Andres Torres, the center fielder and lead-off hitter, is the most irreplaceable member of the San Francisco Giants' lineup.
The Giants have to replace him, though, because he's out for the remainder of the regular season following surgery on his appendix.
Naturally, manager Bruce Bochy responded to Torres being sidelined Sunday by inserting Aaron Rowand in the lead-off spot, playing center field. Rowand went hitless in five at-bats, showing how he wound up buried on the bench as the fifth, perhaps sixth outfielder (Cody Ross has played ahead of Rowand since arriving from Florida, and Nate Schierholtz is clearly more important to the Giants than Rowand, too).
The Giants can't play the final 18 games of the season with Rowand playing center field, let alone batting lead-off. No way.
The obvious alternative to Rowand would be Ross. He's a proven big league hitter who can play center field. Being the obvious alternative doesn't make Ross a viable, let alone a productive alternative to the ailing Torres or Rowand.
Schierholtz? No. The club has tried dozens of combinations in an effort to come up with a consistent outfield rotation, and Schierholtz in center has never been considered an option.
Darren Ford, the 24-year-old rookie who hit a paltry .258 at Double-A Richmond, is an interesting alternative. He's shown he can change games with his speed on the bases. The speed enables him to cover more ground in center than either Ross or Rowand. It's possible, however, that Ford simply can't handle big league pitching.
The Giants don't really have time to think about what Ford, Ross, and Rowand can or can't do. They know what Rowand provides. They likely figure that Ross would provide a little more, but not a great deal more, than Rowand.
Ford, however, provides the defense and speed that the Giants need—and, really, how much would he have to hit to hit more than Rowand?
Before falling back to the obvious fallback positions (Ross or Rowand) with Torres out, Bochy should try Ford in center and bat him in the eighth spot in the order. Bump Freddy Sanchez up to the lead-off spot. Maybe, shoot Buster Posey to the No. 2 hole—sure, he's a middle-of-the-order RBI guy, but batting second means he'll bat in the first inning in every game and maybe get an extra at-bat every day.
Opposing pitchers will at least give Ford a fighting chance if he's hitting eighth ahead of the pitcher.
He doesn't have to get on base three times a game. Ford just needs to get on base once or twice, any way he can, and then Bochy needs to sit back and see if he can steal a run in a season where one run could be the difference between a playoff spot and heading home the first Monday in October.
Bochy has surprised Giants fans lately with his willingness to acknowledge that runners in motion are more likely to produce runs than waiting for the three-run home run. Perhaps, he'll surprise fans again and give the mercurial Ford a chance.
Ted Sillanpaa is a Northern California sports writer and columnist. Reach Ted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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