PHOENIX — It's a spring tradition of sorts, the veteran non-roster invitee who comes out of nowhere to top leaderboards and open eyes.
In 2009, Andres Torres hit .400 in Cactus League play and become a Giants fixture. Three years later, Gregor Blanco hit .333 and stole 13 bases in 27 spring games to kick off a season that ended with Blanco starting World Series games. Last spring, Chad Gaudin posted a 2.55 ERA in 11 spring appearances to win the competition for the long reliever spot.
This year's surprise had been Brandon Hicks, a 28-year-old infielder who is hitting .381 in 22 Cactus League appearances, with three homers and seven doubles.
Teammates have marveled at his hot spring and management has taken notice. With Marco Scutaro virtually guaranteed to start the season on the disabled list, Hicks is in line to make the opening day roster, along with 24-year-old Ehire Adrianza. The two have outlasted several minor leaguers and veteran Tony Abreu, who was released over the weekend.
Scutaro underwent another procedure on his bad back Tuesday, adding a diagnostic nerve block to the two injections he has already had this spring. Giants trainer Dave Groeschner said he would update Scutaro's condition on Wednesday.
The Houston native said four or five clubs offered to bring him out to spring training but after conversations suggested that San Francisco could provide the greatest opportunity.
"We thought it would be a great place for me," Hicks said. "And I felt this was the best spot."
Hicks knew he made the right decision after talking to right-hander Scott Proctor, who was one of the pitchers Gaudin beat out last spring. Proctor raved about the organization. Hicks has been a perfect fit, and not just because the Giants seem to have a thing for bearded infielders named Brandon.
Scutaro's absence has allowed Hicks to play 101 1/3 innings this spring, 50 of them at second base. "He has played well," manager Bruce Bochy said. "He has got experience and power. He lets it go (with the bat)."
Hicks has 90 big league at-bats with the A's and Atlanta Braves but has never stuck in the big leagues.
This spring, Hicks has worked on staying short with his swing and being more selective. "I've always been able to hit the ball out when I'm not chasing bad pitches," Hicks said. "That's been my issue. I struck out a lot early."
BUMGARNER BESTS BREWERS
Wily Peralta hit his second homer of spring training and allowed one run over 6? innings but the Milwaukee Brewers lost to the Giants 5-4 Tuesday.
Pablo Sandoval hit a solo shot in the eighth for the Giants.
San Francisco starter Madison Bumgarner extended his Cactus League scoreless streak to 21? straight innings and retired 13 of the first 14 batters before Davis hit a long home run.
Bumgarner finished with a 1.19 ERA for the spring.