MLB.com Columnist

Tracy Ringolsby

Pence embodies under-the-radar Giants' spirit

Pence embodies under-the-radar Giants' spirit

DENVER -- Hunter Pence is what the Giants are all about.

He is arguably the most unrecognized impact player in baseball. There is not much conversation about Pence or the Giants until they show up at the ballpark.

And then Pence, like the team, demands attention because of what he does, not what he says.

Not that it matters to Pence or the Giants.

Cast your Esurance All-Star ballot for Pence and other #ASGWorthy players

The Dodgers can get attention for having baseball's highest payroll. The D-backs can steal the offseason attention for signing free agent Zack Greinke. The Giants and Pence? They have their own way of going about business. And it works pretty well.

Oh, they don't sit home during the winter and wait for Santa to put presents under the trees. They did sign free-agent pitchers Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija in the offseason to step into the rotation behind Madison Bumgarner and create a formidable 1-2-3 punch.

Cueto is 8-1 this year after allowing two runs, one earned, in six innings of Sunday's 8-3 victory against the Rockies at Coors Field, but this comes in the aftermath of an 11-13 record that he split time between the Reds and Royals a year ago. Samardzija goes into Monday's series opener against the Braves in Atlanta with a 7-2 record, but he was a combined 17 games below .500 his first four full seasons as a starter with the Cubs, the A's and the White Sox.

And then there is Pence, a midseason addition in 2012 who was a key player in the late surge that allowed the Giants to win what is the second of the three World Series championships they have claimed over the past six seasons.

His stats are solid, but not spectacular, until it's broken down as to when he does what.

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"To truly appreciate Hunter, you have to watch the guy day in and day out," said manager Bruce Bochy. "You have to see how hard he plays, how hard he runs down the line, the way he plays defense. He's full throttle, all the time. He never lets up. Few can do what he does."

And for all he does, don't overlook that Pence is the batter most often asked to provide lineup protection for catcher Buster Posey, the Giants' cleanup hitter. If pitchers want to work around Posey, they have to deal with Pence, who has welcomed that opportunity.

With three doubles and three RBIs on Sunday, including doubles that followed up a Posey double in the second and a Posey walk in the third, Pence increased his team-leading RBI total to 36, and his team-high batting average to .304. He is the only Giants player at .300 or better.

Not that he is counting.

Pence is just doing what he enjoys, playing hard at all times.

"I don't compare myself to anyone else," he said. "We all have different ways of doing things. My goal is giving my all every moment. It's not always good. Maybe I need to balance it a little more to stay healthy."

It's not easy for Pence to admit that. He played all 162 games for the Giants in 2013-14, the first player to not miss a regular-season game for the franchise since Alvin Dark played in all 154 games in 1954, when the Giants were still in New York, playing home games in the Polo Grounds.

At the age of 33, however, Pence is learning there are more challenges than when he was younger. He returned to the Giants' lineup on Saturday after not starting the six previous games because of a right hamstring strain. Not that he slowed down once he saw his name on the lineup card in right field. He was 5-for-10 in the back-to-back victories for the Giants, who have won 15 of their last 17 games and have a five-game lead in the National League West, pending the Dodgers' game against the Mets on Sunday night.

What Pence knows is there are adjustments that need to be made constantly, and he's ready to give whatever might work a try.

"You never master this game, which is why I love it so much," he said. "If the results are not what you feel they should be, then you try something different. I study everything. I want to find ways to do things better."

What he has found is a home in San Francisco. His commitment became obvious on the final day of the 2013 season. Set to become a free agent, Pence instead signed a five-year, $90 million contract with the Giants that included a no-trade clause.

"I had waited for the chance to decide where I wanted to play, and it was an easy decision," said Pence. "I love it in San Francisco. It's a great organization.

"I know that they're here to win. I think the fans want to see us win. We play this game as competitors to win. I think there's a hunger here and a confidence and a championship mentality."

It is why Pence is such a perfect fit with the Giants.

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