MLB.com Columnist

Tracy Ringolsby

Crawford emerges as impact bat

Shortstop's clutch hitting has defending champs rising in NL West

Crawford emerges as impact bat

DENVER -- Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford always felt he belonged in the big leagues.

Now, at the age of 28, in his fourth full big league season, he knows it.

And it shows.

He is this year's Giants "where the heck did he come from" player. He is the guy who, with the loss of Pablo Sandoval during the winter to Boston as a free agent and the early season absence of Hunter Pence with a broken forearm, has emerged to become an impact bat hidden in the lower part of the Giants batting order.

Emerged?

Crawford is as big a reason as any that the Giants went into the second game of a doubleheader against the Rockies at Coors Field on Saturday night having won eight in a row, rebounding from a 4-10 start to pull just a game back of the Dodgers in the National League West.

He increased his 2015 stats to a .303 average, six home runs and 31 RBIs after going 2-for-5 with a triple and three RBIs in the Giants' 10-8 Game 1 victory.

And what's key is how he has put those numbers together.

His RBI single that produced the Giants' first run and keyed a three-run fourth inning in Game 1, and the two-run triple that capped a four-run fifth to give the Giants a 7-1 lead gave him 10 hits in his last 12 at-bats with runners in scoring position.

"He is one of those guys you say, 'I don't care if you hit, with your defense, I need you in there,'" manager Bruce Bochy said of Crawford. "To be honest, he had to be one of the more productive .240 hitters in the game."

Emphasis on the past-tense. Crawford was a career .242 hitter coming into this season, .248 with runners in scoring position.

That is only a memory now. The defense is still what gets Bochy excited, but the offense has underscored his evolution in one of the better overall shortstops in the National League.

"Each of the last three big league seasons you look at major stats and every year he'd get better," said general manager Bobby Evans. "He drove in 69 runs last year despite hitting down in the lineup."

Hitting seventh or lower in 125 of his 142 starts last season, Crawford had 20 doubles, 10 triples and 10 home runs to go with those 69 RBIs.

Crawford, however, wasn't satisfied. Those numbers were nice, but he knew he could be better. He was proud of his defense, but wanted to be in the lineup because he could contribute with the bat and the glove.

"He has done a good job of making adjustments," said Evans. "He works at it. He's still a work in progress, but you like what you see."

There's been no startling makeover, said Crawford. There wasn't a hidden trick that he uncovered.

Nope, it was, as much as anything, realizing that he belonged in the big leagues and taking a deep breath.

"I've been able to stay with my approach, staying up the middle and trying to hit something hard," said Crawford.

It came, he said, with experience.

"At times I used to try to do too much," he said. "That happens when you are a younger hitter. You are constantly trying to do too much. You get older, you get a sense of belonging, and the more success you have the better you are going to feel."

The Giants certainly feel better with what they are getting from Crawford. Buster Posey and Sandoval had been the 3-4 combo in the lineup on a team that won three of the last five World Series. And suddenly Sandoval was gone to Boston.

Sandoval had hit .294 in his six-plus seasons with the Giants with 106 home runs and 462 RBIs.

The offseason wasn't kind to the Giants in terms of finding a replacement. They made efforts to lure a prime bat, but the only additions to the Opening Day lineup were third baseman Casey McGehee, who went into Saturday's second game hitting .189 with two home runs and nine RBIs, and speedy outfielder Nori Aoki.

That underscores the importance of seeing Crawford taking his play to that next level.

"You knew what was potentially there," said Evans. "I saw an at-bat of his first full season [in pro ball at Class A Advanced] San Jose. He crushed a home run over the right-center-field wall. That's not something you see a lot of in that ballpark, but he had the power to do that. It showed you what he could do."

And now Crawford is doing it, at the big league level.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.