With future up in the air, Hunter Pence making the most of rehab assignment


SACRAMENTO -- The scene at Raley Field on Saturday afternoon was a bit of a surreal one. After every round of batting practice at the minor league park, Hunter Pence would step a few feet from the cage and chat with Madison Bumgarner. 

Both have helped the Giants to multiple championships. Both are beloved in the city of San Francisco. Both are on rehab assignments. But right now, their situations could not be more different. 

Bumgarner was in Sacramento for the start of what will be a short rehab assignment. Pence is finishing up the second week of a second stint with the River Cats, and it's unclear what the Giants will do. They have six days to make a decision, whether that's calling Pence up, releasing him, or perhaps talking to him about staying in the minors a bit longer.

The third conversation has not been had yet. It probably doesn't matter, anyway. It's clear where Pence would like to be.

"I'm ready to play right now," Pence said. "This is where they want me right now, apparently, and so I'm going to go play as hard as I can where they want me."

There was never any doubt that Pence would do that, and teammates here say he has handled this potentially awkward assignment better than anyone else could. He has been a mentor for younger players, many of whom have come through minor league camp the past two seasons. Pence smiled his way through a pre-game workout Saturday and he has been a regular on the autograph line. He also has not taken this rehab stint for granted.

When Pence and the Giants decided to pause a previous assignment on May 6, he didn't just sit around and wait for his thumb to heal. He flew to Los Angeles for a few days and spent time with Doug Latta, a private instructor who overhauled Justin Turner's swing and has now found success with Mac Williamson.

"I'm very happy with it. I feel a lot better at the plate," Pence said. "I always think you've always got to adjust and improve."

The early results are promising. Pence is 20-for-54 since returning, with three doubles and a grand slam. He is standing more upright, with his hands a bit more relaxed, but the big stride and powerful swing remain. As Pence described it, "it's still me."

"I still haven't mastered it," he said. "I'm still improving every day, but I feel a lot better at the plate each day. Since the adjustment, I have a really good idea of what I want to do and I've felt way better."

Now, it's up to the front office to decide how they feel. There have been no indications that a decision is close, but players at two levels are watching. Mac Williamson is the everyday left fielder in the big leagues, but down here, you'll find plenty who believe Pence at the very least deserves another shot on the roster. Pence won't ruffle any feathers. But he would like another run. That's why he flew down to Los Angeles.

"I want to learn everything I can to be the best player I can to help us win," he said. "The ultimate goal is to win the World Series, and you've got to be the best player you can to do that."

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