As Giants prepare to send off one outfielder, another ponders his future in baseball

As Giants prepare to send off one outfielder, another ponders his future in baseball

SAN DIEGO–With little left to serve this season, nostalgia will be the dish of choice at AT&T Park next week.

When Hunter Pence strolls to the plate, sprints to the outfield and jogs in toward the dugout, fans will stand and cheer his every move, knowing it may be their last opportunity to celebrate a leading figure of the Giants’ golden era.

Pence has two rings, but no certainty.

He hasn’t publicly stated whether he wants to continue playing baseball next season, but the pending free agent privately understands what’s out of his control.

Pence, 35, may not receive an invitation to spring training in 2019. If he does, it won’t come from the Giants.

He’s not the only outfielder on the roster who is left to ponder his future in the game. Gregor Blanco also won two World Series with the Giants and like Pence, Blanco spent a portion of his season fighting his way back to the active roster during a stint with the Triple-A Sacramento River Cats.

After Pence completed an extended rehab assignment, the Giants cleared a roster spot for him by designating Blanco for assignment June 2.

“I kept thinking about what’s going to happen to my career,” Blanco said. “My career might be done here. Maybe it was going to be time to hang my cleats. That happened in my head so many times when I was there. But something was telling myself to keep pushing.”

Blanco’s legacy with the franchise may not rival Pence’s, but he owns a special place in team history. His diving effort to salvage Matt Cain’s 2012 perfect game ranks among the franchise’s most iconic defensive plays since Willie Mays made “The Catch” in 1954.

Even at 34, speed remains one of Blanco’s best assets. After spending the 2017 season with the Diamondbacks, Blanco signed a minor league contract with the Giants and arrived in spring training as one of the fastest players in camp.

And just as he did in 2012, his first season with the team, Blanco made the Opening Day club as a non-roster invitee.

“I take pride in myself for that because I worked really hard in the offseason,” Blanco said. “It was a reward. As a Giant, that’s a dream come true again.” San Francisco Giants center fielder Gregor Blanco catches a fly ball hit by Houston Astros’ Jordan Schafer during the seventh inning of a baseball game in San Francisco, Wednesday, June 13, 2012. Giants pitcher Matt Cain threw a perfect game, striking out 14 in San Francisco’s 10-0 victory over Houston. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu) 

Prior to the 2014 season, Pence signed a five-year, $90 million contract that anointed him as one of the franchise’s core players for the foreseeable future.

Even as his skills declined, Pence didn’t experience the same type of concerns that dominate the minds of players like Blanco, who live on the margins of major league rosters. Though Pence spent more than a month with the River Cats this season, the Giants planned to bring him back when he proved he was healthy.

Blanco never had that assurance. So when a call finally came at the end of August, he once again used his speed to his advantage.

“I remember when they told me, they said ‘Can you make it to the field at six o’clock?” Blanco said. “I said, I’m already going. I left everything there. I didn’t even take clothes. Nothing.”

The phone call meant Pence and Blanco would once again share a clubhouse, likely for the last time.

When asked earlier this week whether he plans to continue his playing career, Pence didn’t want to look beyond the present.

“We’ll see,” Pence said with a smile.

Blanco knows he may not have a say in his future either, but if there’s a team looking for a versatile defender and willing mentor to younger players, he’ll happily fill the role. Hunter Pence points to the crowd during the World Series ring ceremony before the San Francisco Giants played the Arizona Diamondbacks at AT&T Park in San Francisco, Calif., on Saturday, April 18, 2015. (Jim Gensheimer/Bay Area News Group) 

“I’m really pleased and happy and proud of myself for my career, but I still have one more goal and that’s trying to make it to 10 years in the game,” Blanco said.

Blanco began his career in 2008, but appeared in just 24 games in 2009 and spent 2011 with a pair of Triple-A teams. He wasn’t a full-time major league player until he won a job with the Giants in 2012, the same year Pence arrived in a trade from Philadelphia.

Though their routes to San Francisco were different, their attitude in the final days of the season is shared.

“It’s been an incredible time for me being a part of the Giants organization for this long and I’ve loved every bit of it,” Pence said. “I’m going to continue to do so until it’s officially over.”

When the Giants return home next week, manager Bruce Bochy will honor Pence and Blanco for their contributions to the franchise with the chance to play in front of the club’s home fans.

A sentimental farewell is on deck, but for now, both players are grateful for the time they’re spending in the box.

“Every single moment since I got called up, I’ve just been enjoying it,” Blanco said. “Just every little moment.”

Eliminated Giants playing to avoid last place vs. Padres

Eliminated Giants playing to avoid last place vs. Padres

SAN DIEGO — The San Francisco Giants were officially eliminated from the National League West race Monday night despite defeating the Padres 4-2 in the opener of a three-game series.

But the Giants could celebrate a very small consolation prize Tuesday at Petco Park.

Any combination of a Giants win and a Padres loss — remember, they are playing each other — will clinch fourth place for the Giants in the division.

The Giants will send Derek Holland (7-8, 3.46 ERA) to the mound against rookie Joey Lucchesi (8-8, 3.67 ERA) in a match of left-handers.

The 31-year-old Holland is on a late-season run. Over his last six starts, he has a 1.59 ERA (six earned runs in 34 innings) and a .197 opponents’ batting average.

Holland will be making his fifth career start against the Padres, with three of the previous four coming this season. Overall, Holland is 1-1 with a career 6.20 ERA against the Padres. In his three starts this season, he is 1-0 with a 4.91 ERA. But he has a 4.66 ERA (five earned runs in 9 2/3 innings) and a .270 opponents’ batting average in two previous starts at Petco Park this season.

Tuesday will be Holland’s 33 appearance and his Giants‘ leading 29th start of the season. He has worked 158 2/3 innings, giving up 67 runs (61 earned) on 139 hits and 61 walks with 159 strikeouts for a .237 opponents’ batting average and a 1.26 WHIP.

Holland is 3-5 on the road this season with a 3.42 ERA in 17 games (16 starts). Right-handed hitters are batting .251 against Holland while left-handers are batting only .186 with no homers in 129 at-bats. Right-handed hitters have 17 homers in 458 at-bats. The Padres’ offensive strength is the power in such right-handed bats as Hunter Renfroe, Franmil Reyes, Austin Hedges and Wil Myers.

Lucchesi, meanwhile, will be making the 24th start of his rookie season. He has faced the Giants only once — and that was back on April 15 at Petco Park when he held San Francisco to one run on five hits and no walks with nine strikeouts over six innings in a 10-1 Padres win.

Lucchesi has worked 115 1/3 innings, allowing 51 runs (47 earned) on 107 hits and 40 walks with 123 strikeouts. He has a .248 opponents’ batting average and a 1.27 WHIP. Like Holland, Lucchesi has allowed 17 homers.

Lucchesi is 5-5 with a 3.97 ERA in 14 starts at Petco Park, where opponents have 12 homers and .260 batting average against him. He has a 1.40 WHIP at home compared to a 3.23 ERA and a 1.10 WHIP on the road, where opponents are hitting only .230 against him.

Right-handers are hitting .249 against Lucchesi with 16 homers in 338 at-bats. Left-handers are batting only .245 with one homer in 94 at-bats.

The Giants are now 9-5 against the Padres this season and will clinch the season series with one more win.

Giants rookie Andrew Suarez shows competitiveness when Bruce Bochy pulls him

Giants rookie Andrew Suarez shows competitiveness when Bruce Bochy pulls him

SAN DIEGO – The two rookie pitchers who have helped solidify Giants manager Bruce Bochy’s rotation go about their business in different ways. You can see the fire in Dereck Rodriguez‘s eyes as he stands on the mound, and there seems to be a certain intensity with everything he does on the field. Andrew Suarez, on the other hand, often seems to be playing a stress-free game of catch. 

But on Monday, Suarez showed what you knew was there. You don’t get to this level without being ultra-competitive, and the rookie let his guard down for a split-second when Bochy came out with the hook after just 87 pitches en route to a 4-2 win over the Padres. Suarez briefly threw his hands up, and the disappointment was clear on his face as he walked off the field. A few moments later, he found his manager in the dugout. 

“I just apologized to him. I thought I showed him up,” Suarez said. “That’s the last thing I’m trying to do.”

Bochy didn’t mind one bit. 

“I don’t want them to (want to) come out,” he said. “He’s a competitor. We had our guys fresh, [the relievers] have been throwing the ball well.”

Ultimately, Tony Watson got out of the eighth and Will Smith closed out the win. Suarez got the victory, his seventh, and showed a little fire in the process. The Giants knew it was there. It just took a tough decision for it to be made public. 

“My pitch count was low for being that deep in the game,” Suarez said. “I thought I would finish it. I was surprised, but you have to go to the bullpen. We have a good bullpen.”

Suarez said he hoped to match Chris Stratton’s complete game from Friday night, but the Giants are handling Suarez and Rodriguez a bit differently down the stretch, trying to keep some innings off their arms even as they go all the way through the end of September. Bochy liked Mark Melancon against the Padres coming up, regardless of how many pitches Suarez had thrown. 

In the end, it was the best of both worlds for the Giants. They got out of the inning and got the win, and they learned a bit more about a rookie who has been one of the biggest bright spots of a down year. 

“He said it was ok,” Suarez said of his conversation with Bochy. “He liked that I was competitive.”

Giants rookies take advantage of chance vs. Padres with big night

Giants rookies take advantage of chance vs. Padres with big night

SAN DIEGO – The days of this being AT&T Park South are over. There were maybe 5,000 people actually at Petco Park on Monday night, and the usual large swatches of orange were missing. You can’t blame any fans who took this trip off their calendar sometime over the past six weeks. 

But the Giants have kept it circled, and not just because of all the taco spots within walking distance of the team hotel. Manager Bruce Bochy has tried to be respectful of games with contenders, trotting out lineups that included plenty of veterans. The first night against the last-place Padres allowed for some extra time for his rookies, and man, did they take advantage. 

Andrew Suarez would have been in the lineup regardless, and he continued a strong first season with a career-high 7 2/3 innings in a 4-2 win over the Padres. Left fielder Chris Shaw had his first career three-hit game, giving him five in two days. Aramis Garcia looked at home in his first start at first base and drove in a run with a hard single. Right fielder Austin Slater cut a runner down at second with one of the best throws of the year by a Giant. 

“They did a great job,” Bochy said. “It started with Suarez, what a great job he did. He really had a good fastball going, good movement on it. Shaw, a nice game by him, and a big hit by Garcia. It was good to see the kids playing well.”

The biggest leaps in recent days have come from Shaw, who looked lost at the plate for his first 25 big league plate appearances but has been locked in the last couple of days. Shaw said he made an adjustment, starting his swing earlier. He lifts his leg when the pitcher lifts his leg, a tweak he used earlier in his career. 

“It allows me a ton of time,” he said. 

On Monday, Shaw used those split-seconds to shoot the ball all over the field. He had a single and double to left and pulled a hard double down the right field line. The final hit came off a lefty reliever, and was enough to have his manager doing a little extra noodling late at night. Bochy said he will think about using Shaw against either lefty Joey Lucchesi on Tuesday or Robbie Erlin on Wednesday. 

If Shaw does get a start against a lefty, that’ll be another milestone to check off the list. Monday’s game also showed that he still has room to grow in other departments. After the double, Bochy put Gorkys Hernandez in for defensive purposes. He said Shaw has come a long way and done a good job out there, but it’s clear the staff would like to see more. 

In right field, Slater continued to show that he has the tools to handle either corner spot. His throw to rob Franmil Reyes of a double was one of the defensive highlights of the season for the Giants.

twitter.com/PavlovicNBCS/status/1041897641326465025

They have not, in recent years, had any types of arms in the outfield. Slater’s is clearly different. 

“That’s one of the more impressive plays and throws I’ve seen,” Bochy said. “It’s not like he took his time to gather himself to get a lot on it. It was all arm. He’s going away from second base and he wheels and fires a bullet right on the money.”

Andrew Suarez has longest career start in Giants' win vs. Padres

Andrew Suarez has longest career start in Giants' win vs. Padres

BOX SCORE

SAN DIEGO – For the first time in two weeks, the Giants hit the magical four-run mark. That’s usually enough for this pitching staff, and four was plenty with rookie pitcher Andrew Suarez dealing.

The longest start of Suarez’s career gave the Giants a 4-2 win over the Padres, a positive start to their final trip, and a third handshake line in four days. 

Suarez had a low pitch count all night, and he quickly shook off a long Austin Hedges homer in the second. He was at just 77 pitches through seven and needed just 87 to reach a career-high 7 2/3 innings. The rookie did not appear pleased that he was pulled, but he had a chat with manager Bruce Bochy in the dugout and all seemed fine. The Padres got one run back right away, but Tony Watson got out of the eighth and Will Smith closed it out.

Here’s what else you need to know… 

— Suarez’s final line: 7 2/3 innings, 4 hits, 2 earned runs, 3 walks, 4 strikeouts. He has a 2.70 ERA over his last five starts. 

— Chris Shaw had his first multi-hit game on Sunday. A day later, he had his first three-hit game. Shaw singled to left in the second and then smoked a double down the left field line in the fourth. In his final at-bat, he pulled a double to right. Shaw has raised his average from .045 to .207 in two days. 

— It was a big night for the left side of the infield. Brandon Crawford hit a moonshot to right-center to pick up his third homer of the second half. Evan Longoria smacked one off the Western Metal Supply Co. building in the fifth to give the Giants a 4-1 lead. The homer was Longoria’s 16th, putting him in sole possession of the team lead. 

— The Giants improved to 50-17 when they score four runs. They should try it more often.

Source: Giants let go of longtime strength coach, more changes expected

Source: Giants let go of longtime strength coach, more changes expected

SAN FRANCISCO – In the midst of their worst losing streak in nearly 70 years, the Giants have made the first of what is expected to be a flood of changes. 

Strength and conditioning coach Carl Kochan was let go Thursday, NBC Sports Bay Area has learned. Kochan was in his seventh season in charge of strength and conditioning at the Major League level and had come up through the organization’s minor league system, working with players like Brandon Crawford and Madison Bumgarner shortly after they got drafted. He was a popular member of the staff and often was mentioned by players after games, but the Giants expect to clean house a bit over the next couple of months. 

“This is what happens when you’re having a season like this,” said one person briefed on Kochan’s firing. 

Kochan’s firing came as a shock to several players Friday, and some did not know as they took the field for batting practice. Kochan normally would be out on the field early, leading pitchers in conditioning drills before doing the same with the position players. 

The move was a surprise because of the timing, but for several days team officials have talked about how nobody is safe when the team is playing this poorly. More changes are coming, per one source, although it’s unclear how much more the Giants may do before the season ends. The Giants have made multiple changes to Bruce Bochy’s coaching staff over the past two offseasons, and one source said people at all levels of the organization are being evaluated right now. 

Multiple players expressed disappointment Friday that Kochan was let go with 15 games remaining, pointing out that he has nothing to do with the issues on the field. The Giants have lost 11 straight in large part because the lineup is hitting .193 in September and averaging 2.4 runs per game.