SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- As catchers practiced chasing popups during a drill Thursday, it wasn't enough for Bengie Molina to spring from his crouch, track the ball and snare it. During one of his turns, he reached down to scoop up a wayward ball and still proceeded to catch the one he was pursuing. That's typical Molina, always doing something extra. This season, he might have to extend himself even more than usual. Molina won't occupy any ordinary spot in the batting order. The Giants project him as their cleanup hitter, their best choice in a lineup bereft of power. Defensively, Molina must shepherd a mostly youthful group of pitchers who are expected to carry the Giants' hopes.
One might expect that all this responsibility would tax Molina's psyche by the end of the season. Molina didn't just endure the Giants' 91 defeats last year. He mourned them. Often he'd sit hunched over in front of his locker, head buried in his hands, disconsolate even if he personally excelled. Molina's teammates appreciated how much he cared, before, during and after games. "There's nothing better than seeing that intensity from someone," right-hander Matt Cain said. "We know that Bengie is always in the game, no matter what." Comfortable in his second year with the Giants and aware of the challenges he faces, Molina said he'll try to be a little easier on himself this season -- though he'll probably continue to swallow each defeat as if it were a tennis ball. "I'll be the same intense guy I was last year," Molina said before the Giants' initial workout for pitchers and catchers. Yet he also responded affirmatively when asked if he'd lighten his approach somewhat. "It's not that I'm not relaxed out there," he said. "I don't take losing as easily as many guys. That's the only problem. I'm going to try this year [to relax]. Hopefully we won't lose as many games." Pundits expect another rough season for the Giants, citing primarily their punchless offense. With Barry Bonds (28 home runs) not re-signed and Pedro Feliz (20 homers) gone to Philadelphia, Molina's the leading returning Giants slugger with 19 homers (Aaron Rowand hit 27 with the Phillies last year). Molina's hardly a prototypical No. 4 hitter. But he refuses to let the role affect him, as it does some hitters. "I think they have the right guy in me because I don't think about it," Molina said. "I don't think about 'I'm the fourth guy' or 'I have to hit home runs' or anything like that. I'm straight-up going to be myself. If I get a pitch hanging and I have a chance to hit it out, if it goes out, it goes. But I'm not trying to hit home runs. I'm just trying to hit a hard line drive somewhere."
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.