It isn’t often that 100 media people (yes, I counted them) are seen standing on a field at 10:30 am before a game starting at 1:05 in mid-March. But that was the scene this morning before the San Francisco Giants played an international friendly against Team Japan. The road team didn’t disappoint, as they beat the Giants 6-3 in a game where San Francisco started a pretty recognizable lineup besides starting pitcher Yusmeiro Petit. However, Marco Scutaro, Pablo Sandoval, Buster Posey and Hunter Pence were all removed after three innings and two plate appearances.
Forget that, though. The people — the media, anyway — were here to see Kensuke Tanaka! And Tanaka did come through with a sharp single to right off submarining right-hander Kazuhisa Makita, whose knuckles are probably dirty from scraping the ground on some of his pitches. But Tanaka’s defense. Cringe-inducing would be putting it lightly. Bruce Bochy sent Tanaka out to play shortstop today, and to say that is not his strongest position is like saying The Phantom Menace isn’t the strongest Star Wars movie.
Tanaka made his seventh error of the spring. It wasn’t his worst error, by any means. He ranged far into the hole and probably should have held onto the ball, but instead threw it wide of Posey at first. The ball went out of play, and while Brandon Crawford probably couldn’t have gotten the runner either, he would have at least jumped up in the air after catching the ball and made a throw Posey could catch. But it isn’t fair to compare Tanaka, who’s trying to adjust to sun-baked grass infields in Arizona at three different infield positions — most of the surfaces in Japan are artificial — to Crawford.
“He’s got a lot on his plate right now. We’re throwing a lot at him,” Bochy said. “We thought with as much as we’re moving him around that we’d probably see some errors that would come with changes in position. But now we’re hoping that it gets better all around with the defense.”
Tanaka’s range isn’t awful, but his throwing is simply not Major League quality. It doesn’t matter where he is on the diamond, shortstop, third or second. As Grant Brisbee of McCovey Chronicles wrote today, “His throws sail across the diamond like a VCR thrown by Conor Gillaspie. He soft-tosses the second baseman on double plays.” Brisbee’s latter observation is something I noticed, too. It’s almost like he’s afraid to hurt his teammate’s glove hand at close range, although the real reason for the Tebow-esque lobs is probably because he’s so tentative. He leads the Cactus League in crow-hops by at least 30.
His 1-for-3 performance today doesn’t count in the official Spring Training stats (which also don’t count), but he isn’t producing at the plate either (.231/.286/.256). He can work a count okay, but that’s all he’s shown so far.
The problem for the Giants is there isn’t much else. Wilson Valdez can play a nifty shortstop, but he has a lifetime OPS of .594 and turns 35 in May. Tony Abreu has played in part of one game. Brock Bond is hitting over .400 with two homers, but since his last home run on Mar. 1 against the A’s, he has only been given 10 plate appearances. He’s gone 4-for-10 in those, and maybe he’ll get some more run as March progresses if Tanaka keeps struggling. But if the Giants are hellbent on that last infielder possessing the ability to play a little at shortstop, Bond won’t receive any consideration at all.
Then again, Tanaka is undoubtedly not a shortstop and he leads the team in plate appearances so far. At this point it appears as if it’s an experiment the Giants really, really want to work that probably won’t.
— Hector Sanchez was on the field this morning, working on rundown plays. He was soon a scratch for today’s game with more shoulder soreness. That throws the Giants’ plans on who to use as Posey’s backup into greater flux than before. From Bochy’s comments, it sounds like defense will take precedence in this decision if Sanchez’s injury lingers (not good news for Johnny Monell, who hasn’t exactly been lauded for his ability to catch pitches in the minors).
“Quiroz has got some experience. Jackson Williams has been catching well,” Bochy said. “Obviously we hope Sanchez is going to be fine. But we’ve got some guys that can handle the staff.”
— Sushi today in the press box! No shushi shandwishes, though.
— Perhaps even more impressive was the Japanese media gathering 45 minutes after the game ended. I don’t even think anyone from Team Japan was getting interviewed during this time, but they were all patiently waiting.