Hunter Pence said his left forearm, fractured by a pitch March 5, is still not 100 percent. But the Giants have seen enough from Pence in the past few days to clear the outfielder for his biggest step yet towards rejoining the team.
Pence will start a rehab assignment Friday night with the Triple-A Sacramento River Cats -- likely playing five innings and hopefully getting three at-bats, Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. It will be Pence’s first game action since his injury early in spring training.
"Very excited to be able to start playing and working to get back up here to help," Pence said after the Giants’ 7-2 loss to the Miami Marlins on Thursday. He added, though, that even he is unsure how quickly he’ll be able to work himself back into game shape.
"I gave everything I had every day" during the recovery process, he said. "Still, we don’t know what’s going to happen when we go play. I think I’m ready. We’ll see. Until you get out there and play, who knows?"
The Giants, though, believe Pence has looked noticeably freer taking swings in batting practice this week. Pence has also been taking fly balls and grounders in the outfield with his healing glove arm and said defense is "manageable."
"I feel good," Pence said. "I feel confident it’s not going to be a factor in performance. Just got to get my body ready to go. And we’ll see, once the game gets going, versus hitting off a machine and a batting practice pitcher."
Bochy said Pence can probably expect a lengthy rehab stint. He was injured during the first week of spring training games, and thus will be going through a kind of truncated spring training, getting up to speed against live pitching and building up to playing nine innings in the field.
Starting out at Triple-A means Pence will be facing tougher pitching than if he played his first games at extended spring training or High-A San Jose. But Triple-A arms ostensibly also have better control -- something Bochy said was a factor in the decision given how Pence was originally injured.
Bochy pointed out that last year Brandon Belt got hit by a pitch on the hand while he was rehabbing from a broken thumb with San Jose. "So I think it’s the safest way to go, to be honest," Bochy said. "It’s going to be a bit of a challenge for (Pence), because it’s been a while since he played. But I think it’s the safest, best way to go right now."
Pence said he has "definitely" noticed his swing feeling more normal in his recent rounds of batting practice.
"The progress has been daily," he said. "A couple times it would get sore after doing things the first time. It was a process, and (now) feeling strong enough to compete and compete well."
Originally, the Giants had estimated Pence’s return at 6-to-8 weeks, and the day after his injury Pence said he would aim for aim for the lesser number. It’s been two months now since the injury, but Pence did not admit to any frustration with the time his recovery has taken or with watching a month of the season pass in the interim.
"What I was allowed to do, we did," he said. "And until I can swing the way I swing, it’s not possible to really help the team win."
The way Pence swings is decidedly max-effort, and he said that right now: "I feel like I’m able to swing pretty hard."
"It’s good news," Bochy said. "I’m happy for him. I know he’s been antsy to get things going and just get back to playing. It’s been a tough road for him. You guys know Hunter and he doesn’t like sitting and watching games.
"But there’s only a certain pace you can go at with a broken bone. It’s got to heal. But watching him take batting practice, he’s ready."
* The Pence news was probably the highlight of the night for the Giants, who allowed 17 hits to the Marlins a night after allowing 16 hits in a loss to the Padres. Of those hits, 15 came against starter Tim Hudson in a distinctive outing he’ll no doubt want to forget.
Hudson had made 462 regular-season starts in the majors before Thursday and not given up more than 12 hits in any of them. He also became the first Giants pitcher to allow 15 or more hits in a game since Gaylord Perry gave up 16 to the Reds on Sept. 28, 1968.
"Those guys, they were swinging the bat," Hudson said. "They got 15 hits off me, what can you say? Had a pretty good approach, I just wasn’t able to finish guy off whenever I needed to."
It burned Hudson that two of the costliest hits came via Marlins starter Dan Haren. Haren hit a two-out, two-run double in the second inning to put Miami on the board, then led off the fifth with a single and scored on a Giancarlo Stanton sacrifice fly.
Hudson said he felt his sinker was "pretty good" Thursday, but his slider was not. "When I did get ahead of some guys, it seemed like the worst pitch was always the slider. If I could go back I probably would’ve pounded my sinker a lot more earlier in the game and just tried to let those guys hit it into the ground."
Four of the hits Hudson allowed, including a two-run Marcell Ozuna home run, came in the seventh inning, after it was clear Hudson didn’t have it. Bochy, though, said he stuck with Hudson hoping to save some arms in the bullpen.
"That last inning, that’s probably my fault," Bochy said. "I tried to get through that inning with Huddy, but I knew right there he was teetering … It was a gutty effort."
Remarkably, each of the previous five times a Giants pitcher had allowed 15 hits, it had come with that pitcher throwing a complete-game and earning the win. The last Giants pitcher to allow that many hits and lose, according to baseball-reference.com, was Frank Seward on July 25, 1944. Seward gave up 17 hits in a 15-0 loss to the Pirates.
* Before allowing 33 hits in a two-game stretch, Giants pitcher had posted three straight shutouts.
"I’m not shocked," Bochy said. "This team (the Marlins) has been swinging the bat well, and they swung it well tonight. Huddy just got some pitches up. Really Haren’s the one that killed us -- beat us on the mound and with the bat."
The Giants still have not scored more than six runs in a game this season. They and the Marlins take identical 14-15 records into game two of the series Friday. It will be Tim Lincecum (2-2, 2.40) against Jarred Cosart (1-2, 2.97). First pitch at 7:15 p.m.