.
Duffy and the Giants are committed to being cautious with this one, knowing that other players who dealt with similar Achilles issues have rushed back and suffered a rupture. With a 6 1/2 game lead in the West they can afford to play it a bit slow, and Bochy is hoping that any extra rest now leads to big things in August and September.
“They should have fresh legs, they should be stronger,” Bochy said of the returning players. “It’s a grind of a season. To go 162 games — Hunter did it a few years ago — but it’s become near-impossible.”
--- Cory Gearrin said he’s already seeing improvement in his sore pitching shoulder and the current plan is to have him back on the roster when his 15 days on the DL are up. Gearrin may not need a rehab assignment and he already has talked to the staff about just throwing a couple of bullpen sessions. Because the Giants are going to be on the East Coast, it wouldn’t be as simple as driving him down to San Jose for a night or two.
Gearrin said he had similar tendinitis when he was pitching for the Braves a few years back.
“Being a younger guy, I tried to pitch through it,” he said. “This time the timing is kind of nice. You’re going on the 15-day DL right at the All-Star break, but we had a day off Thursday and we have two on the next trip, so you’re maybe only missing (a few) games.”
Gearrin had a 2.16 ERA before his final five appearances, and Bochy thought the shoulder injury was keeping him from throwing good sliders during that stretch. So, his return should be a solid boost to the bullpen. Having a healthy Gearrin in the seventh and Sergio Romo in the eighth is a nice luxury.
--- Kelby Tomlinson was optioned to Triple-A late Sunday night, ending his rehab assignment. Tomlinson has just two hits in 25 at-bats for the River Cats while recovering from a thumb injury, but this might have been the move regardless of his play. Grant Green and Ramiro Pena are out of options, and the Giants don't want to expose them to waivers. If Green and Pena keep playing well, it's possible Tomlinson is in the minors until Sept. 1.
Ehire Adriana is also out of options, which is probably the main reason why he hasn't started a rehab assignment yet. There will be a serious roster crunch when Panik and Duffy return to the active roster.
--- Brandon Crawford seemed to be on his own personal “I Should Have Been An All-Star” destruction tour all week. In the five games after the teams were announced (and he was snubbed) Crawford had eight hits and drove in eight runs. He entered the break with a team-high 61 RBI.
“I feel good at the plate,” he said. “The RBI numbers really have a lot to do with guys getting on in front of me.”
Crawford pointed out that he has driven in that many runs despite having only nine homers. Then he nodded toward Buster Posey’s locker.
“Speedy over there scores from first a lot,” he said.