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Pence stays upbeat in face of uncertainty

Veteran outfielder moving from RF to LF in last year of contract
MLB.com @sfgiantsbeat

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Fascinated by the mindset of a kid who was an incurable optimist, child psychologists locked the youth in a room full of horse, uh, waste. Pretty soon, the kid began burrowing through the filth. The child's explanation: "I figured if there was this much horse stuff, there had to be a horse somewhere!"

That pretty much summarizes Hunter Pence's approach.

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Fascinated by the mindset of a kid who was an incurable optimist, child psychologists locked the youth in a room full of horse, uh, waste. Pretty soon, the kid began burrowing through the filth. The child's explanation: "I figured if there was this much horse stuff, there had to be a horse somewhere!"

That pretty much summarizes Hunter Pence's approach.

By various measures, Pence's performance for the Giants has declined markedly the past three seasons. His offensive WAR, a respectable 4.0 in 2014 according to Baseball-Reference.com, plummeted to 1.0 in 2015, settled at 2.2 the following season and dipped to 0.6 last year. His OPS of .701 and OPS+ of 86 in 2017 were career lows.

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Moreover, Pence faces potential distractions. His five-year, $90 million contract expires after this season, leaving his future uncertain. To accommodate Andrew McCutchen's arrival, Pence must move to left field, where he has never played in 1,510 games spanning 11 seasons.

And Pence is toiling for a Giants club that's coming off a 64-98 season.

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Pence typically regards such ominous, negative factors as so much ... well, horse stuff. He sounded thrilled about the potential that this season holds.

"We all put in the work this offseason because we want to make a change," Pence said. "We want to make the adjustment, and we're excited to get back together and get that opportunity. It feels good. It feels fresh to be here."

The challenge of moving to left field, where he must master strange acreage and unfamiliar barriers, doesn't faze Pence in the least.

"It's fun to kind of see a different angle," said Pence, 34. "It's going to be fun to go to all the ballparks and look at all the different walls. ... It feels invigorating to get the opportunity to do that."

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Pence has experienced this sort of change, though much time has passed. After playing primarily center field as a rookie in 2007 with Houston, he shifted to right the following year and has remained there since, with the exception of an inning in center for the Giants in 2014.

Pence reasoned that, to a considerable degree, playing left will resemble handling right. For example, in left, a pull-hitting right-handed batter will hook pitches foul, just as left-handed batters did in right.

"I don't think this transfer is as tough as moving from center to one of the corners," Pence said. "I think that's a lot different than going from a corner to a corner."

Tweet from @SFGiants: Time to get to work. @hunterpence | #SFGPhotoDay 📷 pic.twitter.com/XtHvGukLXy

Many Giants and most fans probably would prefer to forget 2017. Pence, who frequently sounds more like a philosopher than a ballplayer, considered it a source of growth.

"We have to make the adjustment and take the gifts that failures bring. The gift of fueling the fire," he said. "The gifts of working a little different, [paying] attention to the details, getting back to the grit and the work, and remembering what it was that we did to succeed."

Chris Haft has covered the Giants since 2005, and for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter at @sfgiantsbeat and listen to his podcast.

San Francisco Giants, Hunter Pence