San Francisco Giants

Back still aching – Pagan will see doctor

SAN FRANCISCO - Giants manager Bruce Bochy penciled in a new name at the top of his lineup Tuesday – but not the one the Giants were hoping to have back to begin their three-game series against the St. Louis Cardinals.

Eligible to return from the disabled list Tuesday, center fielder Angel Pagan instead told reporters before the game that he suffered a “minor” setback to his injured back Monday and would fly to Los Angeles today to see a specialist.

Pagan, who last played June 14, said he aggravated his back while running and will see Dr. Robert Watkins to determine “the best plan possible” to return to the field. Pagan has already been diagnosed with a bulging disc in his lower back that is irritating a nerve, he said, causing pain down his leg.

“I had a little minor setback and we just decided to be cautious and go to L.A. to see the best doctor out there, to have a better plan for the future,” Pagan said. “Hopefully he has great news.”

Pagan, who has tried aiding his recovery with medication and injections, to no avail, said he is not considering surgery as an option right now. Manager Bruce Bochy also attempted to strike an optimistic tone, saying Pagan had been “making some progress, and so I like to look at it as a minor setback.”

That would behoove the Giants, to whom Pagan’s presence has seemed critical the past few years. Since acquiring Pagan before the 2012 season, the Giants entering Tuesday were 156-116 (a .574 winning percentage) with the center fielder in the starting lineup and 60-74 (.448) without him.

Defining Pagan’s value has proved somewhat tricky. He has never finished higher than 32nd in MVP voting and during the Giants’ World Series season in 2012 was the team’s third-most valuable player in Wins Above Replacement (4.0), according to baseball-reference.com, behind Buster Posey (7.3) and Melky Cabrera (4.7), who did not play the final third of the season because of a suspension.

More revealing has been the Giants’ performance in Pagan’s absence. Last season, the start of their midsummer collapse coincided with a hamstring injury he suffered in late May. He ultimately missed 82 games – and Bochy and teammates alike later said how much they missed his spark atop the lineup.

The Giants entered Tuesday having lost 10 of 13 games during Pagan’s current hiatus. Bochy, though, made a point Tuesday afternoon of refusing to cite that as the reason.

“A team’s not built like that,” Bochy said. “You have to deal with injuries, guys getting days off. We have players that are capable of filling in. ... I know the numbers are not very good, but at the same time, it’s not just one guy that carries a ballclub. He’s a big part of this team and a big part of this offense. It’d be nice to get him back, but it’s no excuse for us going through what we’ve gone through the last two weeks.”

Still, Bochy made one change Tuesday to a lineup that has been almost uniformly cold of late. Juan Perez led off and played center field rather than Gregor Blanco, who had taken over those duties in Pagan’s absence but was just 10 for 52 (.192) since June 15 and had scored one run in his last 10 games.

Pagan was batting .307 with a .356 on-base percentage this season.

The lineup is also missing first baseman Brandon Belt – who hit nine home runs in 129 at-bats prior to fracturing his left thumb in May. But Belt is expected to rejoin the Giants on Friday, providing an offensive boost. Pagan’s timetable is suddenly much murkier.

The Giants have played the entire first half of the season without second baseman Marco Scutaro because of Scutaro’s balky back. Pagan said his ailment is “totally different” from Scutaro’s. But regarding Monday’s setback, Bochy acknowledged: “We don’t know enough (yet) to say if it’s gotten worse or it’s just a one-day deal.”

Asked if it’s difficult to remain sidelined during the Giants’ current skid, Pagan said that while “I can’t be there, my heart and my presence is going to be in the dugout supporting my teammates.”

“We’ve been in this situation before, so whatever we have, we’re going to go out there and compete,” he said. “If I’m not in the lineup, somebody else will pick me up. That’s the nature of this team. That’s the importance of the team. When somebody is down, somebody should get up and pick you up.”

But in Pagan’s case that has often proved easier said than done.

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