San Francisco Giants fans, faced with the prospect of not having Marco Scutaro in the lineup, may have begun seeing visions of 2011, when Freddy Sanchez did a similar fade-out. In an attempt to calm fans’ fears, Brandon Hicks has made a statement that he will be quite capable of handling second base, thank you very much, including bringing the long ball to the table.
Hicks’s implausible drive off of Clayton Kershaw in the seventh inning of Sunday’s game, not only gave the Giants the lead, but also has the distinction of being the first home run ever hit off of a Kershaw curve ball. As has been heavily reported in all serious sports venues, Kershaw has thrown more than 2,100 curve balls in his major league career, and Brandon’s blast was numero uno to clear a fence.
To me this is a defining moment, not only for Clayton Kershaw, who thought (with darn good reason) that he was invincible to the long ball via his curve, but for Brandon Hicks as well. Hicks, who has always fared well in the field and struggled for average at the plate, has to gain a powerful surge of confidence. If he can clobber one off a guy that no one else has hit one against, then he should be able to smack one off of others.
Kershaw, on the other hand, no longer has that same confidence. If a journeyman infielder like Hicks can pin a big fly on his curve, then there must be others who can do the same thing. Hicks hit a two-run home run off of Kershaw on March 9th during spring training. Lightning strikes twice, or Hicks has a good bat? We don’t need the answer to that question to recognize that Kershaw will never know for sure when he faces Hicks again if Hicks will take him deep. Nice edge to have for a second baseman.
So far this season, Hicks has hit seven home runs, but his average going into Sunday’s game was .198. Hitting has always been his weak area, but if you consider when his homers have come, they always seem to either put the Giants ahead, or tie up the game. That ability to select your moments to deliver the telling shot, is an intangible that you just can’t pick up at the swap meet on the weekend.
Not only is Hicks impacting the offense positively at timely intervals, he has been refining his defensive skills, which have improved steadily since a rather shaky start. His ability to make the dazzling plays more than makes up for a few instances when it seemed as though his hands needed to go through a softening up stage. But it was his throw on a ball hit by Drew Butero, that got Andre Ethier at the plate in the fifth inning of Sunday’s game in LA. It took a fine sweep tag by Buster Posey to get the evasive Ethier, and it helped the Giants take their third of four games from LA in this series.
Marco Scutaro was recently placed on the 60-day disabled list, so it looks as though Hicks will continue to play second base for the Giants. I was as inspired by Scutaro’s play as every other Giants fan, but he has health issues so we go with Plan B. Whether that is a good thing or a bad thing probably depends on whether or not Hicks keeps hitting home runs. Somehow, after Sunday’s blast against Kershaw, I don’t think that’s going to be an issue.