Linden adjusting to new challenge

Linden adjusting to new challenge in center

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Todd Linden began Sunday with a Major League-high 26 hits in exhibition games, yet his biggest Spring Training accomplishment may have been on defense.

Linden, a corner outfielder for almost his entire baseball career, has performed capably in center field, where he has played a team-high 81 1/3 innings. Giants manager Bruce Bochy initiated the move to enhance his roster flexibility, much to Linden's delight.

"I like being out in center," Linden said Sunday before the Giants' 10-7 loss to the San Diego Padres. "It doesn't put any more pressure on me. There isn't any more thinking involved."

The Giants' braintrust is doing plenty of thinking, though. Linden's frequent presence in center has prompted speculation that reserve outfielder Jason Ellison, who made the Opening Day roster in the previous two Spring Trainings and owns a .420 Cactus League batting average, won't stick with the Giants this time. Ellison's out of Minor League options, which will force the Giants to keep him, trade him or expose him to other teams through waivers if they try to send him to Triple-A Fresno.

Bochy hasn't revealed his intentions regarding Ellison, repeating that the evaluation process is ongoing. About Linden, however, Bochy said, "He's going to play a major role this year."

Which means that Linden is bound to fill in for center fielder Dave Roberts at least occasionally. Linden, who has yet to play his first full Major League season, has sought tips on handling the position from teammates who are familiar with it, including Roberts, Ellison and Randy Winn.

"The best medicine for it is more games out there," Winn said. "The more games he gets, the more comfortable he's going to be. But he's looked good so far."

Linden encountered trouble Sunday, when he lost Brian Giles' two-out fly ball in the sun. It fell for a two-run double, feeding San Diego's eight-run uprising. He recovered two innings later, when he grabbed a similar fly to center by Kevin Kouzmanoff.

Elements aside, Linden said that the most challenging play he faces in center is the low line drive -- "whether you're going to go get it and take a chance of letting it get by you, or pulling up and letting it fall in for a single. But that's the toughest ball whether you're in left, right or center, so that doesn't really change."

Linden appreciates the fresh perspective that playing center offers. He senses that line drives directly over the fielder's head, for instance, are easier in center than in the corners. "Every ball has a little bit of 'run,' and it'll be more severe when it's toward the line," he said. "But in center, it's going to stay more true."

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Linden also has found that tracking pitches is easier in center -- think of the center-field camera angle during any telecast -- which helps him get a better jump on batted balls.

"You can see the whole hitting zone, whereas if you were in left or right, you might see part of it," he said. "I can see a pitch that's on the outside corner and if it's deep enough, I know [the batter] can't pull it anymore and I almost start the other way."

Linden, who has played center intermittently in college and in the Minor Leagues, knows that he must avoid skipping throws off the pitcher's mound when he's throwing toward home plate -- which usually isn't a concern for left or right fielders. He's also aware that, in center, he's responsible for steering the outfielders flanking him so they don't leave overly large gaps.

"The biggest thing is letting guys know where you are and making sure everybody's on the same page," Linden said. "Communicating with two guys instead of one."

Linden's .377 average proves that his outfield migrations haven't hampered his hitting. He went 0-for-5 against the Padres, but insisted that such lapses don't bother him.

"I think it's a good thing because there's been a reason," said Linden, a switch-hitter who has considerably improved his left-handed stroke. "Something's broken down a little bit mechanically, whether it's my weight distribution or where my hands are. To recognize and make that adjustment, that's what this game's about."

Linden's accustomed to adjusting, as his performance in center has demonstrated.

Chris Haft is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.