SAN FRANCISCO -- Miami Marlins infielder Jeff Baker said he stays in pretty close touch with former teammate and fellow Clemson alum Tyler Colvin – or as Baker referred to Colvin with a grin: “The guy that wouldn’t have played on any of the teams at Clemson when I was there.”
Last offseason, Baker said, he checked in with Colvin while the latter was looking to sign somewhere as a free agent. Colvin had spent 2013 in the Colorado Rockies’ organization but struggled while dealing with a herniated disc in his back for part of the year. In January, Colvin reached an agreement with Baltimore, but the deal fell through as the Orioles reportedly had concerns over Colvin’s physical.
“I don’t think he was discouraged,” Baker said. “You know what your body feels like, and when I talked to him, he always said, ‘I’m feeling good, I’m feeling good.’ When he was saying everything was good, I was just hoping he would get the right opportunity.”
The Giants extended one to Colvin in February, inviting him to camp to compete for their fifth outfield job. While he didn’t make the roster out of spring training, another opportunity has presented itself in the past week to Colvin, who was called up from Triple-A Fresno on May 10.
Brandon Belt’s broken thumb has pressed Michael Morse into first-base duties, opening starts in left field. So far most have gone to Colvin, who made a fast impression upon joining the Giants. In his first game at AT&T Park, the left-handed hitter homered into McCovey Cove and tripled to back Tim Lincecum in a win over the Atlanta Braves. Through his first three starts, Colvin went 6 for 12 with five extra-base hits.
Manager Bruce Bochy said he didn’t anticipate Colvin playing so often right away but that Belt’s injury created a need, and “(Colvin was) playing so well, you go with your hot stick.”
Colvin will likely share time in left with Gregor Blanco against right-handers, but Bochy said contributions from Colvin also could make it easier to give Angel Pagan days off by freeing Blanco to spell Pagan in center.
“We do have a little concern with the back, so we want to make sure we rest him,” Bochy said of Colvin. “But I talked to him (Thursday, after Colvin’s third start in four days), and he feels great.”
Colvin said back issues “don’t disappear,” as the Giants well know with second baseman Marco Scutaro, “but I’m staying on top of it, and it’s been strong.”
He said it has been an easy transition into the Giants’ clubhouse, where there’s “an entirely different atmosphere than what I’ve been a part of before.”
“It’s like you never feel like you’re out of a game,” Colvin said. “Everybody’s competing to win and on the same page and playing for each other, and it’s awesome to see.”
That Colvin was available to the Giants this spring suggested something of a fall. He was the 13th overall pick in the 2006 draft by the Chicago Cubs, and he had a promising rookie year in 2010, batting .254 with 20 home runs. But he hit just .150 in the majors in 2011 and that December was traded to Colorado, where a similar pattern unfolded.
Colvin had a strong first season with the Rockies – a .290 average with 18 homers and 72 RBIs – but dropped off last year, hitting .160 with Colorado while dealing with back issues and spending much of the year in the minors.
Health has been one difference in the down years, he said, along with possibly “trying to press and come back and do too much.”
“You see what he did his rookie year, then his first year in Colorado. The talent’s there,” said Baker, Colvin’s Cubs teammate from 2009 to 2011. “A lot of people say they are everyday players, but their skill set or mental toughness doesn’t allow them to do it.
“But Colvin has all of that, so I’m not really sure why there’s been a little bit of a fall-off the second year. But I think it’s a trend that’s going to change with him. I don’t see why that would continue with the amount of talent and the desire he has.”
Bochy also said Colvin has “got the talent and is capable of putting up a good year and has proven that,” partly why although the Giants had concerns about Colvin’s back this spring, “we were willing to take that risk.”
Offensively, left field was among the least productive spots in the Giants’ lineup in 2013, something Morse helped address during this season’s first month. With Morse expected to get most of the starts at first in Belt’s absence, the task of replacing Belt’s offensive production essentially falls to Colvin and Blanco, who started in a 4-for-40 slump but made a case for himself with a three-steal, three-run game Wednesday.
Having been with the Giants since Opening Day, Blanco might have considered himself in line for more starts after Belt’s injury. But he said of Colvin coming into the picture: “It’s great, man. I’ve seen him play in Colorado and I know what kind of player he is, knew he was going to help us.
“This is what a team does,” Blanco said. “It’s not about me; it’s not about him. He’s done great since he got called up, and I hope he keeps doing as good and just keeps helping us win games.”
Call The Bee’s Matt Kawahara, (916) 321-1015. See his baseball coverage at sacbee.com/mlb. Follow him on Twitter at @matthewkawahara.