SAN FRANCISCO – All signs point to Hunter Pence growing some roots as the Giants’ No. 3 hitter.
He certainly didn’t have a typical night for a third hitter against Milwaukee on Monday, walking three times and stealing two bases in a 4-2 San Francisco victory. But maybe that’s just it.
Conventional methods aren’t equating to many runs right now for the Giants, which is exactly why manager Bruce Bochy inserted Marco Scutaro as his leadoff hitter, dropped Pablo Sandoval to the fifth spot and elevated Pence to the ‘3’ hole in place of Sandoval.
Pence wound up sparking a three-run rally that snapped a 1-1 tie and got this seven-game homestand off on the right foot for the Giants, who need to start ripping off wins in bunches if they want to stay even remotely in the postseason discussion.
The debut of Bochy’s new-look lineup didn’t shine all-around. Scutaro and new No. 2 hitter Brandon Crawford combined to go 0 for 9 in nine plate appearances. But Bochy says he’s going to give his new-look batting order a long audition.
“We didn’t’ get going there until the (eighth) inning, but it’s a lineup we’re gonna look at for a while,” Bochy said. “Hunter did a great job -- he got on base, stole a couple bases. With the struggles of our leadoff hitters, we’re gonna stick with this for a while and see how it goes.”
Pence – who walked just three times in the entire month of July – led off the bottom of the eighth with a walk against Milwaukee reliever John Axford, his second free pass of the night. With one out he notched his second steal of the night and his team-leading 17th of the season. Perhaps that aggressiveness was still on Axford’s mind when he sailed a wild pitch to the backstop while trying to intentionally walk Sandoval.
After Brandon Belt walked to load the bases, pinch hitter Jeff Francoeur singled home the go-ahead run and Joaquin Arias hit a grounder to third that Jeff Bianchi misplayed for a two-run error and 4-1 Giants lead.
It was hardly textbook baseball, but the Giants are searching desperately for something to rally around. Beating up on the 47-65 Brewers over this four-game series would be a good place to start.
Pence says he’s willing to do whatever it takes for the Giants to turn their season around, and that includes hitting wherever he’s needed. He got heavy consideration from Bochy to hit leadoff Monday himself. Bochy figured Scutaro might need a day off after Sunday’s cross-country flight from Tampa.
Had that been the case, the manager would have written Pence atop the lineup.
Pence was asked if he was hoping to lead off.
“Did I want to lead off tonight?” he asked, repeating the question. “I want to win. That’s it. I don’t care where I hit. I’m here to help.”
When you think of Pence, at least in context of the Giants’ lineup, you think homers and run production. That isn’t happening right now for the outfielder. His 14 homers are tied with Buster Posey for the team lead, but Pence has cleared the fence just once since June 30.
However, he’s hitting .387 since the All-Star break and has reached base in all 17 games since then.
Right now, those credentials are good enough for Bochy when it comes to choosing a No. 3 hitter, who traditionally is supposed to be a team’s most well-rounded offensive threat, supplying power along with a high average.
But Pence’s speed helps offset his current lack of pop.
“He gets his hits but he can run the bases,” Bochy said. “He gives us an added dimension there, especially when you take speed out of the leadoff spot (with Gregor Blanco and/or Andres Torres dropping down). It’s nice to have somebody (near) the top of the order to put some pressure on the opposing team.”