SAN FRANCISCO -- A healthy Angel Pagan and the arrival of Michael Morse relegated Gregor Blanco this year to the role of fourth outfielder. So after logging at least 450 plate appearances in each of the last two seasons, Blanco has seen most of his playing time so far this year as a defensive replacement or, as was the case Saturday, a pinch hitter.
And oddly enough, Blanco said, he hasn’t seemed to mind. In fact, he said, "To tell you the truth, it’s been easier for me coming from the bench than starting.
"It’s kind of weird," Blanco said. "Even I said to myself, what’s going on? But I think it’s because I don’t put pressure on myself because I know the situation I’m in, coming off the bench, I know it’s not easy."
Saturday, manager Bruce Bochy brought Blanco in as a pinch hitter with the bases loaded and one out in the fifth inning with the Giants trailing 3-0. Blanco, normally a hitter who likes to work the count, swung at the first pitch from Indians starter Zach McAllister and lined it for an RBI single. Angel Pagan followed with a sacrifice fly, and Hunter Pence then singled to drive in two runs and give the Giants their first lead en route to a 5-3 win.
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Pence had come up with runners on first and third, but Blanco recorded his first steal of the year swiping second, which allowed him to score when Pence’s sharp grounder snuck under the glove of second baseman Jason Kipnis into right field. It was a key contribution from Blanco, who has had his struggles with the bat, entering the game 3-for-30.
Bochy said Blanco has maybe "been a little bit too selective," and that the Giants coaches have talked to Blanco about not hesitating to swing if he gets a good pitch early in counts. Blanco, meanwhile, said he recently realized
All four of his hits now have come in games he did not start, and Blanco said he recently realized something similar.
"Since I started the season I’ve been having my pinch-hit at-bats better than when I start," he said. "And it seems like it’s because I always get aggressive (in the latter), trying to swing instead of taking pitches and working the count. So I just kind of realized I need to always be ready to hit, no matter what the situation is and even the count."
All four of Blanco’s hits this season have come in games he didn’t start. As a starter, he’s 0-for-15 with three walks.
"When I start it seems like I say to myself, you’ve got to do more and show that you can play tomorrow and stuff like that," he said. "It seems like I’ve just put pressure on myself the couple times that I have started, and I just need to go up there and let it go."
Blanco said that’s what he did against McAllister on Saturday. He said teammates were talking in the dugout about how McAllister was throwing "kind of a sneaky fastball," so he went up with an approach of "just being short and quick." The result keyed an inning that -- with some serious contributions from the bullpen -- won the Giants a game.
"One of the toughest things to do in our game is come off the bench and get a base hit," Bochy said. "You don’t want to get behind if it’s a good pitch, so I didn’t want him to be up there trying to get a walk or anything.
"He’s had his struggles at times. But he came through in a big way."
* About that bullpen -- starting with Juan Gutierrez, who came in for Tim Lincecum with the bases loaded and two outs in the fifth and struck out Yan Gomes to keep the score at 3-0, four Giants relievers combined Saturday for 4 1/3 innings without allowing a hit.
More impressively, the Giants’ bullpen has now thrown 39 2/3 innings this year at AT&T Park and given up two earned runs. That’s a 0.45 home ERA -- lowest in the majors.
"Very impressive," Bochy said. "They won the game for us today with the job they did."
Sergio Romo closed it for his sixth save. But Bochy was able to get to him in a game in which he removed his started in the fifth inning without using either Santiago Casilla or Javier Lopez -- probably his top right- and left-handed set-up options, respectively.
The line Saturday went Gutierrez-Machi-Affeldt-Romo. Machi got five outs and Affeldt four, but Gutierrez’s was arguably the biggest. The right-hander went to 2-2 count and then threw 95 mph past a swinging Gomes.
"He’s the hardest thrower on our team now," Romo said.
Gutierrez said he felt comfortable entering the game in that high-leverage situation and with facing Gomes, after spending part of last season in the A.L. Central with Kansas City. Gutierrez said he knew Gomes often looks for breaking balls with two strikes, and that he executed a good fastball for the out.
"I just came in with one role in mind -- get the hitter out and give the team a chance to come back," Gutierrez said.
"Critical out," Bochy said.
* Back to another shaky outing for Lincecum, who failed to complete five innings for the second time this season in five starts. He allowed a season-high nine hits while throwing 98 pitches, and said he was again hurt by inability to consistently repeat his mechanics.
"They were just kind of off," Lincecum said. "Just go back to the drawing board and try to right the wrong and get my mechanics back to where they’re doing the same thing every time."
That has been the theme for Lincecum in his bad outings this year, going back to spring, and on Saturday he said it left him "mentally aloof to the things I wanted to do. I had my game plan, I just wasn’t executing it."
Bochy tried putting a positive spin on the outing, saying Lincecum "kept the game from getting out of reach and gave us a chance." Still, Lincecum said he’s frustrated not being able to pitch deeper into games, which puts a strain on a Giants bullpen that has already logged a lot of innings this season.
"They’ve been doing a great job of picking me up in games I haven’t done so well," said Lincecum.
"I guess being able to keep the team in it was the best positive of today. It wasn’t very far but just trying to limit it, and trying to make the bad not seem so bad."
* Bochy said before the game that he thinks it’s just a matter of time until Buster Posey, who came in 3 for his last 38, starts hitting and the numbers even out. Posey went 1-for-3 on Saturday, but the one hit was a home run and one of the outs was a hard-hit line drive to right field.
The home run, on a full-count slider from reliever C.C. Lee, was Posey’s fifth of the year and snapped a 24-at-bat hitless streak against right-handed pitching. Bochy optimistically said that "sometimes something like that or even a blooper can kind of get the confidence back and get you rolling." Posey, unsurprisingly, was even-keel about both the lineout and homer.
"I think I’ve really just got to go one at-bat at a time," he said. "Whatever happened today, just continue to work and have a good approach tomorrow."
One fairly remarkable stat: Posey, who’s considered a good hitter to all fields, does not have a hit to right field this season, according to baseball-reference.com. The lineout on Saturday made him 0-for-9. Bochy said before the game that could be an indication that Posey is "coming off the ball" some, as opposed to staying up the middle as Posey does when he’s right.
Posey said that could be the case, but he’s "trying my best not to think about trying to force the ball one way or another … because I think that can become a problem sometimes when you think about forcing the ball one way or another."
As for the right-field stat: "I wasn’t aware of that," he said. "I’ve lined out a few times that way. I probably haven’t hit the ball over there as much as I’d like to, but I feel like that’ll come."
* The Giants go for the sweep Sunday behind Ryan Vogelsong (0-1, 7.71), while the Indians will start right-hander Danny Salazar (0-3, 7.85). First pitch set for 1:05 p.m.