Ishikawa intends to stick at first base
Giants infielder staying confident amid uncertainty at corners
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Travis Ishikawa has every right to be unnerved by the hint of uncertainty surrounding the Giants' corner-infield situation. Yet, mentally, he's as anchored as first base, the position he hopes to claim.Ishikawa has been projected as the Giants' starting first baseman, due to his encouraging performance last season. But he could lose his job before he officially secures it if the Giants obtain a third baseman, which would prompt them to move Pablo Sandoval to first base.
This possibility doesn't disturb Ishikawa, who remains confident that whatever happens will ultimately benefit him."My No. 1 goal is to be the Opening Day first baseman, but in reality, I just want to make the team first," said Ishikawa, 25. "If [a player acquisition] happened to me before, it would have gotten the best of me and brought me down the rest of the season. Now, if they told me I was going to be a role player, I'd try to be the best left-handed hitter off the bench I can be." Ishikawa appeared bound to make an impact in San Francisco earlier. He hit .292 in 12 games for the Giants in 2006. But he struggled in 2007, batting .214 for Double-A Connecticut before a knee injury sidelined him. The Giants sent him to high Class A San Jose to rehabilitate his knee and, according to Ishikawa, told him that he would join Triple-A Fresno once he healed. But Ishikawa hit an uninspiring .268 and stayed in San Jose through the rest of the season. Ishikawa was the picture of pessimism as that '07 season began.
"There were doubts mixed with little things -- whether it would be the field condition or the weather in the Northeast," he said. "It didn't even have to do with baseball. Maybe somebody in the clubhouse would do something that annoyed me and I would just dwell on it."Ishikawa became a Christian that year, which he cited as the factor that changed his life.
"Faith will always be the biggest part of anything that happens," he said.The 6-foot-3, 225-pounder was a new man around the clubhouse last season. "I didn't let things get to me," Ishikawa said. "What you think has a lot to do with how you're going to play. ... It's like you make an out here or you had an 0-for-4 game with three strikeouts, it's over with. There's nothing you can do to change it. Lo and behold, that next day I'd have a game-tying hit or maybe make a play to save a run. "I've gotten to that point where swear words aren't the first thing that pop into my head any more." Ishikawa had the opposition cursing last year as he hit a combined .299 with 24 home runs and 94 RBIs at Connecticut and Fresno. That earned him a pair of late-season stints with the Giants, for whom he hit .274 with three home runs in 33 games. Ishikawa is attempting to end the run of bad luck -- or poor play -- that has dogged San Francisco first basemen since J.T. Snow's reign ended after the 2005 season. Lance Niekro proved injury-prone and unable to hit right-handed pitching. Handed the job last year, Dan Ortmeier hit .241 with zero home runs in 79 Cactus League at-bats, prompting the Giants to install Rich Aurilia at first base in the season opener at Los Angeles. To avoid continuing that trend, Ishikawa, a low-ball hitter, must resist chasing too many elevated pitches. Giants hitting coach Carney Lansford said that Ishikawa shouldn't worry if an opponent slips a high strike or even two past him.
"Not too many pitchers are good enough to make that pitch three straight times," Lansford said.Over longer stretches, Ishikawa also must prove that he can hit left-handed pitchers. He's 2-for-7 off them in the Majors, too small a sample size to deliver any judgment. "The best left-handed hitters -- the Will Clarks, the Barry Bondses, the Adrian Gonzalezes -- they bury that front shoulder against left-handed pitching and that's why they're so good," Lansford said. "You can't bring in a lefty to get those guys out." Ishikawa's ready for any and all challenges. "I went into the offseason thinking that it's my job to lose," Ishikawa said. "That's the attitude I'm going to take coming into camp. Obviously, it's not my decision, but until I'm told otherwise, I'm going to work hard to keep that job."
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.