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Left field draws a crowd for Giants

Left field draws a crowd for Giants

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Left field draws a crowd for Giants
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- While discussing the Giants' candidates for left field, manager Bruce Bochy mentioned the need to stay "open-minded" three times in less than five minutes Sunday.

That conveyed the uncertainty surrounding the corner outfield position, which is traditionally an essential source of offense. San Francisco's left-field contingent ranked fifth or higher among National League clubs last year in runs (96), homers (31), on-base percentage (.365) and slugging percentage (.485).

Uncertainty isn't the same as aimlessness, at least in this case. The Giants aren't just dumping bunches of bats and gloves on the field to see who pounces on them first. They possess legitimate options for filling the left-field vacancy. But none of the candidates has entered camp clearly superior to the others. That has necessitated a more studied evaluation.

"These aren't going to be easy decisions, believe me," Bochy said. "They always tell you that's a good problem."

San Francisco's possibilities for left field consist of Pat Burrell, the spot's primary occupant last year; Aubrey Huff, who'd move there only if rookie Brandon Belt sustains a remarkable spring performance to force his way into the lineup at first base; Mark DeRosa, last year's Opening Day left fielder who has recovered from wrist surgery; and Nate Schierholtz, who has played each of his 1,531 Major League defensive innings in right field.

Other options are less prominent but still viable. Bochy didn't rule out shifting projected Opening Day center fielder Andres Torres to left. Nor did Bochy dismiss platooning at that position.

"I wouldn't have any problem platooning if that's the best way to go," he said.

Aaron Rowand will not join the mix.

"Right now, I think it's best he stays in center field," Bochy said. The Giants value the depth Rowand provides, considering Torres twice went on the disabled list in 2009 with left hamstring strains. Rowand has played exclusively center field since 2005.

Performance in Cactus League exhibitions won't be the sole factor the Giants weigh in judging their left fielders.

"Numbers can be skewed here," Bochy said, referring to the artificially impressive statistics hitters can compile against rusty pitchers in Arizona's thin atmosphere.

Bochy resisted designating Burrell as the favorite to win the competition, giving him the opportunity to employ the "open-minded" phrase. Logic otherwise would dictate that Burrell might have an edge, given his 18 home runs, 51 RBIs and .873 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) in 96 games for the Giants in 2010.

"I'm going to push it, just like I did when I got here in June," Burrell said. "There's no guarantees. I'm thrilled just to be back. Do I want to play? Of course. That's why you sign up. But I understand the situation. [Bochy] has some tough decisions to make."

Though DeRosa's involved in the competition, he won't always be part of the crowd. Bochy said that DeRosa, who'll double as a utility infielder, must spend considerable time this spring reviewing bunt plays and similar stratagems at second base, shortstop and third base.

Bochy said that he had yet to inform Schierholtz of the Giants' plans to try him not only in left but also in center. But Schierholtz said that he anticipated this decision and began shagging flies in left and center. He played the latter position for Team USA in the 2008 Olympics and in the Arizona Fall League in 2007.

"I've always been a right fielder here, but it's good to play all three. That can only help me," Schierholtz said. "If any time's the time, it's right now. Any chance I have to play a little bit more, I'm open to it."

Schierholtz added that adjusting to different outfield angles is "nothing I think twice about. It's just like an infielder playing short and second or short and third."

A trade could thin the outfield glut. Expect a revival of the Rowand-to-Philadelphia rumors, at least briefly. Though Rowand's not caught in the left-field race, his departure would ease a possible roster crunch. As a skilled defender, Schierholtz also may have value for teams seeking depth.

But Schierholtz won't dwell on the possibilities, particularly this early in spring.

"I'm healthy and excited to play," he said. "That's all I can control."

Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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{"content":["spring_training" ] }
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