SAN FRANCISCO — When the Giants watched Nori Aoki slice-and-run his way to All-Star consideration earlier this season, they saw exactly what they had expected when they signed him. Gregor Blanco saw something else. He saw what he could be.
Blanco watched from the bench as Aoki and Joe Panik turned into one of the league’s top one-two punches early on, and he studied their approaches. One day earlier this summer, he approached Aoki, who sits just a short bunt from Blanco in the home clubhouse.
“I asked him, ‘What’s your approach?’” Blanco said Friday. “Are you trying to slap the ball or swing hard.”
Aoki looks like he’s just trying to slap singles into left field every time up, but in fact he has a solid, balanced approach to hitting that allows him to line the ball to all fields and handle lefties and righties. Panik is the same way, and Blanco has taken from both while becoming the best version of himself. He made a slight adjustment to the way he uses his top hand in his swing, and he adjusted the way he throws his hands at the ball.
“They’re really simple with their swings, and I’ve been trying to do it, too,” Blanco said. “It’s been working out. It’s about hitting more line drives, more low line drives. You have more success hitting the ball on the ground and hitting line drives. It’s been working pretty good.”
Friday’s performance was more than “pretty good.” Blanco had a two-run double in the second, a double and stolen base that led to a run in the sixth, and a bunt single in the eighth that helped push another run across in an 8-5 win over the Nationals. He has reached five times and scored four runs the last two nights, raising his season average to .294 and on-base percentage to .372. For good measure, Blanco added a spectacular diving catch early on Friday.
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“Tonight he put on a clinic,” No. 2 hitter Matt Duffy said. “That’s exactly what you want out of your leadoff hitter. I don’t want to use the word perfect, but I’d say he was pretty close to perfect out of the leadoff spot.”
Blanco is hitting .381 in 16 starts in the leadoff spot and has scored 15 runs. He said he’s having a ton of fun, in large part because he’s finally living up to his own expectations.
“I’ve played at that level before,” he said. “Not here, back in my country (Venezuela) in winter ball. I’ve been waiting for the moment for that to come.”
His timing couldn’t be better. The Giants are without Angel Pagan (patella tendinitis) and Aoki (concussion) during this stretch against contenders, but Blanco led the way as the top of the lineup helped put a season-high six runs on Max Scherzer. Duffy added three hits, a walk and a sacrifice fly. Brandon Belt had two hits, drove in a run and stole a base in the No. 3 spot.
“The top of the order, the catalysts, they did a great job,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “That’s how we put a big number up.”