Friendly competition for Giants' left-field job
Published: Thursday, February 21, 2013 at 8:58 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, February 21, 2013 at 8:58 p.m.
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — It could have been an awkward moment. Gregor Blanco lined a shot to left field during live batting practice earlier this week and watched as Andres Torres chased it down and made a great catch at the wall.
Blanco and Torres happen to be competing for playing time in left field, one of the few true competitions in Giants camp. But Torres’ over-the-shoulder catch didn’t have Blanco, the incumbent, looking over his shoulder.
“It’s not going to be me during the season, it’s going to be an opponent,” Blanco said, smiling. “Torres and I are going to get to everything. We see it as competition in a good way, and it’s going to make both of us better players.”
Yes, in a camp where the phrase “great chemistry” plays on a loop, even the only true competition for a starting spot has taken on a very friendly tone.
Blanco thinks the two speedy outfielders will complement each other perfectly in left field and said he isn’t concerned about losing playing time.
In fact, he may benefit from it.
Blanco felt he wore down mentally at times last season while serving as a regular starter for the first time since 2008, leading to several slumps. He had a .884 OPS in May but that number dipped below .600 in July and August.
As the postseason approached, Blanco found a second wind, hitting .283 in September and contributing consistently in the postseason, especially on defense.
“It was a good year, but I can do better,” Blanco said.
“I need to be more consistent, and I think I’m headed in that direction.”
The Giants think Blanco will again be a key contributor, splitting time with Torres in left and spelling Angel Pagan and Hunter Pence at the other two outfield spots. That plan sounds just fine to Blanco, who a year ago was a little-known player who won a big league job with a strong spring. After having so much success with Blanco and Joaquin Arias, manager Bruce Bochy is looking for the next surprise contributor as he fills out the roster.
“They’re critical, the 23rd, 24th, 25th guys,” Bochy said. “You’re going to need them at some point. They can make a difference in your season, especially with the types of games we play.”
Blanco’s breakthrough included a perfect game-saving catch and four World Series starts. He said he didn’t watch the highlights much during the offseason, preferring to “leave the past in the past.” But every time he left the house in Venezuela, Blanco got a reminder that he has finally made it.
“Everybody at home sees me a little differently,” he said. “That’s for sure.”
ZITO THROWS SHARP SESSION
Left-hander Barry Zito looked sharp during his second live BP session of the spring.
“Z really looks good,” Bochy said. “He came in ready. He’s right where he needs to be right now.”
On the minor league field, left-hander Dan Runzler and right-hander Heath Hembree got high marks from the hitters they faced. Both pitchers are competing for a bullpen spot.
PITCHERS NOT QUITE READY FOR GAME
Bochy cancelled Friday’s intrasquad game because several of the scheduled pitchers aren’t quite ready for game action. With 37 spring training games on the schedule and 10 players leaving for the World Baseball Classic, the Giants intend to play it safe when they can.
“We’re going to be careful with all of them to start out here,” Bochy said of his pitchers.
Bochy also plans to hold several starting position players out of Saturday’s Cactus League opener against the Los Angeles Angels.
TANAKA NEEDS TO TRY OTHER POSITIONS
Bochy intends to meet with Kensuke Tanaka on Friday and said the Japanese infielder has demonstrated a willingness to play in the outfield as well.
Normally a second baseman, Tanaka will need to prove that he can help out at shortstop and third base in order to make the club.
SAY HEY, LOOK WHO PAID A VISIT
Several groups of hitters stayed on the field long after the team workout was over, but those who called it a day early were in for a surprise. Willie Mays held court at a clubhouse table for part of the afternoon.
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