PHOENIX -- The new Todd Linden was in full bloom Saturday at Maryvale Baseball Park, which had much to do with the Giants' 12-8 exhibition victory over the Milwaukee Brewers. Linden drove in three runs with a pair of two-out singles, displaying the compact left-handed swing many thought he lacked. He also started in center field, a spot he's trying for the first time as a professional. Linden has never opened the season with San Francisco, despite spending parts of the last four seasons in the Major Leagues. This year, however, he believes that he'll be with the Giants on April 3 when they christen 2007 against San Diego at AT&T Park.
"I feel like things are kind of falling into place," he said. In fact, manager Bruce Bochy has plans for Linden. Not only is Linden expected to be the primary backup in the corner outfield spots, but Bochy said that the 26-year-old also will play center when Dave Roberts rests against certain left-handers. "That's why it's important that he gets some playing time in center," Bochy said of Linden, who recorded two putouts easily. Linden looked as comfortable at the plate as he did afield. The switch-hitter's 3-for-3 afternoon included a run-scoring hit off Ben Sheets in the first inning and a two-run single off Grant Balfour in the third inning that launched the Giants' comeback from a 7-2 deficit. Linden owned a .192 career average in the Majors batting left-handed entering 2006 but hit .302 (16-for-53) off right-handers last season. But he couldn't shake the stigma of his weakness. "Everybody likes to talk about my left-handed swing and how it's not up to speed. I disagree," he said. "I'm not worried about it. I know I can improve on it. I know I can shorten it up and be more successful." Linden thinks that playing for a new manager will especially help him. Felipe Alou, Bochy's predecessor, was frequently skeptical about Linden's left-handed stroke. "That's one of the nice things about having a fresh set of eyes in here," Linden said. "Other people may have already come to conclusions about what I can and can't do. It's always tough to change those ideas. So, get a new look, a new bunch of guys in here and a new manager, hopefully it'll be a different outcome." Avenging Friday: The Giants recovered from Friday's 21-2 loss to Milwaukee by improving to 2-1 in Cactus League play. Jason Ellison matched Linden's three RBIs, and Pedro Feliz demonstrated his intent to become a more disciplined hitter by driving in runs with a first-inning double and a fourth-inning single -- both to right field.
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.