SAN FRANCISCO – Just before he passed away, Van Philip Pence left his grandson with a simple motto to live by.
"Work hard and don't complain," Hunter Pence said. "That was the advice he gave me."
That pushes Pence as he goes through grueling late-night workouts after games, or lengthy sessions in the cage, or when he shows up early every day to prepare to take the field. And make no mistake, the Giants' right fielder spends the vast majority of his time preparing to take the field and stay on it.
Through 101 games, Pence has missed just 12 innings. He is the only Giant to start every game this season, and his streak of 110 consecutive starts is the longest in the National League.
Pence is hitting .278 and is on pace for 22 homers and 22 stolen bases, but it's another number that would mean more to the 30-year-old. In his seventh big-league season, Pence is on track to play 162 games for the first time.
"It would be really cool to be able to do that," Pence said. "I know what you have to do just to be able to get close."
Pence has started at least 152 games in each of the past five seasons and set a career high last year with 158 starts for the Philadelphia Phillies and Giants. As he approaches free agency for the first time, Pence has made several adjustments in a bid to stay on the field and stay productive. He followed the strict Paleo diet last season and throughout the offseason, when his brother would read nutrition books to try to find new secrets. Pence still "crushes kale" but has backed off the Paleo diet a bit because Giants trainers were worried he was getting too lean for the grind of a baseball season.
Pence followed scripted workouts throughout the offseason and works out after two of every three games during the season. The training methods have helped keep Pence on the field during a Giants season marred by injuries. He is third in the National League with 894 innings played and is easily the Giants' leader (shortstop Brandon Crawford ranks second at 824 innings).
"I've talked to Hunter about giving him a day off, and he goes, 'You know, I don't want one,' " manager Bruce Bochy said. "He's so strong and tough-minded. He can handle it. He gets himself up for every game."
Pence's endless supply of energy continues to amaze teammates as he approaches the one-year anniversary of a trade that brought him to San Francisco. He slumped at the end of the first half, and Bochy felt Pence needed the All-Star break more than any of his other regulars, but he was still bouncy enough to save Tim Lincecum's no-hitter with a diving catch two days before the break started. The next day, Pence, of course, was in the lineup.
Since being acquired in a trade with the Phillies last July 31, Pence has started 159 of the Giants' 160 games. The lone respite came the day after the Giants clinched the National League West last September, as Bochy sent out a lineup filled with reserves. Pence still played that day, drawing a walk in a ninth-inning pinch-hit appearance.
"He's crazy with his consistency," fellow outfielder Gregor Blanco said. "He has the same energy every single day. You get so tired in this game, not physically, but more mentally. You've got to be so strong mentally to get to 162. You're going to have ups and downs, and sometimes players will say, obviously I need a day today. But he never does. He never loses that focus. It's unbelievable."
Pence's games-started streak is the sixth longest in baseball but far behind the surprising reigning ironman, Detroit's Prince Fielder. The first baseman, generously listed at 275 pounds, has started 443 straight games.
"That's really impressive," Pence said, his eyes widening. "You not only have to stay healthy, but you have to be lucky. Prince is a big man, too!"
Fielder has played 162 games in three of the last four seasons but still is more than a decade away from even being within shouting distance of Cal Ripken Jr.'s unbreakable record of 2,632.
"I'm just in awe of that number," Pence said. "This is my seventh year and my first opportunity to even have a chance this late in the season to get to 162. It would be a tremendous honor to be able to get a chance to do it, and it's something I highly respect."
Pence has suffered just one serious injury in the big leagues – a broken wrist in his rookie season. He said he feels great physically and mentally after 101 straight starts to open this season, and he's showing no signs of letting up. Pence tied a career high with five hits Wednesday night, and on Tuesday he had four hits while starting both ends of a doubleheader.