Hunter Pence had to wait a little more than two months after fracturing his left forearm March 5 to play in another game. The first fly ball hit to him Friday night at Raley Field sliced toward the line in shallow right field, and Pence’s hat came flying off as he raced to make the catch. An inning later, on his first game swing since his injury, the Giants’ rehabbing right fielder drove in a run.
Pence began his much-anticipated rehab assignment with the Triple-A Sacramento River Cats on Friday night displaying all the energy one might have expected from the spirited outfielder after a two-month layoff. His pant legs customarily pulled up to the knees, left arm snug in an orange sleeve, Pence started in right field and batted third for Sacramento while taking perhaps the biggest step yet in his road back to the Giants.
Playing five innings in his first rehab game, Pence got involved immediately by running down Tim Smalling’s fly ball in the top of the first. In the bottom of the inning, he came up against Albuquerque Isotopes right-hander Chad Bettis with a man on third and no outs. Pence dug his right foot into the back of the batter’s box, took two pitches and then hit a fly ball to right field, deep enough to score Ryan Lollis for a sacrifice fly.
It drew a loud reaction from a Raley Field crowd that cheered nearly every move Pence made Friday night. They applauded loudly again when Pence came up in the third and grounded out to shortstop, running hard down the line before being thrown out by a step. Pence struck out waving at a full-count pitch in his third and final plate appearance. In the second inning, he sprinted in from right field to back up first base on a groundout.
In short, Pence showed little hesitation returning to game action for the first time since a Corey Black pitch broke his arm in the first week of spring training games. Because he’d missed most of spring games, though, and due to the length of his layoff, Giants manager Bruce Bochy indicated this week the length of Pence’s rehab stint -- as yet undetermined -- could be significant.
"We’ll monitor this thing, but it’s going to be spring training for him," Bochy said. "We gotta build him up to nine innings, he’s got to see live pitching. It’s going to take a little while."
Fans at Raley Field were happy to welcome Pence, crowding the railing along the third-base line near the River Cats’ dugout well before Friday’s game. Pence entered the field around 6:35 p.m., waving and smiling to the crowd, and spent about 10 minutes signing autographs and posing for pictures before hitting the field for pre-game warm-ups. As he does at AT&T Park, he began by jogging out to center field and tapping the wall.
Pence is expected to remain with the River Cats at least through the end of their current homestand Sunday.