Giants' Crawford suddenly becomes power hitter

04/20/2013 12:00 AM

04/21/2013 10:37 AM

SAN FRANCISCO – In nearly three-fifths of the games he has started in the majors, Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford has seen his name written eighth in the order, which typically offers a hitter about as much protection as a glass batting helmet.

In the Giants' series finale at Milwaukee on Thursday, Crawford hit fifth, and responded with three hits and his third home run of the year. In 143 games last season, he hit four home runs.

Crawford batted sixth Friday, between Hunter Pence and Brandon Belt.

"Right now what is he, second on the team in home runs?" Giants manager Bruce Bochy said when asked if Crawford can expect to remain higher in the lineup for now. "I can't have him hitting eighth. We don't have a whole lot of them."

Crawford demurred when asked if he has been pleased with one particular swing that resulted in a home run but did observe: "They've all kind of been different."

There was the ball Crawford, a left-handed hitter, drove out to left field at AT&T Park on April 9 against the Rockies, "which obviously is nice because I'm using the whole field."

In the opener at Milwaukee, he drove a 2-0 pitch high over the fence in right-center, where most of his homers have traveled. Thursday's was a line drive to right field – "just using my top hand," he said.

The ninth-inning homer Thursday capped a 7-for-12 series for Crawford, one of the few bright spots in Milwaukee for the Giants, who were swept. Crawford entered Friday on an 11-game hitting streak, the longest of his career, and batting .352 after an 11-for-23 trip. But he went 0 for 4 in the Giants' 3-2 win over San Diego.

It's an encouraging start for Crawford, who hit .248 in his first full season in 2012 and admitted this spring he wanted to shed his reputation of being a defensive specialist.

Bochy said Crawford started making strides at the plate in the second half of the regular season last year. He hit .285 from August through October, then .375 in spring training.

"He just looks like he's seeing the ball well," Bochy said. "The fact that he's worked hard on shortening up his swing and using the whole field I think has helped him."

Crawford attributed his start largely to more confidence in his second full season. That's manifesting itself in a willingness to see pitches longer, allowing him a split second more to decide whether to attack the pitch, take it or try to foul it off. According to the analytics website FanGraphs, Crawford this season had swung at 27.8 percent of the pitches he had seen outside the strike zone before Friday, compared with 34.7 percent last year.

The approach has served him particularly well in two-strike counts, in which Crawford led the league entering Friday with a .393 average (11 for 28). Last year, he batted .184 with two strikes. Crawford said he benefited from talks on the subject with catcher Buster Posey.

"He just tries to let the ball travel a little bit more, foul off the tougher pitches and put the pitches over the plate in play," Crawford said. "And then (it's) being comfortable enough with my swing to adjust to off-speed or take a pitch that's close."

Posey said he has noticed Crawford "just getting his pitch. He's taking that borderline ball and borderline strike and waiting for a pitch that he can do something with."

During spring training, Crawford said he also watched Marco Scutaro in the cage, noting how Scutaro tries to maintain balance by keeping weight on his back foot longer. Scutaro on Friday said Crawford is indeed "staying back on the ball" and that it "just seems like his mechanics are real good."

As for the early power from Crawford, who hit his third home run last season on July 20, Scutaro said it isn't a surprise.

"He's a big guy," Scutaro said. "I mean, he weighs 220. It's a matter of time, to get used to the league and get more consistent with his swing."

Call The Bee's Matt Kawahara, (916) 321-1015.


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