Hunter Pence

Not ready for major moves, Giants swap one young outfielder for another

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AP

Not ready for major moves, Giants swap one young outfielder for another

SAN FRANCISCO — Here’s all you need to know about the current situation in left field, an ongoing black hole for the Giants for years on end: Alen Hanson, a utility infielder, has gotten two of the last three starts there, and that could be the norm for a while. 

The Giants made an outfield move Saturday morning, but it was not one that will particularly shake things up. This was more about kicking a painful decision down the road. Mac Williamson, who was struggling since returning from a concussion, was optioned back to Triple-A. Austin Slater, who was hitting .344 at that level with 24 doubles and five homers, was recalled, but he will not get an everyday look. 

Manager Bruce Bochy said Hunter Pence likely will start in left on Sunday and indicated that Hanson will get additional time there as the Giants try to take advantage of one of their hottest bats. There are no indications that the team is ready to make a more serious move, such as parting ways with Pence — who has a .463 OPS — or Austin Jackson, who is at .603. 

“These guys have had success in the major leagues,” Bochy said. “It could be a game or two that everything clicks.”

Pence is a fan favorite who is in the last year of a lucrative deal, and Jackson is not even a quarter of the way through a two-year deal. Both were relegated to backup duty recently by Gorkys Hernandez and Williamson, but the latter had seen his OPS drop to .516 after hitting three homers before his concussion. 

“We just want Mac to get back to playing every day and get his swing back to where it was when we brought him up earlier before his concussion,” Bochy said. “

Williamson has a 1.525 OPS in two minor league stints this season. If he can recapture any of that magic, made possible by an offseason swing overhaul, perhaps the Giants will come to terms with the situation at the big league level. For now, they will continue to roll with veterans, hoping that they break out. Bochy said Pence and Jackson are working hard every day to contribute in limited roles. 

“I know how hard this game can be when you’re not playing every day,” he said. 

The problem is that that is the role. The Giants need their backup outfielders to produce as pinch-hitters, but Jackson is 2-for-15 off the bench and Pence is 1-for-10. Slater, with his simple swing and gap power, could be intriguing in that role, and perhaps he’ll stick. For now, he appears to be the only reinforcement coming. Bochy said there have been no discussions about promoting Steven Duggar. 

Brian Sabean: Giants 'willing to experiment' with Alen Hanson in left field

Brian Sabean: Giants 'willing to experiment' with Alen Hanson in left field

The Giants have been up and down this season battling a devastating injury bug. Going into Saturday's slate of games, they're 34-36, good for fourth in the NL West and 5.5 games back of the D'backs.

One part of their roster they still can't figure out, just like in years past ever since moving on from Barry Bonds, is left field. Brian Sabean, Giants Executive VP of Baseball Operations, called left field a "black hole" Friday on KNBR.

The latest piece to the never-ending puzzle in left field may be placing an infielder in left field not named Brandon Belt. 

"Absolutely not afraid in a big moment," Sabean said when asked about the emergence of Alen Hanson. "For us, it might be worth a swing in left field, which we're willing to experiment with." 

Hanson has been a big surprise this season after the Giants signed him in December to a minor-league deal. In 27 games, the switch-hitting 25-year-old is batting .320 with a career-high five home runs. With runners in scoring position, Hanson is batting .333 with two home runs and a 1.137 OPS. 

As the Giants lose third baseman Evan Longoria to a fractured left hand, the plan is to use Pablo Sandoval and Hanson at third base. But Hanson has the speed for outfield and has played 20 games in right field and 10 in left over his three-year career in the majors. This season with the Giants, he has played three innings in left field.

The Giants have struggled yet again in left field this season. Hunter Pence is batting below the Mendoza Line at .188 in 28 games and Mac Williamson hasn't recovered well at the plate since his concussion.

After dominating Triple-A, Williamson came up and exploded for three home runs in five games in April. Williamson collided with a wall on April 24 and hasn't been the same since. He is now batting .240 on the year with four home runs. In June, Williamson is batting .182. 

With no one team taking full control of the NL West, the Giants know they need to find any ways of getting their best bats in the lineup, even if that means giving Hanson a bigger glove. 

Whirlwind of Giants roster moves has only just begun

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USATSI

Whirlwind of Giants roster moves has only just begun

SAN FRANCISCO -- There were two new players in the clubhouse on Friday, and the shuffle is only just beginning. 

Joe Panik was activated to play second base, with Kelby Tomlinson optioned back to the minors. Mark Melancon will be activated when the Giants clear a 40-man roster spot; they already cleared an active roster spot by optioning Tyler Beede back to the minors on Wednesday night. 

On Saturday, Hunter Pence will return after a lengthy stint to let his thumb heal and overhaul his swing. The Giants will have to make another move, and it's possible that they'll have to cut Gregor Blanco or place Blanco or Austin Jackson on the DL. But that's not all ... 

Madison Bumgarner was confirmed as Tuesday's starter, and both 25-man and 40-man roster moves will be needed for that one. Alen Hanson is out of options and at some point the Giants will need to clear a spot for him, too. 

It's a whirlwind, and the staff is currently trying to decide which hard decisions to make. They are also shifting roles. While Panik slid right back into the leadoff spot, manager Bruce Bochy said Pence will return as the fourth outfielder, behind Andrew McCutchen, Gorkys Hernandez and Mac Williamson, who will continue to play every day in left. 

"I'll try to get him in there as much as I can," Bochy said of Pence. "(It will be) late in games, just like you would a normal fourth outfielder."

Melancon will not return as the closer. He likely will start in a sixth/seventh inning role. 

--- Dereck Rodriguez will make his first career start on Sunday. Bochy said he showed enough in an emergency relief outing to earn that assignment. Rodriguez is doing just fine after taking a liner off his right leg. 

--- Ty Blach will shift to the bullpen to open a rotation spot and will serve as the long reliever. That's what the Giants envisioned for him at the end of the spring, but then Bumgarner got hurt and Blach ended up starting on Opening Day. 

--- Panik played behind Bumgarner in San Jose last night. His assessment: "He looked good. He looked like normal Bum. He was arguing with the ump in the first inning."