Schierholtz ready to stick with Giants
Olympics experience helped projected fourth outfielder relax
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Nate Schierholtz's waiting game hasn't ended. But he'll likely be twiddling his thumbs and stifling yawns in nicer environments than he previously inhabited.
After competing for reserve spots before being sent to Triple-A Fresno in the previous two Spring Trainings, Schierholtz appears destined to make the Opening Day roster as the Giants' fourth outfielder. Schierholtz's power potential, a rare commodity among San Francisco hitters, makes him an intriguing figure. The 25-year-old is out of Minor League options, so his chances of returning to Fresno are remote.But the Giants won't immediately learn exactly what Schierholtz can contribute, since they're virtually certain to stick with their projected outfield of Fred Lewis, Aaron Rowand and Randy Winn. A scenario can be concocted in which Schierholtz accumulates close to 200 at-bats, an adequate number for a big league substitute. Lewis might need occasional days off to relieve stress from his surgically repaired right foot. The same goes for Rowand, whose intense style of play demands that he receive periodic breaks. Winn, who has averaged 155 games a year for the past seven seasons, will be the toughest one to budge from the lineup. Over the course of a long season, Schierholtz is bound to get opportunities to excel. Manager Bruce Bochy didn't rule out the possibility that Schierholtz might push the incumbent outfielders for playing time.
"That will be a challenge, getting him at-bats," Bochy said Monday. But, Bochy added, "he may force the issue."Meanwhile, Schierholtz will ready himself for whatever comes his way and is bound to play frequently in Cactus League exhibitions. Having played mostly right field, he'll spend some time in left and center, the better to prepare him for his outfield handyman's role. "Whatever my spot is, I'm here to help the team win," Schierholtz said. "If that [means] being an extra outfielder, coming off the bench to pinch-hit, or starting every day, I'm going to be ready." To that end, Schierholtz plans to perform as if he must win the job that almost certainly will be his.
"Every year I come in trying to make the team," he said. "I know the situation's a little bit different this year, but it's not going to dictate how I play."Schierholtz's sincerity is beyond question. This is the same guy who barreled into Chinese catcher Yang Yang while competing for Team USA in last year's Summer Olympics. Only last week did Schierholtz bother to obtain a crown for a tooth he damaged in the collision.
"I just kind of put things off," Schierholtz said. "I got a little banged up, too."Schierholtz achieved a small measure of celebrity for his aggressive play. "People always like to ask me about it," he said. But he gained something more valuable -- added poise -- through experiencing the Olympics, and not just because the U.S. captured the bronze medal. "It was like a playoff atmosphere," Schierholtz said. "There weren't as many people as there are at big league games, but they were definitely just as loud and there was a lot on the line. When I came back here, I felt a little bit more relaxed, especially last September compared to my first time up in the big leagues." In fact, 2008 was the year in which Schierholtz proved to the Giants that he belonged with them. Enduring nagging injuries, he hit .320 with 18 home runs and 73 RBIs for Fresno in 93 games. That marked an increase in production from the previous season, when Schierholtz hit .333 for Fresno but totaled 16 homers and 68 RBIs in 109 games. Schierholtz demonstrated similar improvement at the Major League level. He hit .304 in 39 late-season games with the Giants in 2007 but didn't homer in 112 at-bats. In last year's September callup, Schierholtz batted .320 in 19 games, clobbered his first big league homer and recorded a slugging percentage of .493, which would have led the Giants had he sustained that over an entire season. Schierholtz acknowledged that his pair of stints with the Giants primed him to stay with them for good. "It developed me a lot, on and off the field," he said. "It's very comfortable for me to come in, whether it's Spring Training or the big league clubhouse. On the field I'm a lot more relaxed than I was coming up at 23. Now it feels more like a [ordinary] season to me than something to be nervous for."
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.