SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — If Justin Maxwell makes the Opening Day roster, he’ll be in for a bittersweet moment.
There were a few players during previous Giants ring ceremonies who were new additions and therefore had to watch from the dugout rail as even-year Giants put on their rings. If Maxwell is on the rail, he’ll be watching guys pick up a ring that could have been his. Maxwell played in 20 games for the Kansas City Royals last season, but he had no hard feelings when free agency started.
“The Giants were one of the first teams to contact my agent,” he said. “It looked like a good fit, and I loved San Francisco.”
The front office guys who pursued Maxwell — like with other past free-agent finds, he got high marks from the organization’s Triple-A coaches — had to love what they saw Saturday. There’s been little movement in any of the races for bench spots, but Maxwell had a strong night in the second game of a split-squad, day-night, doubleheader during which the Giants lost both games 5-2. He hit a single in his first at-bat and drove one about 400 feet the opposite way in his second at-bat, easily legging out a triple when the ball hit the top of the wall.
"He had a couple of really good at-bats today," manager Bruce Bochy said. "It looks like he's getting more comfortable and getting his timing up there. He's been making better contact the last two to three games."
Maxwell spent much of last season in Triple-A for the Royals, hitting .285 with eight homers in 207 at-bats. His season was cut short by hip labrum surgery after he got hurt making a sliding catch. He came to Scottsdale early to rehab and said the hip is completely healed, needing nothing more than a little extra stretching here and there. Bochy mentioned early on that he wanted to get a long look at Maxwell, and even though the 31-year-old got off to a cold start at the plate, he has played a solid — and occasionally spectacular — left and right field, and has shown an ability to handle center, too.
“I can play all three positions out there,” he said. “Any role they want, really, I’ll try to help.”
With Hunter Pence set to start the season on the DL, there’s a chance for a role Maxwell probably never imagined when he signed with the Giants. Juan Perez and Gary Brown haven’t taken hold of the job alongside Gregor Blanco, and Maxwell, who hit 18 homers for the Astros just three years ago, is all of a sudden coming on strong.
A bunch of other news and notes from the day the Giants played 18 innings so Brandon Belt had to hit a homer …
HEALTH UPDATES: Bochy said Tim Lincecum’s stiff neck was “about the same” as the previous day. “I can’t say he made a lot of progress,” Bochy said. “We’re hoping for a little better news (Sunday) with his progress.” Sergio Romo declared himself all good after a live BP session Friday, and he’ll make his Cactus League debut Sunday.
PROSPECT WATCH: Joan Gregorio, a 6-foot-7 right-hander, is one of those guys even most prospect-watchers don’t know. But scouts definitely know the guy, and some were keeping an eye on him before the Giants added Gregorio to the 40-man roster in the offseason. He has been impressive here, pitching 4 2/3 scoreless innings across five outings. He struck out slugging prospect Joey Gallo when we were in Surprise last week and got Yasmany Tomas to fly out in the third tonight, stranding two of Ryan Vogelsong’s runners.
"He's handled it well," Bochy said. "That kid, he's got good stuff and you want to see how he handles these situations. He's been good. He's got a good delivery, he's consistent with it. I like his downward angle on the ball."
FAMILIAR FACES: For the last two innings in Mesa, the Giants fielded a lineup that included Travis Ishikawa, Darren Ford and John Bowker. Apparently Fred Lewis wasn’t available. Ryan Garko didn’t return their phone calls. Matt Downs was on vacat …
Alright, in all seriousness it’s kind of cool to see guys (Ford and Bowker came up from minor league camp) still chasing the dream, and Ishikawa is proof that anything can happen if you keep progressing.
***Side note I: I originally wrote this note during the first game in Mesa, then came to Salt River Fields, looked up at the press box TV and saw … Ryan Rohlinger batting for the Indians. Later, Dan Runzler pitched a perfect inning for the Diamondbacks.
***Side note II: Pretty amazing that all these guys are still playing and 2010 closer Brian Wilson can’t sniff a big league invite, eh?
NOTEWORTHY: Matt Duffy hasn’t been as sharp at shortstop as he would like, but he had two more hits in the early game to raise his spring average to .348. Casey McGehee also had two hits, including a two-run double, and is hitting .500 … Hector Sanchez had a rough day, striking out three times in three at-bats … Adam Duvall had been showing improvement at third, but his throwing error on a basic play in the third opened the floodgates for the Diamondbacks … George Kontos had his first rough outing of the spring, giving up three hits and two runs in two-thirds of an inning.
MARK IT DOWN: In my previous life on the Giants beat, I wrote quite a few times that the question is not if, but when Madison Bumgarner will get a no-hitter. Might as well double down. At some point in his Giants career, Brandon Belt is going to hit for the cycle. It might happen once a week if he played all his games here at Salt River Fields in North Scottsdale, home of the Diamondbacks and Rockies.
Belt needed a triple for the cycle in a game here two springs ago, but his blast to center carried over the wall for a second homer. He hit a homer in his first at-bat tonight and tripled his third time up. If Belt does go full cycle one day, he’ll make good on two predictions: When Bochy asks Belt during BP what he’s going to do that night, Belt often jokes that he’s planning on hitting for the cycle.
QUOTABLE: “I’ve got one swing, and he threw right into it.” — Ryan Vogelsong, who singled to right in his lone at-bat.