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Velez brings speed to bases, fielding

Velez brings speed to bases, fielding

MESA, Ariz. -- The most intriguing player in camp gave the Giants more to contemplate.

Eugenio Velez left the Giants' 8-6 exhibition victory over the Chicago Cubs before the bottom of the fifth inning Sunday, but he put in a full afternoon of work.

Velez displayed the speed and generated the excitement that San Francisco's offense sorely needs. He stole three bases while going 1-for-3 with a walk, but those figures conveyed only part of what he provided. While stealing his final base, in the fifth inning, Velez prompted catcher Geovany Soto's throwing error. That enabled Velez to advance to third and open the scoring in a five-run uprising.

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Later in the fifth, after the Giants batted around, Velez ended the inning by nearly beating out a routine grounder to second base.

"He floats," Giants center fielder Aaron Rowand said, describing Velez's sprinting skill. "It doesn't even look like his feet touch the ground."

Velez roamed new ground at HoHoKam Park -- third base, after starting three previous exhibitions at second base. This underscored manager Bruce Bochy's intent to make Velez a super-utilityman in the mold of the Los Angeles Angels' Chone Figgins.

"You have to be ready," Velez said of his carousel ride around the diamond.

Although Velez committed a throwing error, he inspired right-hander Matt Cain to make a more ambitious comparison than the one to Figgins.

"He reminds me of Jose Reyes, the way they run and the way they get after it," said Cain, who pitched three shutout innings. "Both switch-hit and have cannons for arms."

Velez's performance -- which wasn't an aberration, since he's hitting .429 (6-for-14) with six runs and five steals -- could deepen the Giants' thinking about their infield.

With shortstop Omar Vizquel sidelined for four to six weeks after undergoing arthroscopic left knee surgery, the projected starters at the positions that Velez can play are second baseman Ray Durham, shortstop Kevin Frandsen and third baseman Rich Aurilia. Before Vizquel's injury materialized, Velez appeared likely to begin the season with Triple-A Fresno.

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Now, however, Velez could emerge as the top infield utilityman. And if Velez continues to be an offensive dynamo, the Giants might try to find ways to wedge the 25-year-old into the lineup more often than not. Having acknowledged that power won't be a major component in their offense and that they must rely on a "small ball" approach, the spray-hitting Velez, who stole 122 bases in the previous two seasons, fits well.

Should Velez gain competence at third, the Giants might even reconsider whether they have to trade for a more experienced third baseman, such as Joe Crede of the Chicago White Sox. Velez hasn't established himself at any position -- hence his bouncing around the diamond -- but insiders theorize that third base, where he often can simply react instead of dwelling on technique, might suit him.

"That could be his best position," Bochy said.

Defensively, Velez demonstrated aptitude, along with room for improvement.

He cleanly handled a first-inning grounder by Ryan Theriot, who possesses above-average speed, and threw to first for the out.

Two innings later, Velez made a nice barehanded pickup of Eric Patterson's bunt and fired an accurate off-balance throw to first. But his toss was a beat late, resulting in a single.

Velez lapsed in the fourth inning with runners on first and second and nobody out. After gobbling Matt Murton's grounder, Velez's throw to second base veered toward right field and off Travis Denker's glove, enabling Derrek Lee to score Chicago's first run.

Afterward, Bochy expressed little concern about Velez's shortcomings at third.

"I told him, 'I don't care if you throw the ball away, don't back off. Stay aggressive,'" Bochy said.

That shouldn't be a problem, given the way Velez plays.

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

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