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SAN FRANCISCO -- Nate Schierholtz's status as the Giants' Opening Day right fielder shifted from "projected" to "likely" on Saturday.
Though nothing's certain until Spring Training ends, general manager Brian Sabean endorsed Schierholtz based on the latter's defensive prowess.
Right field scarcely concerned the Giants through most of the previous 4 1/2 seasons while Randy Winn, a skilled and underrated defender, patrolled the position. Winn's migration to the New York Yankees through free agency has left the Giants searching for an able replacement. Sabean, addressing reporters at the KNBR 680/Giants FanFest, is convinced that Schierholtz can handle the position regularly.
"You always need your best fielder in right field, and the only guy who really has a chance to do that against the standard of Randy Winn is Schierholtz," Sabean said.
Though Sabean left open the possibility that Andres Torres and Eugenio Velez could platoon in right field, he added that relying upon Schierholtz at that spot will facilitate the Giants' chances of settling on a consistent lineup.
"Schierholtz can really play right field. There's no doubt about that," Sabean said.
Schierholtz, who turns 26 on February 15, started 61 games in right field last year. The respectable .284 batting average he has compiled in 174 games with the Giants since 2007 is offset by his .316 on-base percentage and six home runs in 472 at-bats. The Giants admired Schierholtz's performance for Carolina in the Puerto Rican Winter League, where he batted .324 in 19 games. His on-base and slugging percentages were .366 and .524, respectively, though he hit one home run in 74 at-bats.
The emphasis on Schierholtz as a right fielder means that John Bowker, thought to be a candidate for that position, must concentrate on left field and first base if he's to earn playing time.
Sabean acknowledged that each day's starting lineup might not be the finishing lineup, since several regulars could be subject to being removed for a pinch-runner (example: catcher Bengie Molina) or a defensive replacement (example: first baseman Aubrey Huff) in the late innings. Thus, the Giants' perceived depth is a necessity.
"Realistically, you're going to have to do some things with this ballclub," Sabean said. "... But in a lot of ways, that gets everybody more involved from day one. You get everybody into the action and they're staying ready, and if somebody falters or gets injured, they're more likely to step up."
Other subjects Sabean addressed included:
The continuing pursuit of pitching. Sabean legitimized reports that the Giants are pursuing Todd Wellemeyer and Hisanori Takahashi, saying "we're engaged with two" free agents. "I don't know if we'll get one or both," Sabean added. Wellemeyer, 13-9 with a 3.71 ERA for St. Louis in 2008, slumped to 7-10, 5.89 last year.
Lingering concerns over Sergio Romo's health, which might prevent the right-hander from claiming a full-time setup role. A sprained throwing elbow limited Romo to 45 appearances last year. "One of the fears with somebody like him stature-wise [Romo's listed at 5-foot-11] is that you definitely don't want to be in position to overwork him," Sabean said. "Sometimes you have to work the setup man in stretches as hard as the closer. I don't know that he's physically cut out to do that. Is he game? Yes. Is he a strike-thrower. Yes. But you have to be careful and pick your spots as to how concentrated those stretches are."
Two Minor League prospects that particularly intrigue Sabean are outfielder Thomas Neal (.337, 22 home runs, 90 RBIs at high-Class A San Jose last year) and shortstop Ehire Adrianza (.258 in 117 games at low-Class A Augusta). The 6-1, 205-pound Neal excites the Giants with his athleticism and power potential. Adrianza possesses considerable defensive prowess but lacks strength, as his physical dimensions (6-1, 155 pounds) suggest.
The 17th annual KNBR 680/Giants FanFest drew an estimated 20,000 people who braved weather forecasts of showers. They were rewarded with mostly sunny skies during the five-hour baseball carnival at AT&T Park.