SAN FRANCISCO – It’s hard to trust the numbers in the Pacific Coast League, where games often devolve into slo-pitch softball. At altitude, in many cases, too.
But several Fresno Grizzlies hitters are off to roaring starts – and one of them is likely to be in a major league uniform at AT&T Park when the Giants begin their weekend rivalry series with the Los Angeles Dodgers on Friday.
Outfielder Francisco Peguero entered Thursday hitting .415 in 16 games, with two home runs and five doubles among his 27 hits. He’s also driven in 14 runs and appears back on track after a bruised shoulder (sustained while diving for a fly ball) knocked him out for a week.
Peguero nearly made the Giants out of spring training and he’s considered the top internal option to boost the bench. The club is giving strong consideration to bringing up Peguero and sending down backup catcher Hector Sanchez, who might have sealed a trip to Fresno when he struck out looking as a pinch hitter Wednesday night at Arizona’s Chase Field.
As you might remember, the Giants began the season with three catchers in part so they could use Sanchez’s switch-hitting bat more freely off the bench. But Sanchez is just 3 for 20 without an extra-base hit (and 0 for 6 as a pinch hitter) in limited action, and he’s been passed up by Guillermo Quiroz, a better receiver, as Buster Posey’s primary backup.
Sanchez also missed a good chunk of the spring with a sore right shoulder. And it’s worth noting that he had just 227 plate appearances as Posey’s backup last season, too. So he would benefit greatly from everyday playing time – and he’s likely to get it soon.
Peguero isn’t the only Grizzlies hitter tearing up the PCL, but he does appear to be the best fit to add versatility to the big league roster. In addition to providing a hot right-handed bat, Peguero can play all three outfield spots at a premium and he can pinch run, too. (He was 3 for 3 in stolen-base attempts after a September call-up last season.)
He might even merit a start or two this weekend, with the Dodgers set to throw three left-handed pitchers. Andres Torres, who has formed the right-handed portion of a left field platoon with Gregor Blanco, has cost the Giants with several defensive lapses in recent games. Torres' switch-hitting bat might be better used off the bench, in the role the club originally envisioned for Sanchez.
The Giants have less of a current need for a right-handed backup infielder, but Brett Pill is knocking on the door with a mailed fist. The first baseman entered Thursday with a .368 average, .394 on-base percentage and unreal .701 slugging percentage built on six homers, a triple and nine doubles. He has 29 RBI in 22 games for Fresno, too.
Pill had knee surgery in the spring that knocked him out of contention for the opening day roster, but he made a quick recovery and looked like he didn’t miss a thing when the Triple-A season started.
Outfielder Roger Kieschnick, who had a disappointing spring, has a .299/.317/.577 line with four homers, four (!) triples and seven doubles among his 29 hits. He’s also struck out 29 times in 97 at-bats, though.
Others off to a hot start include infielder Carter Jurica, who was seen by many scouts as a third-round overdraft out of Kansas State in 2010. He was making seriously consistent contact while hitting .348/.414/.483. And second baseman Kensuke Tanaka found his stroke after a difficult spring, hitting .375/.417/.458. Tanaka also has eight errors and has been caught in four of nine stolen-base attempts, though – a sign he hasn’t figured out the throwing problems in the spring that quickly eliminated him as a candidate for a big league backup job.
On the flipside, former top prospect Gary Brown was hitting just .173/.246/.269 in 26 games, and had been caught in three of four stolen-base attempts. He rescued himself from a very slow start last year at Double-A Richmond. Looks like he'll be in the same position this year.
Gonna anticipate a question here … Some are sure to ask, why not bring up Pill when the Giants are about to face three left-handed pitchers in the Dodgers series? Well, that’s a good point but only if you envision Pill starting some games. That probably isn’t what the Giants have in mind. I doubt you’ll see Brandon Belt sit more than once over the weekend.
The Giants will have some roster decisions to make in the bullpen as well, with left-hander Jeremy Affeldt due to come off the disabled list on Friday.
I thought they might be tempted to go with 13 pitchers, especially since they only used one reserve position player in their 12-inning loss at San Diego over the weekend. But from what I gather, the Giants feel the bullpen will be well rested after Thursday’s day off, and there’s no reason to go short with a four-man bench.
So expect right-hander Sandy Rosario, after pocketing his first major league victory, to be optioned back to Fresno to clear space for Affeldt.
Here’s where it’ll get tricky: The Giants will need one more relief spot when left-hander Jose Mijares is ready to return from the bereavement list. He’s eligible Friday because he’s already missed the minimum of three days, but there’s no indication he’ll be back by then. You might see the Giants just let Mijares take the maximum seven days and miss the Dodgers series. Then they can reevaluate where they’re at before they’d have to activate him Monday.