Blanco puts on clinic at plate, in field
Giants outfielder's improvement vs. righties has boosted stats
SAN FRANCISCO -- Gregor Blanco delivered a performance Friday night that could have doubled as an instructional video.
A handful of individual contributions led to the Giants' 8-5 victory over the Washington Nationals -- Matt Duffy's 3-for-3, three-RBI binge, two hits and an RBI apiece from Hunter Pence and Brandon Belt and airtight pitching from relievers Jeremy Affeldt, George Kontos, Josh Osich, Sergio Romo and Javier Lopez.
None of them, however, did as much to seal the Giants' 11th triumph in their last 13 home games as Blanco.
Blanco did everything that a ballplayer possibly could to guarantee a Giants victory. He doubled home a pair of runs in San Francisco's four-run second inning that hastened Washington ace Matt Scherzer's premature departure. After Washington narrowed its deficit to 6-5, Blanco doubled, stole third base and scored in the sixth inning before adding a bunt single that helped engineer the Giants' final run in the eighth.
As if all that weren't enough, Blanco also hustled into shallow center field to make a sliding catch of Yunel Escobar's fly ball that ended the third inning.
"That was fun to watch tonight," Duffy said. "He put on a clinic."
It was the kind of multifaceted effort that Blanco has displayed intermittently since joining the Giants in 2012 and securing the fourth outfielder's role. This year, with Angel Pagan and Nori Aoki both being sidelined for prolonged stretches, Blanco has continued to demonstrate his versatility. If the season ended today, his batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage would be career highs.
Said Lopez, "He can play the short game. He can play the long game. He can do it all."
Blanco's statistical improvement stems primarily from his proficiency against right-handed pitching. A left-handed batter, Blanco might have been perceived as an underachiever against righties in previous years, compiling a slash line of .260/.348/.350 off them before this season. This year, those numbers have jumped to .303/.381/.442 entering Friday.
"I always knew I had that. I've played at that level before," said Blanco, referring to his annual offseason forays in the Venezuelan Winter League.
Blanco has reached that level when he has hit leadoff. In 16 starts this year at the top of the order, he's batting .381 (24-for-63).
"He has been a true catalyst," Duffy said. "He has really jump-started our offense."
Blanco hit the dirt to make his most spectacular contributions to the Giants' latest triumph. His catch on Escobar's popup was a familiar sight to frequent witnesses.
"You always have to go for the ball," Blanco said. "I never give up."
Blanco summoned similar determination to slide headfirst under Nats catcher Jose Lobaton's tag in the sixth. First baseman Ryan Zimmerman's throw appeared to beat Blanco. But television replays showed that Blanco scraped home plate with his left hand milliseconds before Lobaton applied the tag.
"That was a tough one," Blanco said. "[Zimmerman] made an incredible play. I wasn't expecting him to make that throw."