When Giants manager Bruce Bochy said before Monday’s game that Hunter Pence was “really close” to rejoining the team, he wasn’t exaggerating.
Pence was activated from the disabled list before Tuesday night’s game against the New York Mets and started for the first time since June 2. He missed 30 games because of left wrist tendinitis but took batting practice Sunday and Monday and assured Bochy on Tuesday afternoon he was ready.
Bochy said the Giants considered giving Pence one or two minor-league rehabilitation games to regain his timing. But they ultimately decided it was more important to have Pence back at the major-league level immediately, especially with the Giants on a seven-game losing streak and having totaled five runs in their last four games.
“At this point we need some help, he’s been cleared by the doctors, so why not play here?” Bochy said. “We’re struggling, it’s fair to say … I think his presence means a lot.”
The Giants are also missing starting left fielder Nori Aoki (fractured fibula), while Pence replacement Justin Maxwell has four hits in his last 37 at-bats. Ryan Lollis was called up for outfield backup but went 0 for 5 in his brief stint with the Giants and failed to execute a sacrifice bunt in the eighth inning of a scoreless game Monday night. Lollis was optioned back to the River Cats on Tuesday to clear a roster spot for Pence.
Bochy said Pence likely would play with the same effort level whether with the Giants or on a rehab assignment with Sacramento, so the risk of aggravating his injury by activating him now is null.
“The only reason you send him down (to Sacramento) is to maybe give him some at-bats, let him get sharp,” Bochy said. “But it’s not like we’re tearing the ball up here.”
Pence has played in just 19 games this season after missing the first month and a half because of a fractured forearm. He has said the healing process from that fracture might have led to the tendinitis that developed in his wrist. Activating Pence now allows him to play twice before Thursday’s off-day, then three more games before the All-Star break, so his rest days are built in.
“After the break, we’ll have to keep an eye on him,” Bochy said. “I don’t know if I can run him out there every day and risk that tendinitis coming back. So I’ll rely on the training staff and him. If he feels anything, then we’ll back him off.”
One more reason that activating Pence makes sense: Lifetime against Mets starter Bartolo Colon, he was 5 for 8 with a double and two home runs.
* The Giants’ lineup against Colon:
And the Mets’ lineup against Matt Cain:
LF Mayberry Jr.
▪ As for Aoki, Bochy said he doesn’t have a target date for the outfielder’ss return but it could be within two weeks after the All-Star break. Aoki is still using a crutch, so he has a little ways to go.
▪ Reliever Jeremy Affeldt, who’s on the DL because of a left shoulder strain, threw a bullpen session Tuesday and responded well. Bochy said Affeldt, who felt his release point was dipping before he went on the DL, is “getting his arm back up where he likes it. He’s really feeling good about his delivery and where he’s at with the arm.”
There’s no target date for Affeldt, either, and Bochy said the Giants will have to decide whether to send out Affeldt for a brief rehab assignment or just have him pitch to hitters with the Giants before activating him.
▪ As Bochy acknowledged after Monday night’s loss, the bullpen overall is in a rut. Most notably, late-game right-handers Sergio Romo and Santiago Casilla are struggling, and Bochy said he and pitching coach Dave Righetti have talked about how they’ll handle the late innings at the moment.
Bochy said the Giants likely are “going to start matching it up the best we can” among Romo, Casilla and left-hander Javier Lopez. He pointed out it isn’t only those late-game guys: Yusmeiro Petit is “not quite locked in like we know he has been,” and Jean Machi has had his issues this season.
“It’s going to be up to me to tweak it a little bit as necessary,” Bochy said.
▪ Cain made his first start at AT&T Park almost a year to the day since his last one there, July 9 against the A’s. The right-hander allowed five runs in five innings in his return to the rotation last week in Miami, throwing 89 pitches in the loss.
Asked what he’d like to see from Cain in his second start, Bochy said: “Well, I’d like to see him in the seventh. The stamina part, I think that might have caught up with him a little bit (in Miami). He made a couple mistakes. The strength and stamina part of pitching is so critical for starters. You hope that continues to get better.”