About the time he was 8 or 9 years old, Giants infielder Ehire Adrianza said, his father began taking him to a baseball park near his home in Venezuela for a few hours each day.
“The stadiums there, they suck,” Adrianza said. “They’ve got rocks in the infield and you have to be careful with your face. He’d throw me a tennis ball – roll it to the middle, side to side, every day.”
They used a tennis ball, Adrianza said, because it bounced more unpredictably on the rocky infield, testing the youngster’s reactions. It wouldn’t feel as heavy or solid in a glove as a baseball, but that wasn’t an issue during these sessions.
“I would field with the bare hand,” Adrianza said. “I only used the glove for games.”
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Adrianza, 24, credited the hours on that field with turning him into a sure-handed fielder, something the Giants have valued since signing him in 2006.
His bat has been slower to develop. Adrianza, a switch hitter competing for a backup infielder job this spring, has a career .248 average in the minors, and he hasn’t homered more than six times in a season.
Adrianza hit .300 during a promising 56-game stint at Class-A San Jose in 2011, but he hit just .220 at Double-A Richmond in 2012. But after starting last season in Richmond, Adrianza finished the year at Triple-A Fresno, batting .310 in 45 games.
That success appears to have carried over into spring training, and Adrianza has opened some eyes. Shortly after games started, Giants manager Bruce Bochy called Adrianza “the most impressive guy in camp so far.” He entered Wednesday batting .263 (5 for 19) with two home runs – one from each side of the plate, including a right-handed shot against Cincinnati Reds left-hander Tony Cingrani on Tuesday.
Assistant general manager Bobby Evans said Adrianza seems to be carrying over several adjustments he made late in 2013 working with Giants vice president of player personnel Dick Tidrow and minor-league hitting instructor Steve Decker.
“I’ve seen power; I’ve seen him drive the ball at times in the minor leagues, but just not consistently,” Evans said. After those adjustments, Evans said, “he was hitting the ball hard – not soft line drives – and it showed in the box scores.”
The utility infield job is one of the few competitions in Giants camp this spring, with Adrianza, Tony Abreu, Nick Noonan and Brandon Hicks in contention. The position could become more important depending on how Marco Scutaro does in the coming week.
Scutaro, the projected starter at second base, hasn’t played this spring as he deals with an ailing back. He took part in infield drills and batting practice for the first time Wednesday. The Giants have said they intend to bring Scutaro along slowly this spring and that he may require regular days off during the season.
Adrianza has played almost exclusively at shortstop in the minor leagues, but Evans said he has looked OK taking reps at second base, though he’s still learning the different double-play pivot. The Giants still have several weeks to whittle down their 25-man roster, for which Evans said Adrianza has “made a good case for himself early.”
Offensively, Adrianza said his approach this spring has been to “just get a good pitch to hit and be on time. Like (hitting coach Hensley Meulens) told me a couple times, just see it and hit it. Don’t worry about mechanics. Go out there like it’s BP and have fun, man.
“You see the shortstops in the big leagues like (Troy) Tulowitzki, (Andrelton) Simmons, they hit more than 15 homers (a season). I have to keep working on my hitting and show people I can hit. Right now, I think I’m doing pretty good here with the bat.”