If there was a limit on the number of players a team could have on the DL, the Giants would be sweating right now. Mark Melancon and Madison Bumgarner have been living there since the season started. Josh Osich has a hip problem (or, if you prefer, “hip problem”). Joe Panik had surgery on his thumb yesterday and will be out for about two months. Mac Williamson might have a concussion; he also might not, but it’s an absurdly bad idea to risk anything with head injuries.
And then there are Will Smith and Hunter Pence. They’re both on their way back, Smith from Tommy John surgery that he had before the 2017 season and Pence from a thumb sprain that he suffered near the beginning of the season and spent a while trying to play through. They’re both on rehab assignments with Sacramento right now — Smith is due to be activated tomorrow — and soon enough both of them will be on the roster. So how are they doing in the minors right now anyway?
Let’s start with Smith. He wasn’t at 100% when he started his rehab in San Jose, which makes sense, considering that he hadn’t played a big league game in more than a year and also that he had to make rehab appearances in the first place. He made two appearances for the Baby Giants, both against the Stockton Ports, giving up two hits and a run in each one. But after that, he moved up to Sacramento, and since he’s been there he’s been almost untouchable. He’s appeared in six games for the River Cats, and in 5.2 innings has given up a total of two hits, striking out eight and walking nobody. I saw him pitch an inning on Sunday, and he looked good. He faced four batters, gave up a hit, and threw only 12 pitches, ending things by striking out Cody Decker looking. It’s impossible to definitively state a rehabbing major leaguer is ready, but he’s as sure of a thing as you’ll find.
I also said that about Matt Cain multiple times over the course of multiple years, so please ensure you are carrying your emergency grain of salt.
The signs on Hunter Pence have not been as universally positive. He did have a nice game in Las Vegas last night, with two hits and a walk in five plate appearances, but his two prior games for the River Cats were not encouraging. In those games combined, he went 1-for-8 with three strikeouts and a HBP. The hit was a grounder that snuck through the infield on Saturday night, and the outs weren’t particularly loud. And while last night in Las Vegas was a different story, it’s one that you have to assume the Giants want to see him repeat. One good game after two bad ones does not mean that Hunter Pence Is Back, especially when he hasn’t mixed in an extra base hit. But one good game is better than no good games, and hopefully his next game will also be good, and he can just keep building on that success.
So Smith and Pence are both going to be back soon, Smith having aced every test he’s faced in AAA, and Pence still needing to eke out a few more C’s. Smith will return to a bullpen that needs him very badly, while Pence will have to fight Mac Williamson for playing time, though not literally, because, well:
A guy said to Pence, “you don’t want Mac to do too well.” And Pence said, “No, I want him to do excellent” with total sincerity.— Madison Marie Parks-Valetta (@legaleagle88) April 27, 2018
So let’s hope that both of them come back healthy and productive soon, helping the team win games. Because like my motto goes, and will go until the end of this article:
More good players on the Giants is better than fewer good players on the Giants.
Wise words, me. Wise words.