SAN FRANCISCO -- Prior to Saturday’s game, Giants manager Bruce Bochy was asked what makes Kelby Tomlinson intriguing as an outfield option for next season.
"I think you have to look at probably his number one asset," Bochy said, "his speed."
Tomlinson then put that asset on full display by legging out an inside-the-park home run in the first inning of the Giants’ 3-2 win over the Colorado Rockies. Several innings later Tomlinson showed another reason why the Giants think he can handle the move -- ability to adjust on the fly -- when the second baseman made a twisting over-the-shoulder catch on D.J. LeMahieu’s blooper in shallow right field.
When the Giants’ season ends Sunday, Tomlinson will head to the instructional league to get some work in the outfield and increase his defensive versatility ahead of next spring, when he’ll be trying to crack his first opening day roster.
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Tomlinson did not play a single inning of outfield in the minors before being called up by the Giants in August. But Bochy would argue that Tomlinson, primarily a shortstop in the minors, was also relatively inexperienced at second base and made that transition well in his two months in the majors.
"I’ve seen many times in this game where you take a middle infielder with speed, put him out in the outfield and they do fine," Bochy said. "It’s tracking fly balls, a lot of practice.
"I think that the kid can do it. It’s something I think will work and it gives us some more options. We’ve seen how he swings the bat, he battles, he puts the ball in play, the speed plays. He’s just a good all-around ballplayer."
The speed played in the first inning Saturday, when Tomlinson lined a ball just out of the reach of Rockies center fielder Corey Dickerson into Triples Alley at AT&T Park. While Dickerson and right fielder Carlos Gonzalez appeared to hesitate before Gonzalez picked up the ball, Tomlinson was waved home by third-base coach Roberto Kelly, and just beat the relay throw home with a head-first dive.
It was the ninth inside-the-park homer in AT&T Park history and sixth by a Giant, whose last was Angel Pagan’s memorable game-winning sprint against the Rockies on May 25, 2013. Tomlinson said he couldn’t remember ever hitting an inside-the-park homer though the thought had crossed his mind when he first laid eyes on the wide expanses of outfield at the Giants’ home stadium.
"I always thought it’d be pretty cool to get one," Tomlinson said. "But you never really know what’s going to happen. But yeah, it was a lot of fun."
As a result of his headfirst dive, Tomlinson’s glasses were jarred loose -- he said it was the first time they’ve ever come off during a game -- and were returned by Jarrett Parker in the dugout. But the sight ignited a crowd of 41,398 that saw the Giants hit three home runs on the day, with Marlon Byrd and Brandon Crawford recording theirs more conventionally by hitting them over the wall.
Right-hander Jake Peavy navigated a laborious first two innings, throwing 54 pitches but not allowing a run, and exited after five innings with a 3-1 lead to earn the win his final start of the season. Closer Santiago Casilla secured the save -- and in doing so finished a game for the 55th time this season, vesting a $6.5 million contract option for 2016.
"There was no question he was coming back," Bochy said of Casilla. "He’s had a nice year for us … It’s a nice luxury to have two or three guys that experience here closing a game, but he’s a guy that’s emerged as I think one of the better closers in the game."
Whether Tomlinson will join Casilla on the roster when the Giants break camp next spring remains to be seen, but Tomlinson said he’s open to experimenting in the outfield if it means increasing his chances.
"I don’t think it’s going to take over my infield work (this offseason)," Tomlinson said. "It’s not something where I’m going to come into spring training ready to be an outfielder. But if the need arises, I would have some work out there and it wouldn’t be completely foreign to me.
"I guess I’ll almost prepare as if that’s what I’m going to do, and prepare for both of them -- just do double duty a little bit, and be ready for both."