Giants manager Bruce Bochy has shown a remarkable ability to plug the right player into a situation, and now, he has more pieces with which to play.
The latest is Darren Ford, who is as fast as anybody I’ve seen on a baseball diamond. He may never hit enough to be a regular, but he has been a base-running dynamo. He scored the winning run in Sunday’s 11-inning win over the A’s despite a perfect throw from A’s right fielder Ryan Sweeney.
Nate Schierholtz is another. Schierholtz first came up to the Giants in 2007, but shuttled back and forth between Fresno and San Francisco for three years before winning a spot on the Giants’ roster last year.
Even then, it wasn’t as a starter and he still gets only occasional starts, but he’s made the most of his limited playing time. He saved a game against the Dodgers with a great catch of a sinking liner by Jamey Carroll that seemed destined to tie or even win the game. On Sunday, he hit a home run over the right-field wall to tie the game in the eighth inning and set the stage for Ford’s heroics.
Schierholtz is fast making a case that he should be in the lineup full-time; with Andres Torres in center and Cody Ross in left, the Giants have a terrific defensive outfield. That leaves Pat Burrell the odd man out — Burrell started Sunday’s game, but he has mostly been used as a pinch-hitter lately — but for a team that depends as much on pitching as the Giants do, defense has to be paramount.
Sunday’s win was the seventh walk-off win for the Giants this season, which is probably the result of the added confidence gained by winning the World Series last year.
It’s still going to be up to Bochy to keep making the right decisions. He’ll get another important piece back soon; Pablo Sandoval is apparently about two weeks away from returning.
Sandoval was playing well in the field and hitting well, from the left side at least, before he was injured. The Giants really had no backup plan for him. Bochy moved Miguel Tejada to third base, but though Tejada makes an occasional brilliant play, such as his leaping catch Sunday of Conor Jackson’s searing line drive that seemed headed for the left-field corner, he doesn’t move well to either his left or right. It was significant that Bochy installed Mike Fontenot at shortstop and moved Tejada to third. Fontenot was obtained last year as insurance if second baseman Freddy Sanchez were injured. He is not a shortstop.
Sandoval’s return will solidify third base, but shortstop remains a problem. Bochy may have to use Emmanuel Burriss, who may never be a major league hitter but is superior defensively to either Tejada or Fontenot, who are not hitting well, anyway. Mark DeRosa, who was looked on as infield insurance, can’t stay healthy. His playing career is about to end.
But with Madison Bumgarner finally winning his first game of 2011 last week and Ryan Vogelsong continuing to throw well, the Giants’ pitching remains very strong. So long as Bochy keeps pushing the right button.