When Juan Perez hit what turned out to be a game-winning, two-run homer in the sixth inning of the Giants’ 3-2 win over the Reds on Wednesday, likely few people in the team’s dugout were happier than fellow outfielder Gregor Blanco.
Blanco has spent plenty of time during his career in Perez’s role – a reserve whose appearances are mostly of the pinch-hit or defensive variety and, as a player with options remaining, is always an organizational move away from Triple A.
“I know it’s not easy,” Blanco said.
Perez had been recalled from Fresno days earlier for his third stint already with the Giants this season and went into a rare start against the Reds last week 1 for 21 in the majors in 2014. When Perez homered off left-hander Tony Cingrani, Blanco said, “For him to do it just made me think, ‘Man, awesome.’
“That’ll give him a little more confidence,” Blanco said. “He’ll know he can do something in that role. I think he’s going to start stepping it up, so it’s good.”
Perez may get more chances to contribute at the major-league level with the Giants opting to keep 13 position players Friday while activating right-hander Matt Cain. To make room for Cain on the roster, the Giants designated reliever David Huff for assignment, preserving a five-man bench and a spot for Perez, who had been recalled when Cain went on the disabled list.
With the Giants facing another left-hander Friday in the Mets’ Jonathon Niese, manager Bruce Bochy gave Perez his fifth start of the year in left field. He went 1 for 4 in the Giants’ 4-2 win.
Bochy commended Perez before the game for “going to Fresno and keeping his head up” after being sent down May 12 – Perez is batting .333 in 20 Triple-A games this year – and said now that Perez is back, he wants to “try to keep him going as much as I can.”
Regarding Perez’s major-league numbers before being he was optioned in May, Bochy said: “He had probably the toughest job of anybody – not playing, coming off the bench, facing the setup guy or closer and trying to get a base hit. You do that five, six, seven times, you’re going to lose some confidence.”
Perez said the hardest part has been the lack of consistent at-bats. Entering games late carries the challenge that Blanco described as having “one at-bat, one opportunity to help the team win, which is tough because you have to go from zero to 100.” It also typically doesn’t allow for in-game adjustments at the plate like the one Perez made before hitting his second major-league homer.
Cingrani had struck Perez out looking on a fastball in an earlier at-bat, so Perez said he went up in the sixth “trying to be aggressive” and looking for a first-pitch fastball, which he got. Usually, Perez said, he’s “not a guy that likes to swing at the first pitch – unless it’s a guy like Cingrani who gives you a lot of fastballs.”
Entering Friday, Perez was batting .242 in 28 games he had started for the Giants over the past two seasons, compared to .158 in the 29 games he had entered as a substitute. He said he tries to keep the same approach regardless and talked with Marco Scutaro last season about how Scutaro remained a consistent hitter as a role player on previous teams.
“When I’ve been in Fresno, some of the guys talk to me about it, and I tell them it’s hard coming off the bench in the big leagues, facing big-league pitching,” Perez said. “You’ve just got to be prepared, you know? Don’t get frustrated, just have fun. We have such a good team, good teammates, you’ve just got to have fun.”
Blanco agreed it’s easier for bench players to accept their roles when the team is playing well, and the Giants entered their weekend series against the Mets with the best record in the majors. They also welcomed back Cain on Friday after the right-hander missed three starts with a strained right hamstring sustained May 21.
Cain’s return allows Yusmeiro Petit to slide back into his normal long-relief role, making Huff the odd man out in the bullpen. The Giants had carried 13 pitchers early this season, but Bochy said, “We feel that we’re OK with 12 pitchers right now and we’re better off going with the extra position player. … It’s nice having that flexibility with the (bench).”