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Out of left field: Giants’ Pence learns to play new position

February 27, 2018

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Hunter Pence takes an odd swing, and his throwing motion is unusual. He’s quite quirky and embraces that persona — a player totally out of left field, really.

This year, for once, he’ll actually be in left field.

Even though he’s never started at that spot during 11 seasons in the majors, the San Francisco Giants are asking him to learn a new position. Pence is their new left fielder after nearly 10 years of his career exclusively in right.

Pence is gladly making the move to accommodate newly arrived Andrew McCutchen, who will take over as the regular right fielder. Center field might be a platoon with Austin Jackson, Gregor Blanco and Gorkys Hernandez part of the mix in spring training.

Some players might resist such a sudden shift to some degree. Pence has standing in the big leagues and in the Bay Area — he’s a three-time All-Star, and has won World Series rings during six seasons with the Giants.

But Pence can hardly keep from smiling when asked about the switch.

“It’s fun. It’s kind of like a fresh new perspective,” Pence said. “It feels like a whole new game, almost. It’s really a pleasure to be out there and to see the field from that angle.”

Pence made his 2018 spring training debut in left on Sunday and was put to work chasing several Chicago Cubs’ hits. He didn’t look uncomfortable nor unsure in his new position, and was set to play left again on Tuesday before being scratched due to illness.

No longer will he be playing in front of the high wall in right field at AT&T Park.

“Just going to take advantage of the preparation that we have here. It’s pretty good to have all these games to work on it,” Pence said.

The transition seems to be going well in workouts. The Giants hit balls in different spots into the high sun in Arizona so Pence can get a sense of how it will be on bright day games in San Francisco.

“If you watch him shag during (batting practice), he’s got no problems with breaks,” bench coach Hensley Meulens said. “You don’t see him go the wrong way. He’s a pretty naturally instinctive outfielder. I don’t suspect that the change is going to be a problem for him.”

Hernandez was in center field on Sunday. He and Pence came close to a collision in left-center field on a sinking liner caught by Hernandez.

“At the start it can be a little tough, but if you have the talent and the ability to play whichever position, he’ll play it like he’s supposed to,” Hernandez said. “With practice and work he will get 100 percent accustomed to it.”

Pence is not only on board with the switch, he’s shown willingness to help McCutchen in what will basically be a new, full-time position for the former Pittsburgh star center fielder.

McCutchen, who played only a few games in right last season, will have to get acclimated to the outfield dimensions in a new ballpark.

“We just discuss the way the winds play and field plays,” Pence said. “He’s played where you have to watch for caroms and stuff, and give yourself some space. But the wind is tricky part in San Francisco.”

Pence said left field “breathes new life” into him. “You get to examine all the parks you go to. You’ve got to look at how everything plays,” he said. “It’s something that I get to enjoy diong. Witnessing the game from just a different angle is really a pleasure.”

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