SAN FRANCISCO — The Giants brought Michael Morse back in part because they felt the clubhouse needed an infusion of life. Pablo Sandoval’s return was also spurred by that search for energy, for that unidentifiable factor that can make the the sum greater than the parts.
The real answer, though, has been on the roster all along. Throughout a terrible, dragging season, teammates have quietly pointed to Nick Hundley as a heartbeat, a daily source of energy and enthusiasm.
The backup catcher is Hunter Pence Light when it comes to positivity, even in a year such as this one. Hundley can hit, too, and he showed his power stroke off in the 10th inning Saturday. On a day when the Giants looked headed for a one-hit loss, Hundley smoked a pitch into the arcade section for the second walk-off homer of his career. The 2-1 win set off a celebration at home plate filled with splashes of water and Powerade, as players happily embraced a soak on a day when temperatures soared past 100 degrees.
Hundley changed his shirt before talking to reporters. When one asked if he had cleared that high wall in right before, he smiled.
“Yeah,” he said flatly. “About 20 minutes ago.”
Hundley can keep a group light, but the Giants like him for more than his clubhouse demeanor. He is a seasoned pro, and after Saturday’s game he said it hasn’t been hard to stay ready, noting that he owes it to Buster Posey to fill in ably, and the Giants owe it to the rest of the National League to play hard down the stretch.
Hundley’s on-field contributions have stood out all year. He has a .723 OPS and six homers in limited time. He ranks fifth on the club with 22 doubles.
“He’s a pleasure to have on the club,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “His energy, his enthusiasm, the talent. He brings a lot of experience into every game. It’s allowed me to rest Buster more and he’s a threat up there. It’s been fun to have him here.”
The question now: Will Hundley be back?
He signed a one-year, $2 million deal at the end of January and has more than exceeded expectations. The organization’s best catching prospect, Aramis Garcia, only just recently reached Double-A, so it would make sense to give Hundley another whirl, especially with some uncertainty about what might happen down the line with Brandon Belt, and how that might affect Posey’s playing time mix. Of course, there's a chance someone out there might look at Hundley as an everyday catcher, or someone who can split time with a younger backstop.
Hundley said the question is “a futuristic” one.
“I’ll talk about it when the time comes,” Hundley said. “Those questions, I don’t answer (right now).”
“I love these guys,” Hundley said. “The people in this clubhouse are winners. It hasn’t been the best year, but these guys are great to come to work with and play with.”
If the Giants are intent on trying to contend next year, bringing Hundley back would be a smart move. On Saturday, he allowed the group to have some fun on a day when it looked like Jeff Samardzija’s gem would be wasted. He allowed one run through seven, but Lance Lynn was a bit sharper, throwing eight one-hit innings. Lynn was at just 101 pitches, but Mike Matheny turned to the bullpen and it cost him. About 20 minutes later, Hundley walked it off. The Giants are happy with any win at this point, but players took a bit more from it coming from such a popular teammate.
“He’s one of the best (teammates) I’ve ever had,” Samardzija said. “You like to see it happen to a guy like that.”