SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Infielder Kensuke Tanaka called it “fun” and “energizing” to play against his Japanese compatriots in an exhibition Thursday at Scottsdale Stadium.
But there’s only so much fun to be had when you’ve committed seven errors in 16 games. His latest one, as the starting shortstop this time, wasn’t his worst of the spring; he ranged far to his right to keep a ball on the infield, but his desperation toss skipped past first baseman Buster Posey and allowed the runner to take an extra 90 feet.
Later in the game, Tanaka tried a flip throw from shortstop that acted like a dying quail and was nowhere in time.
Sure, he’s had some tough plays. And he was a four-time Gold Glove winner as a second baseman with the Nippon Ham Fighters. But there’s no hiding this: The Giants have committed 15 errors all spring and Tanaka owns seven of them.
Yet Giants manager Bruce Bochy said he wouldn’t pull the plug on using Tanaka at shortstop and third base.
“We’ll continue what we’ve been doing,” Bochy said. “Obviously, we’re hoping to see improvement there with the throwing. We know it’s an adjustment for him and… he’s got a lot on his plate. We’ve thrown a lot at him. From this point, it’s our hope he gets more comfortable as we go. We thought with moving him around, we’d see some errors. We’re hoping it gets better all around with the defense.
“Defense will play a big part in this.”
The Giants have Joaquin Arias to cover innings at short and third, and their other backup infielder last season, Ryan Theriot, was pretty much limited to second base. So it’s not an absolute requirement that Tanaka display proficiency on the left side of the infield.
That’s a good thing, since it doesn’t appear Tanaka has enough arm to play anywhere but second base. He said through an interpreter that he has a better idea of what adjustments he must make now that he’s spent a month in camp.
“Now I’ll work on that and build on my technique,” Tanaka said. “I’ve been playing second base most of the time so I’m not quite sure how strong I should throw the ball. That’s something I need to gain more experience and polish up.”
Tanaka gave up a $3 million guarantee with the Fighters to take No. 88 and a non-roster invitation to try to win a job with the Giants – perhaps one of the reasons Bochy feels indebted to give him the longest possible look.
It’s not like anyone else has stepped up to grab the reserve infielder job. Wilson Valdez hasn’t stood out, Tony Abreu has played three innings all spring because of a quad/knee injury and Nick Noonan, for all his defensive improvement, is hitting .171. (Paging Ryan Theriot….)
Tanaka does appear capable of improvement. He’s come around with the bat after a slow start and has a .238 average after whistling a single off knuckle-dragging lefty Kazuhisa Makita. His legs appear plenty useful off the bench, too; he hasn’t been afraid to run while stealing three bases in three attempts.
Does Tanaka feel he’s played well enough to make the team?
“That’s not for me to decide,” he said. “So I will do what I’m told to do and I hope to do that well.”
As for playing a tuneup against Japan, which is already through to the semifinals of the World Baseball Classic at AT&T Park, Tanaka said he likes the club’s chances.
“They have been playing a lot of detailed baseball,” Tanaka said. “If they keep playing that detailed baseball, they can be successful.”
Bochy’s assessment was more blunt after the Giants managed five hits in the 6-3 loss.
“They played well, they swung the bats, they pitched well,” Bochy said. “They played a good ballgame. They certainly outplayed us.
“We didn’t have many good swings. That’s what disappointed me. We were passive with the bats.”