Giants notes: Looking for lightning from Francoeur and Tanaka

Bochy details how Giants will use Francoeur, Tanaka

Giants notes: Looking for lightning from Francoeur and Tanaka
July 9, 2013, 6:00 pm
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Jeff Francoeur is batting third and playing left field for Triple-A Fresno Tuesday night, while Kensuke Tanaka is batting second and playing left field for the Giants Tuesday. (USA TODAY IMAGES)

SAN FRANCISCO – Kensuke Tanaka gave up a guaranteed $2 million contract with the Nippon Ham Fighters. In return, he received a No.88 jersey in the spring, a locker in the Giants’ clubhouse at Scottsdale Stadium – and absolutely no guarantees.

That’s how much he wanted to pursue his dream of playing in the major leagues.

Tanaka made it Tuesday. With the Giants’ lineup in an ice age, they’ll try to generate friction with a few new sticks. They purchased Tanaka’s contract in the hopes that some part of the left-handed hitter’s .330 average and .392 on-base percentage can translate from the Pacific Coast League.

[LINEUP: Tanaka to make MLB debut]

The club also announced their minor league deal with outfielder Jeff Francoeur, a right-handed hitter who was released by the Kansas City Royals after batting .208 with a .249 on-base percentage in almost 200 plate appearances.

Francoeur is a lightning-in-a-bottle play reminiscent of the flyer the Giants took on Pat Burrell in 2010 – and that one worked pretty well, obviously. The trick is to see if lightning can strike again.

Like Burrell, Francoeur is starting at Triple-A Fresno and will bat third and play left field for the Grizzlies Tuesday night. His deal comes with the understanding that the Giants will purchase his contract after a few games.

Tanaka is another desperation play to aid an outfield that has been woeful ever since they lost Angel Pagan to hamstring surgery. Tanaka, a left-handed hitter, will bat second and make his major league debut in left field for the Giants Tuesday night. He made a slew of errors at second base in the spring and won’t be asked to pick up an infielder’s glove, Giants manager Bruce Bochy said.

The arrival of Tanaka, and pending arrival of Francoeur, will cut down on Andres Torres’ playing time – and more or less reestablish a platoon between Torres and Gregor Blanco in center field.

“It worked out well when Angel was in center and we used both Gregor and Andres,” Bochy said. “Torres, I think, is a better player when you’re able to use him like that. We still see him playing against left-handers and we’ll see how it goes with Tanaka. Right now, we need a spark.”

Francoeur, 29, has a cannon arm and has been used in right field most of his career. But Hunter Pence is expected to remain there, so he’ll get used to left field while in Fresno. Francoeur has a pair of 100-RBI seasons in his career, but those were in 2006-07 when he came up as a phenom with the Atlanta Braves. He hit 20 home runs in 2011. Mostly, though, he’s been a poster boy for the sabermetric set, who point out that he seldom draws a walk.

Francoeur was hitting .242 against left-handers before the Royals cut him loose. Could the Giants really expect any production from someone who has struggled so long at the plate?

“Well I don’t think it’s been that long,” Bochy said. “He has a history of doing good things with the bat and he’s a veteran presence. Hopefully we’ll have him help our outfield situation. We could use some help.

“Sometimes a change of scenery is good. He’s young and he’s healthy and we’re excited he signed with us.”

***

The Giants designated outfielder Cole Gillespie for assignment to clear roster space for Tanaka. They made one more roster move, recalling left-hander Mike Kickham to boost the bullpen after Monday’s 16-inning loss to the Mets.

Catcher Hector Sanchez was placed on the disabled list with more right shoulder soreness, which has bothered him since winter ball. Sanchez hasn’t been able to catch in recent days and opposing runners are 10 for 10 in stolen-base attempts against him.

(Bochy said he’d stay away from Sandy Rosario as well as Sergio Romo, who has been used on three consecutive days.)

As for Tanaka, he signed with the Giants because he was so taken with the team in 2010 that won the World Series. He attended Game 1 – “Lincecum, Lee” – and knew from that day that he would regret it if he didn’t at least try to make it to the big leagues. The Giants signed him after watching him play at an open tryout in Arizona around Christmas.

But Tanaka’s spring was only a dream in Wes Craven’s reckoning. He made seven errors, most of them on simple plays, before the Giants reassigned him to minor league camp on March 21. Right up until the end, bench coach Ron Wotus worked with him every morning at daybreak on a back field as he got used to grass fields and a different ball, along with everything else that comes with playing in a new environment.

[REWIND: Giants have a fighter in Tanaka]

Tanaka didn’t give up on himself, and now he’s here.

Tanaka, who won five Gold Gloves in 13 seasons in Japan, said he started to feel comfortable at Fresno in May -- but he hasn’t achieved his goal yet.

“Playing in the major leagues is just one of the goals,” he said, through interpreter Taira Uematsu. “I want to play good here and stay here as long as I can. That is the big goal – to play well.”

He’s wearing No.37. That’s better than 88, for sure.

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