MLB.com Columnist

Barry M. Bloom

Healthy Pence, Giants' success go hand in hand

Healthy Pence, Giants' success go hand in hand

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Giants right fielder Hunter Pence came to camp this year with two solid goals in mind -- winning the World Series again after a two-year drought and remaining healthy for the entire season.

For those who might have had any doubt in the matter, the Giants are a much better team with a fully ambulatory Pence in the lineup.

When they won their third World Series title in five years in 2014, Pence played in all 162 games. Because of injuries, he was limited to 52 games in '15 and 106 last season. Pence's health and San Francisco's fortunes seem linked.

"I would say the primary goal for me is to be ready to win," Pence told MLB.com upon his arrival at Scottsdale Stadium this spring. "Our primary goal is to always win the whole thing. And health is a big part of that. I can't help them win if I'm not healthy. There are many goals."

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How much of an impact does Pence really have on the Giants? For example, there was a three-game series against the D-backs at Chase Field this past September, when Pence was on base 12 times in 15 plate appearances and scored eight runs, four in each of the first two games.

Pence walked four times that weekend and had eight hits, including two doubles, a homer and three RBIs.

Pence's solo homer

No Giants player had scored four runs each in back-to-back games since 1912. And after missing 48 games earlier that season because of a right hamstring strain, Pence led the way as San Francisco won all three games.

Pence's resurgence happened just in time for the Giants. They won the National League's second Wild Card berth by a game over the Cardinals and then beat the Mets at Citi Field in the Wild Card Game before the bullpen collapsed in a four-game loss to the Cubs in their NL Division Series.

Pence returned this past July 30 and struggled for the entire month of August, hitting .247 with a homer and six RBIs.

But Pence was on fire all of September and into October, posting a slash line of .307/.373/.500 with five homers and 15 RBIs and an .873 OPS in the club's final 30 games. San Francisco won 15 of them to finish with 87 wins, the same as the Mets.

Pence likes the changes the Giants' executive branch made in the offseason, adding closer Mark Melancon as a free agent, attempting to fix last season's back end of the bullpen problem. Plus, the club has brought aboard veterans Jimmy Rollins, Aaron Hill, old friend Michael Morse and Justin Ruggiano as non-roster invitees competing for backup outfield and infield spots.

Morse, as a matter of fact, drove in with a sacrifice fly and single the tying and winning runs of Game 7 of the World Series at Kansas City in 2014 to help the Giants beat the Royals.

"I think we have a good team," said Pence, who's been a big cog playing on the last two of San Francisco's most recent World Series victories. "I think we have one of the best organizations and best cities in baseball. We've got great talent here. Melancon is a very dynamic addition, a very powerful addition. He's one of the best closers in the game. It's definitely a room with the potential of doing a lot great things."

Pence's contributions to it can't be minimized.

Outlook: Pence, RF, SF

In 2015, Pence missed 110 games with a broken left forearm, tendinitis in his left wrist and an oblique strain. When the oblique felled him on Aug. 17 for the remainder of the season, the Giants couldn't overcome the injury and missed the postseason.

The Giants trailed the Dodgers by only a pair of games a day after Pence tore his oblique. Los Angeles won the division by eight games.

Last year, the Giants had built an eight-game lead in the NL West by June 26. Pence blew out his hamstring earlier that month and underwent surgery to remove a torn tendon on June 9. Pence's absence finally caught up with them and by the time he returned on July 30, San Francisco's lead had shrunk to just two games. It was a battle for the playoffs the rest of the way.

Pence, who will be 34 on April 13, loves playing the game. This time of year, when the season is an empty canvas, is always the best time. Of course, it was only two years ago on March 5 all that reverie was shattered when Pence was hit with a pitch by Cubs right-hander Corey Black that shattered his left forearm. He missed the rest of the spring and the first 36 games of that season. Since that incident, he has been on the DL four times.

Pence is an energetic and enthusiastic clubhouse presence, prodding and interacting with almost every player on the team. He said he can't worry about all that.

"My goal is to be the best I can to help us win and control what I can control," Pence said. "I'm not going to overfocus on all [the injuries] because you have to just go out and play. There are risks taken when you take the field. I understand that and I look forward to being healthy and being durable and doing everything necessary to be prepared to play. I'm taking care of that. I'm feeling good about it."

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.