San Francisco Giants

Giants’ Gregor Blanco ready if called upon in Hunter Pence’s absence

San Francisco Giants Angel Pagan, and Gregor Blanco talk before hitting in the first inning on Friday, March 6, 2015 in the Cactus League game between the Texas Rangers and San Francisco Giants at Surprise Stadium, in Surprise, Arizona.
San Francisco Giants Angel Pagan, and Gregor Blanco talk before hitting in the first inning on Friday, March 6, 2015 in the Cactus League game between the Texas Rangers and San Francisco Giants at Surprise Stadium, in Surprise, Arizona. jvillegas@sacbee.com

-- Gregor Blanco is no stranger to this scenario: A Giants outfielder goes down, Blanco steps in to replace him. It happened last season, when Angel Pagan was shut down in the second half for back surgery. It happened in 2012, when Melky Cabrera was suspended for PEDs.

The Giants will start the 2015 season without Hunter Pence, who suffered a left forearm fracture Thursday and is expected to be out 6 to 8 weeks. It hasn’t been decided yet how the Giants will structure their outfield defense in Pence’s absence. But it’s a safe bet that Blanco will be involved somehow.

"The first reaction when it happened was just like, wow, I hope he’s OK," Blanco said of seeing Pence hit by a Corey Black fastball on Thursday.

"I just worry about him being healthy as fast as possible. If it means I’m going to be in the starting lineup at the beginning of the year, yeah, I will take it and I will do my job. And I hope he feels like, ‘I know Gregor is there and going to help me out.’"

It is for scenarios like this that the Giants value Blanco, a solid defender who can handle the tough outfield conditions at AT&T Park and is flexible about his role. Blanco started last season as the Giants’ fourth outfielder but wound up playing in a career-high 146 games, batting .260 with a .333 on-base percentage and playing strong defense during the postseason.

Manager Bruce Bochy said Friday the Giants will take an early look at Nori Aoki to fill in for Pence in right field. But they could also end up going with Blanco -- who is more familiar with the jutting outfield wall and dimensions of right field at AT&T Park -- or with a platoon of Blanco and Juan Perez.

"Really it’s going to come down to who’s going to be out there for the most part," Bochy said. "That’s a tough position (at AT&T), right field. But our left field is too, particularly in day games. Right now I’d say that whoever’s playing right field will be out there pretty much every day."

Blanco has a track record in these situations. According to FanGraphs, Blanco has posted a 7.2 total WAR over the past three seasons -- only slightly behind Pagan’s 7.7 mark -- indicating he is a capable backup option. (Pence’s WAR the past three years, including his half-season in Philadelphia in 2012, is 11.8.)

The Giants re-signed Blanco to a two-year deal worth $7.5 million this offseason, buying out his final two years of arbitration, and Blanco said he had no desire to look elsewhere, even when the Giants signed Aoki to be their third everyday outfielder.

"I wasn’t worried about money, I was just worried about getting a good deal, and both sides did good," said Blanco, 31. "It’s more important to me to feel good where you’re going to play, and to have the family we have here.

"I was really happy the Giants gave me a two-year deal, and I’m thankful for everything they have done for me. I want to be here for the rest of my career -- I’ve been saying this a couple times already, and I really mean it."

* If you missed it, Pence talked with reporters Friday morning about his injury and what comes next. Pence was in good spirits and made it clear he has no hard feelings towards Black. The Cubs right-hander actually reached out to Pence on Twitter on Thursday night and Pence responded with an encouraging message for Black on Friday.

"I have no hard feelings toward him, I have no hard feelings toward the situation," Pence said. "It happens. I think that’s the respect among competitors. We’re here to compete in a game, and there are dangers."

Bochy said after the Giants’ 12-3 win over the Texas Rangers at Surprise Stadium that he had no updates on Pence’s recovery timetable, so the prognosis is still 6 to 8 weeks.

* Right-hander Yusmeiro Petit was sharp in his Cactus League debut, throwing two innings and retiring all six batters he faced on 26 pitches. His efficiency recalled his performance last postseason, and Bochy said Petit came to camp "ready" and "in good shape."

Petit had a couple of interesting revelations after he came out of the game. For one, he said he rewatched his crucial six-inning relief outing in Game 2 of last year’s NLDS in Washington "like three times" over the winter -- because his family members back in Venezuela kept wanting to watch it with him.

Petit was also asked whether, in retrospect, he felt he got away with any mistakes during that game. Just one could have been costly, as the Giants were playing on the road and in extra innings of a tied game. Petit’s six scoreless innings preserved the tie until Brandon Belt’s game-winning home run in the 18th.

"Nope," Petit said, with a small smile.

Not one mistake?

"Nope."

* Several long-shot candidates for the Giants’ roster had good days in the 12-3 win. Outfielder Jarrett Parker crushed two balls into the wind in center field -- the first was caught, but the second bounced off the top of the wall and back onto the field for a two-run double.

"He should’ve had two home runs to straightaway center," Bochy said. "In fact, I was kidding him before the second at-bat, I said, ‘You got all of that (first) ball, didn’t you?’ He said, ‘Yeah, I don’t think I can hit a ball better.’ Well, he hit the next one better, and it went off the top of the wall."

Outfielder Gary Brown hit an impressive home run to left field, and infielder Matt Duffy also homered on a line drive to left leading off the second inning. After Petit’s day ended, right-hander Kyle Crick contributed 2 2/3 scoreless innings, allowing one hit and a pair of walks.

"Good day for Crick, I told him that," Bochy said. "That should help his confidence. He hit a bump in the road last year (in spring), but he looked good."

* Brandon Crawford picked up his first hit of spring with a two-run triple in the first inning as the Giants’ designated hitter. Crawford has yet to play shortstop in a game due to shoulder soreness. But Bochy said Crawford "had a good day" in infield drills Friday and could play defense in a game by Monday or Tuesday.

* The Giants sent three pitchers to minor-league camp: Nik Turley, Raymond Black and Clayton Blackburn. Bochy said Blackburn’s case was injury-related -- he felt something in his shoulder while throwing live batting practice at the Giants’ minor-league facility. A diagnostic test came back OK, Bochy said.

Call The Bee’s Matt Kawahara, (916) 321-1015. See his baseball coverage at sacbee.com/mlb. Follow him on Twitter at @matthewkawahara.

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