SCOTTSDALE — Ryder Jones likes the handle on his bat, but he had to think twice when a former player told him he needs to change it up. That’s because the former player was none other than Willie Mays.
Jones, a 21-year-old infielder, was in big league camp for the first time this spring. He had met Mays a few times at minor league camp, but one day earlier this month Mays requested a closer look at his bats. Jones brought a couple over, and the Hall of Famer spent a few minutes holding them, examining them, taking mock swings, and giving advice.
“Everyone has a preference with their bat,” Jones said. “But when Willie says something, you think about it a bit more. He makes the game sound so easy. It’s a piece of history sitting right there in the locker room, and we get to pick his brain a little bit.”
Jones impressed in his first stretch at Scottsdale Stadium. He’s a big (6-foot-3) hitter and showed power while going 6-for-13 in Cactus League games. Before getting sent down he tried to soak in as much as he could, especially when Hunter Pence would pull younger players in for a pep talk. Pence spends much of his time down in Arizona sitting in a circle with prospects who hang on every word.
“He would talk to us every day,” Jones said. “It’s fiery and it’s fun, and it’s just about how they want to win every single day. The mentality is just to win. You learn how to prepare from Hunter. He has his routine every day. Us young guys are still trying to find a routine.”
Pence didn’t limit himself to position players. On the day he was sent down, right-handed reliever Jake Smith said Pence and Javier Lopez helped him quite a bit.
“What stands out is kind of the way veterans helped you out day in and day out,” Smith said. “A lot of it is about mindset. Javi sat down with me and talked to me about it a lot. Pence talked a lot about synergy and group energy and trying to achieve the same goal. You see success, you see the World Series.”
Jones is likely headed to Double-A Richmond this season with his spring roommate Christian Arroyo (who went 10-for-18). Smith will be there, too. They’ll be back up in big league camp at some point, meaning more time with Mays, Pence, Lopez and the rest of the big leaguers.
For now, more leftover notes from 42 looooong days in the desert …
--- Ray Black was back with the big leaguers a couple times in the last week and said he’s pretty close to having all restrictions lifted. The oft-injured right-hander has not pitched on back-to-back days as a professional but said that’ll happen at some point this season. He’s headed for Richmond, so the Giants may still slow-play him a little early in the season when it’s cold out there. Black, who can hit 103 mph, is very eager to let loose, and it’s getting to the time when the Giants just need to ride it out and see what he can do while healthy.
--- Jake Dunning was back on Monday night, continuing a week of every-other-day visits to big league camp. Dunning was never in consideration for the Opening Day roster, but manager Bruce Bochy kept bringing him back over to the big league games because he wanted to see if this new version of the right-hander is for real. Bochy believes it is, and if Dunning keeps pitching this way he’ll be back on the 40-man sometime during the season. (The Giants can eventually clear a spot by putting Ian Gardeck on the 60-day DL.)
Dunning said part of this uptick is mental. He tore his groin early last season, and after two weeks off and one week of rehab, he “came back out and did it again.” It’s not pleasant to tear your groin twice. Or so I’m told.
Dunning said the hardest part of the rehab was between the ears, because you have to trust that you’re going to be fine the next time you push off a mound. To speed that process up he went and played Winter Ball for the first time, starting and relieving for Magallanes in Venezuela.
“It was a cool experience,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like that.”
Dunning enjoyed his time in Venezuela, and it served the desired purpose. Those doubts were washed out of his head, and now he’s firmly back on Bochy's radar.
--- Buster Posey left Arizona with just 34 at-bats under his belt, but he said that’s fine. Posey sat down about a week ago and mapped out the rest of his exhibition season, and he figured he could get close to the 40 to 50 at-bats he usually gets. He'll play in Sacramento tonight, along with every starter but Joe Panik and Matt Duffy, who stayed back for Tuesday night's game in Surprise. (Funny thing about Duffy: He still has never been to the city of Sacramento, since he skipped Triple-A and forced his way onto the Opening Day roster last spring.)
--- During his final session with beat writers before a flight home, Bochy was asked to name things that stood out from six weeks of camp. He said he was happy with the overall health of his club, noting that Camp Slow-Play ultimately got the Giants to Opening Day — or at least to this weekend’s series — with a healthy squad. Bochy also was happy with Kelby Tomlinson’s ability to be a backup at shortstop and play some third, and he noted that Ehire Adrianza “came in in good shape and played well.” Bochy said both guys would get more time than in the past, as he’s going to try hard to be better about resting his everyday infielders.
“And Pagan,” Bochy added, “I didn’t know where he would be. I thought he would be behind, which he was, but he’s playing really well.”
Pagan looks like the player he was when he first came over from New York. He’s moving well and playing an aggressive style. Will it last? You never know. Pagan hasn’t stayed healthy the last three years, but for six weeks of spring, management was thrilled with the way he looked on and off the field.
--- Some spring leaders: Jarrett Parker got 69 at-bats; Ehire Adrianza had 19 hits; Adrianza and Brandon Belt hit six doubles each; Mac Williamson scored 13 runs; Pence had six homers (Belt and Williamson each had five); Belt drove in 19 runs; Parker struck out 23 times; Gorkys Hernandez stole four bases; Pence had an OPS of 1.514; Hunter Strickland pitched 11 times; Jeff Samardzija threw 25 innings; Dunning had the most appearances (4) without giving up a run; Chris Heston had 19 strikeouts.
--- If you missed it yesterday, my story on Belt vs. The Shift.