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Opinion: River Cats’ Ehire Adrianza has .352 average, will travel

Giants second baseman Ehire Adrianza (6) scores after third baseman Pablo Sandoval (48) hit an RBI single July 10, 2014 against the Oakland A’s in the Bay Bridge series at AT&T Park in San Francisco.
Giants second baseman Ehire Adrianza (6) scores after third baseman Pablo Sandoval (48) hit an RBI single July 10, 2014 against the Oakland A’s in the Bay Bridge series at AT&T Park in San Francisco. Sacramento Bee file

Next year, if and when Ehire Adrianza finds a major-league job somewhere other than San Francisco, he’ll look back fondly to the April 21 night in El Paso, Texas, when he felt something pop in the back of his left leg.

Adrianza, the River Cats’ smooth shortstop, pulled a hamstring running out a grounder. The injury confined him to the disabled list for 16 games in what became a period of contemplation for the young man from Venezuela.

His hammy now healed, Adrianza has swung the hottest bat in town since his May 9 return.

Entering Wednesday, he had 23 hits in his past 56 at-bats. That .411 average raised his season average to .352, best on the club that closes out a homestand Thursday at 12:05 p.m. against the Nashville Sounds. Since coming back, Adrianza, 25, also has drawn 10 walks, scored eight runs and hit four doubles.

Signed as a free agent by the Giants when he was 17, Adrianza attributes his spurt to “not trying to do too much, and for me, just playing baseball and playing every day. You see more pitches, you get better.”

The injury also helped. It allowed Adrianza to watch more video of himself. In his film study, he saw that too often the guy at the plate swung too early in the count.

“Sometimes when I get too excited, I swing at the first pitch,” Adrianza said. “That doesn’t work for me. When I’m hitting good, I see more pitches, three or four per at-bat.”

So Adrianza became more patient and improved his batting average by 102 points in 17 days.

On Tuesday night, in a 3-0 loss to Barry Zito and the Sounds – what a terrific name for a band that would be – Adrianza worked Nashville pitching for two singles and a walk in four trips to the plate. First time up, he looked at a Zito changeup in the zone and a fastball that nipped the corner as the count went 0 and 2. Zito then missed by a fraction with an inside fastball as the observant Adrianza followed it with his nose into the catcher’s mitt. He grounded a fourth pitch foul, then stayed back on another slowish offering and uncoiled a roller that made left field for a base hit.

Adrianza was a picture of patience. Next time up, he demonstrated even more of it when he waited out Zito for a walk. In the sixth inning, he grounded to short, and in the eighth he looked at a strike and a ball before reliever Ryan Verdugo gave him something he liked. Adrianza bounced it up the middle for his second hit.

Adrianza, a 6-foot-1, 170-pound switch hitter, swung Tuesday from the right-handed side. He also has figured things out from the left to compile a startling statistical symmetry. Entering Wednesday’s game, he was hitting .355 as a right-hander and .349 left. He had two doubles and a home run both left and right, with his eight RBIs distributed evenly, too. It looks as if neither side weakens his knowledge of the strike zone, either. He’s walked six times against right-handers and five against left-handers.

“He’s been our best hitter since he’s been back,” River Cats manager Bob Mariano said Tuesday. “He’s just doing everything right – good approach, good at-bats.”

Hitting a ball is a bit easier for Adrianza than when he was a little kid. His dad used to pitch him pebbles he hit with a stick. And it wasn’t because the family was poor. The old man, also named Ehire, worked as a top scout in Venezuela for the Chicago White Sox and is the brother of the big club’s former manager, Ozzie Guillen, Adrianza said. Uncle Ozzie, who doubles as Adrianza’s godfather, spends much of his time these days on Chicago-area golf courses or barbecuing in the backyard, according to his nephew, who said Guillen calls and texts him regularly with the wisdom of a World Series winner.

“He told me every day to be consistent, to work hard,” Adrianza said. “When you’re hot, work hard. When you’re in a slump, work hard, no matter what.”

In his nine years in the Giants organization, Adrianza has played in the Dominican Summer League, the Arizona Instructional League and the Venezuelan Winter League. He has played in the Northwest League, the South Atlantic League, the California League, the Eastern League and the Pacific Coast League.

He also has played a little in the National League and would like to do so again, but he sees the traffic jam at AT&T Park with Brandon Crawford at shortstop and Joe Panik at second.

Happily, Adrianza is out of options with the Giants. He is playing in Sacramento as a soon-to-be free agent, hoping one of the other 29 big-league clubs might want to give a look to a good glove man who can hit .352.

“I just need to put up some numbers,” Adrianza said. “I want to prove I can be here for 10, 15 years.”