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Hunter Pence Q&A: Outfielder shares changes, openness to rejoining Giants

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Hunter Pence Q&A: Outfielder shares changes, openness to rejoining Giants

Hunter Pence said goodbye to the Giants and their fans on Sept. 30 before riding off into the sunset on a scooter. And despite the very Pence-like exit, he said he wasn't retiring.

He headed to the Dominican Republic on Wednesday for winter ball, to test out new mental and physical approaches in the hopes he'll have one more shot at the game he loves.

Pence stopped by the NBC Sports Bay Area newsroom Tuesday to discuss his new swing, the changes in baseball and what he's been up to since his possible last day in a Giants uniform.

NBC Sports Bay Area: You've been working on some stuff to prepare to travel to the DR as far as your swing. You've been working with Doug Latta -- what did you work with him on specifically?

Pence: He just has this philosophy that allows you to leverage your body better. Hitting has always been the same thing -- getting along through the zone, creating angles that work to your advantage, but what we didn't know is that it's actually kind of backwards with what we've always thought. There are many ways to succeed in hitting so I don't know if it's the only, ultimate way.

Hitting is like chasing a ghost. He has a lot of things that help you get into a good position to be as efficient as you can -- which you need every bit of that that you can, dealing with the way pitchers have kind of adjusted throughout the years.

In regard to adjusting to the way the game is played, what's the biggest change over the years?

I don't know if it's the training or what, but pitchers are just throwing harder and they have a lot more movement in all different directions. It's just the nature -- the game is evolving, and so hitting has to evolve as well, and I think some of the new-school stuff -- they say 'launch angle,' but Doug isn't really creating launch angle, he's more about using your body efficiently and being long through the zone.

Ted Williams actually said that in his book, and nobody really paid attention to it. He called it an upswing, because the pitcher’s throwing down, and what he meant to say was an uppercut, which I was never taught to do -- I was always taught to swing down. I think a lot of hitters kind of figured it out or maybe even “feel versus real” doing an uppercut. I feel like Prince Fielder did it really well, Barry Bonds definitely came through that way with the top hand. And it’s really a lot of that. It’s just redirecting my swing, learning a bit of change in the body for shoulders.

Was that difficult for you to change?

Yeah. It just takes time. I wouldn’t say it was difficult. It just takes practice and a lot of work. 

I know you’re working on your running, too. What has your body been changing? We love to watch you run. I’m just curious what you’ve done.

It’s not like how you would think. It’s actually going to look worse [laughs]. I don’t know how to explain it -- I haven’t even mastered it. I have in regard to getting a lead, and finding ways to get back and just that initial couple steps.

David Weck is the guy who is pushing it. It’s like head over foot, so your head kind of goes down and there’s a weird kind of double-down pulse. It’s a lot.

Beyond physically, what have you been working on mentally?

I’m always working on that. Just constantly meditating, reading, listening to YouTubes, podcasts … The mental part is everything to me. 

Have any teams reached out to you?

Yeah, a couple teams have reached out. I’m not going to really discuss who, but I’m really open -- I want a chance to play, a chance to win. I want to make sure that I’m making an impact -- that’s a big reason why I’m going to the Dominican and bringing this change. I love the game, and I would love to play to win a World Series -- and that’s my whole goal -- to be a contributor and help a team chase a division title, a World Series title, and if I can make that adjustment [in hitting and running], then that's what I aim to do. 

Since your last game at AT&T Park, with the scooter, how has the San Francisco community embraced you?  

I’ve been so lucky to have such a great relationship with the community here in San Francisco with the fans and to be supported so well. Really, I’ve just loved every minute of being a part of this organization and the city. It takes my breath away every day I see it. Just walking through the city, the interactions with different people walking by, saying hello, taking pictures. It’s just a great time, and I’m very thankful for it.

Would you be open to coming back to the Giants?

Oh, I’m very open to coming back -- absolutely. I love it here, and I told Larry [Baer] you know, send your scouts to come watch [in the Dominican]. I’m going to make this change, and he said, “We will definitely be checking in.” I haven’t heard from them yet -- a couple of other teams. But I know [the Giants] are changing GMs and all of that, so we will see.

But hopefully I can go make some noise and really put all of this work that I’ve put in together and go chase that World Series title.

And you’re feeling good? Everything is good?

Oh yeah, I’m extremely healthy, feeling great and just eager, enthusiastic and excited. I’m actually really glad I get the opportunity to go visit the Dominican Republic because I have so many great teammates from there, and it’s just going to be a wonderful experience.

What's behind Giants' four catcher's interference calls in 18 games?

What's behind Giants' four catcher's interference calls in 18 games?

The Giants knew they would miss Buster Posey's approach at the plate, his arm behind it, his framing and his leadership on and off the field. 

When Posey opted out of the 2020 season after a week of Summer Camp, he left huge spikes to fill, and the front office and new coaching staff knew it couldn't be done. 

But they never really could have anticipated having such issues with one aspect of the position that normally isn't a huge problem at the big league level. When Chadwick Tromp clipped Josh Reddick's bat with his outstretched glove in the third inning of a 6-4 loss, it was the fourth catcher's interference call on the Giants in 18 games. 

To put that into perspective, Posey has three ... in his entire career.

Posey has been called for catcher's interference just one time over the past six seasons, including none last year, when the Giants had just one. The first three this year were called on Tyler Heineman, but the one on Tromp was especially costly. It wiped the second out -- Reddick grounded out softly -- off the board for Logan Webb with the Giants trailing just 1-0. The Astros would end up scoring four runs in the inning.

[BALK TALK: Listen to the latest episode]
 

After Heineman's second one over the course of the first week, Kapler said the staff had asked the rookie to get closer to the plate for guys with big 12-6 breaking balls. But Kevin Gausman -- who had the third one called during his start in Denver -- doesn't fit that description, and neither does Webb. The issue on Monday was something else, Kapler said. 

"It's a little different with the runner in motion there. One of the adjustments (Tromp) has made has been to get his momentum going through the baseball and I think, witnessing the whole field, he probably got a little bit anxious and went out to get that ball a little bit too soon," Kapler said. "Reddcik has a tendency to lay the bat into the zone pretty early and extend so those two things lined up and he just clipped the glove."

Tromp explained it similarly. 

"My momentum took me to the ball and I think that combined with Reddick, I think he has like a long swing, and I think those two played a factor," he said. "Bad timing. I felt horrible, but that's just kind of what happened. My momentum took me into the throw, and it's just unfortunate."

If this feels like a bizarre mistake for a team to keep making, it's because it is. The Diamondbacks and Cubs led the majors last year with six catcher's interference calls in 162 games. The Giants have four in 18 games, while the other 29 teams entered play Monday with five combined. 

Asked a second question about the trend, Kapler shifted the focus. 

"I just really want to keep this as a team thing. We win as a team, we lose as a team, we stick together as a team. We make a comeback tonight against a rough reliever as a team," he said. "As a team, I think the fewer mistakes we make, the quicker we can clean up those mistakes, the more likely it is those comebacks turn into wins and not just valiant efforts."

[RELATED: Krukow believes Astros getting "free pass" this season]

As a team, the Giants have 21 errors, four more than any other team in the big leagues. They had three on Monday and should have had a fourth. Donovan Solano's whiff of the leadoff grounder in that third inning was ruled a single and got the whole thing started. 

It's surprising that the Giants , who had two encouraging camps, have kicked the ball around so often. It's also costing them wins in a season where every game is the equivalent of 2.7. The lineup scored three runs in the ninth, but too much damage had been done with the early sloppiness. 

Giants takeaways: What you might have missed in 6-4 loss to Astros

Giants takeaways: What you might have missed in 6-4 loss to Astros

BOX SCORE

The Giants have gone all-in on advanced stats, and for good reason. But sometimes you can describe a performance in the most old-school way possible and say everything you need to do. 

Through eight innings Monday night in Houston, the Giants had three errors and just two hits. There's all you need to know. 

A rally in the ninth put the tying run on first, but the hole was too deep and the Giants lost 6-4 to the Astros. This was yet another ugly performance for a team that leads the majors with 21 errors, and the lineup flirted with a no-hitter for a couple hours.

Here are three things to know from the night the Giants fell to 2-6 on the road trip ... 

Deserved Far Better

The frustration showed on Logan Webb's face throughout the third inning, and you can't blame him. Webb needed 36 pitches to get out of the frame and gave up four runs, through little fault of his own. The young right-hander got six outs, but one grounder was booted, another was wiped away by a catcher's interference (the fourth of the year by the Giants, incredibly) and a third was thrown away. 

Only two of the five runs Webb gave up were earned, meaning he has allowed just five earned in four starts this year. He's off to a good start. It would be much better if he had a functional defense behind him.

[BALK TALK: Listen to the latest episode]

No Backup Plan

Donovan Solano made a couple of errors at third base, and he also whiffed on Jose Altuve's grounder that was ruled a single but had a hit probability of just four percent. Solano was starting because manager Gabe Kapler wanted to give Evan Longoria a day off, but as good as he has been at the plate this year, he is miscast at the hot corner. 

The problem for the Giants is that Wilmer Flores doesn't look like he can really play there, either, and Pablo Sandoval doesn't seem like an option. Longoria is close to an everyday player, but the Giants don't really have a good alternative when they want to give him a breather. It might be worth a shot to move Mauricio Dubon over there and let Solano and Flores stay at second base.

[RELATED: Krukow believes Astros getting "free pass" this season]

Slater Tater 

Austin Slater hit a solo shot in the eighth to get the Giants on the board. It was his third homer in three days and came on a 96 mph fastball from right-handed reliever Josh James. 

The Giants didn't have a hit against McCullers until Solano pulled a double past Alex Bregman's glove with one out in the seventh. The hit gave Solano a 15-game hitting streak, the longest by a Giant since Angel Pagan went 19 games in 2016. He later added a second double.