CINCINNATI -- The veteran was acquired via trade in 2012, helped the Giants win a title that fall and now has a lucrative multiyear contract. He teams with Angel Pagan to form a 1-2 punch atop the lineup, showing an ability to move Pagan over or drive him in.
This player isn't Marco Scutaro, as it was supposed to be, but Hunter Pence, the power-hitting right fielder turned perfect fit in the No. 2 spot.
"It doesn't surprise me how well he's done," manager Bruce Bochy said. "He has so much energy and the speed that you like, and yet he's a threat."
With Scutaro sidelined indefinitely by a back injury, Bochy originally turned to Pence and Brandon Belt in a two-spot platoon. But Pence quickly settled in full time and has excelled hitting behind Pagan and in front of fellow sluggers Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval, Michael Morse and Belt.
Pence ranks second in the National League with 43 runs and has seven homers, seven stolen bases and an OPS of .810. In 48 starts hitting second, he has a .372 on-base percentage and 19 extra-base hits.
Though he's homered 20-plus times in all six of his full big league seasons, Pence now lights up when talking about advancing Pagan and setting up others. Pagan opened Friday's game at St. Louis with a double off Adam Wainwright, and Pence put his focus on getting him to third, hoping the Giants could scratch a run across against one of the game's best. Pence's fly ball to right got the job done, and Morse put the Giants ahead 1-0 with a single two batters later.
"I didn't really mean for myself to adjust to it, but I definitely have," Pence said. "My mindset is a little different. Normally I'd be like, 'All right, I'm driving him in.' But I was trying to set the table and get him over just because we have so many big bats right now.
"My role is kind of to set the table right now."
For years, that has been the sole definition of a No. 2 hitter. Scutaro was the template, a middle infielder with little power but who could work a count, hit-and-run and bunt. Many teams still use that model, but an embrace of analytics has brought changes to lineup construction.
More and more, teams are realizing that one of their best hitters should bat second to take advantage of the increase in plate appearances. Last year, the second spot in the Giants lineup came to the plate 46 more times than the fifth spot, where Pence spent most of his time. In a sport where managers vie for every inch, that's a significant gulf.
Pence has the ability to set the table but also the power to complete the rally himself. He is part of a movement that's sweeping box scores. Mike Trout hits second for the Los Angeles Angels, as does Joe Mauer for the Minnesota Twins. The Los Angeles Dodgers' Yasiel Puig gets the vast majority of his at-bats in the two spot, Joey Votto often bats second for Cincinnati, and Ryan Braun likewise for Milwaukee.
Pence always has told Bochy that he doesn't care where his name falls on the lineup card, as long as it's on it. When Bochy approached Pence with the lineup change, the right fielder immediately embraced it, telling his manager he thought he would be a good bridge from Pagan to the pop.
"He was all in," Bochy said.
That's not to say the transition was seamless. Pagan was used to hitting in front of the patient Scutaro, a player with such incredible bat control that he whiffed on only 5.6 percent of swings during his signature 2012 season. Pagan is not an indiscriminate base stealer. He is careful about when he runs, and against whom he will try to steal. Did the player nicknamed Full Throttle approach the leadoff hitter to ask when he should pull back and give Pagan a chance?
"Well," Pence said, pausing and smiling. "He talked to me. He said that's part of his game, so I've got to be cognizant of that."
Pagan saw the new arrangement as mutually beneficial. He wants Pence to hold back at times but also to be ready to pounce if a pitcher is preoccupied with Pagan bouncing around at first.
"If it's a guy that's quick to the plate, make sure you don't miss that fastball," Pagan said. "Take advantage of it. When there's speed on first, you're going to get your pitch. He's an RBI man, so he's got to make sure he takes advantage."
Pence already has noticed a change in the quality of pitches he's seeing, noting that pitchers lose a fraction of their effectiveness as they rush home to limit Pagan's chance to steal second. All Pence needs is an opening.
"Maybe it's tougher to locate (your pitch) or get all your oomph behind it," Pence said. "You can't quantify it, but it definitely is there."
For the Giants, the proof is in the numbers. Pence is on track to score 100 runs for the first time. A year after scoring 629 runs, the Giants are on pace for 713.
"The power doesn't start from the third spot anymore," Pagan said. "The big guys start from the second spot on down."
Giants (Tim Lincecum 4-3) at Cincinnati (Homer Bailey 5-3), 4:10 p.m. CSNBA
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How Hunter Pence ranks with some other recent Giants who have batted second in the order. PAGE 5