Healthy Crawford ready to return to consistent role

Giants shortstop already looking strong on defense, waiting for bat to catch up

Healthy Crawford ready to return to consistent role

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- In case you hadn't noticed, defense comes easily to Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford.

It took Crawford all of one play this spring to get back into regular-season form -- the first out of the first inning of the first game, to be exact.

"The defense usually comes back a little bit sooner than the offense does for some reason," Crawford said. "I can't speak for everybody else, but for me, personally, it comes back a little quicker. The first play I made was in the first inning of our first game -- a sharp backhand. And it felt smooth then. I got the first one out of the way, and I feel like I'm ready."

Crawford's bat has been a bit slower to come around. Entering Friday's Cactus League tilt against the Royals, Crawford had just two hits -- one of them a two-run triple -- in 14 at-bats.

It might take Crawford a few more days to find that groove he's been searching for at the plate. That's because he's got more important matters to attend to on Saturday.

Crawford's wife, Jalynne, is scheduled for a C-section, and the couple will welcome their second child.

"It hasn't been a whole lot different, yet," Crawford said with a smile. "It's exciting, obviously, having another baby. But we've been staying pretty busy with the one we have at home already."

The soon-to-be father-of-two is also fully recovered from a hand injury that caused some problems during the second half of last season. He sprained his right index and middle fingers while sliding into second base last June 18.

The injury -- which transpired when Crawford's hand connected with the bag and the glove of Padres second baseman Logan Forsythe at the same time -- forced Crawford to alter his grip on the bat. At the time of the injury, he was hitting .288. By season's end, he had dropped to .248 with an OPS exactly 100 points lower.

"There's nothing really you can do," Crawford said. "You get ready in the offseason -- workouts, conditioning, getting yourself prepared for such a long season. But last year was kind of a freak injury. There's no way to prepare for something like that."

Crawford's defense didn't suffer, however. Had Atlanta's Andrelton Simmons not posted one of the all-time great defensive seasons at shortstop, Crawford would have been in the running for the National League Gold Glove Award.

Giants left-hander Madison Bumgarner said he first became aware of Crawford's fielding prowess when the two played together in the instructional league. Since then, Bumgarner has had the luxury of playing with Crawford behind him at almost every level.

"You've got enough on your plate getting people out, that you don't really think of who's behind you a whole lot when you're out there," Bumgarner said. "But as soon as the ball's hit there, then you realize he's out there, and as long as he can reach it, he's going to make it. He's got the range."

Second baseman Marco Scutaro has spent much of the past three seasons as Crawford's double play partner.

"Consistency -- that's what you need from a shortstop," Scutaro said. "The great plays are extra. It's just fun playing next to him. He'll make the play, and he's got a great arm, too."

For all the dazzling, diving gems Crawford made last season, his personal favorite didn't even earn him any dirt on the uniform. In the eighth inning of a May 16 contest in Colorado, Rockies second baseman D.J. LeMahieu hit an awkward infield blooper. It bounced once and spun wickedly to Crawford's right.

In one smooth motion, Crawford reached out with his bare hand, stabbed the baseball, and threw it to first in plenty of time to retire LeMahieu.

"He prides himself more on his defense than probably anything else," Bumgarner said. "I've been lucky to have him behind me for much of my career -- Minor Leagues and here. He's always been able to pick it."

Consistency at short is no problem for Crawford. But he'd like to see more of it on offense this year, and Cactus League play hasn't been too kind to him.

"Right now, I'm still trying to get my timing back," Crawford said. "I'm working on staying balanced. That's something I've been working on the past few games. I feel like I've been a little bit off."

When Crawford finds that comfort zone at the plate, he's convinced it'll stick, so long as there are no more injury issues.

"That's the goal this year," Crawford said. "If I stay healthy, I feel my game will take care of itself."

AJ Cassavell is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.