SAN FRANCISCO -- Even when he hasn’t gotten a hit for his last seven at-bats, San Francisco Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford can count on the home crowd. Up 4-0 against the rival Los Angeles Dodgers on Sunday, the 41,140 in attendance gives a rowdy greeting to Crawford, as he steps to the dish with one out in the bottom of the sixth. Crawford torches a first-pitch curve from starter Hyun-Jin Ryu to the right center field gap, only to see it tracked down in mid-stride by Andre Ethier. 0-for-8.
It’s been a rough week for the Bay Area native. He’s mired in the midst of a 2-for-29 slump. But, like that shot he hit to Ethier, just about everything he’s been hitting has been struck well. Before the recent slide, Crawford was enjoying quite a sophomore season as the starting shortstop for the reigning world champs.
He’s already on pace to eclipse his 2012 totals for RBIs, walks, runs and hits, while socking five home runs in 115 plate appearances, surpassing the four longballs he hit during the previous campaign, when he stepped to the dish 476 times. More importantly for the Giants, Crawford has cut down on his strikeouts and become more patient at the dish. Last season, Crawford struck out nearly three times for each time he worked a walk (2.88:1), and had nearly as many strikeouts (95) as base hits (108) during the regular season. In the postseason, he fanned 12 times and had just 10 base knocks.
This year, he’s dropped his strikeout-to-walk ratio by more than half a strikeout, to 2.2:1, and K’s just once every 5.36 plate appearances, as opposed to once every 5.01.
“It’s just overall confidence with my swing,” says Crawford, “and just knowing that if I strike out right here, I’m not going to get benched.”
Crawford was, however, benched on Friday, in part, he says, to clear his head and give his body a bit of a rest, according to skipper Bruce Bochy.
“I talked to Boch. I told him that I feel fine and that I could play, but he just wanted to give me a day off just to have a little extra rest,” says Crawford. “Even though I wasn’t getting hits the past week or so, I still felt good at the plate. Last night, my timing felt a little bit off, so I don’t know if it worked for me or against me. The past week, I haven’t been getting hits, but I feel like I’ve still been hitting the ball well, just missing a few balls that I wasn’t missing a couple weeks ago.”
The success Crawford has found this year has come from what can best be described as tinkering -- the same process every hitter goes through from game to game, week to week, month to month and year to year, in order to keep chasing continued, consistent success.
“I changed my hands a little bit,” says Crawford. “My stance, I’m standing up a bit taller and learning to use my top hand more and back-spinning the ball, which makes it carry.”
And carry, it has. Before his recent skid, the Crawford was hitting .320 (24-for-75), and slugging .573 with a .393 on-base percentage. 46.1% of his hits have gone for extra bases, compared to 30.6% last season.
On Saturday -- in his first game back Bochy sat him down for the first time this season, Crawford went 0-for-5. Not exactly a great way to bust out of a slump.
There are, though, things that never slump, and for Crawford, that’s been defense. In the top of the first on Sunday, speedy Dodgers leadoff man Carl Crawford sent a roller up the middle, hopping over the second base bag. Crawford ranged to his left, gloved the grounder and did a full 360-degree pirouette to erase the .316 hitter with five stolen bases. Shutting down the dynamic Dodgers center fielder seemed to be the order of the day for Crawford, who finished off the top of the seventh by tracking down a sinking flare in shallow left off the bat of his nominative counterpart.
With three runs in and San Francisco’s lead down to one in the top of the eighth, Crawford again seemed to just be in the right place at the right time, taking a tough in-between hop at short off the bat of pinch hitter Jerry Hairston and firing to first for the third out, leaving the tying and go-ahead runs stranded.
Sweeping the struggling Dodgers -- who fell to 13-17 on the season after the weekend sweep, just one loss ahead of the National League West cellar-dwelling San Diego Padres -- has special meaning for Crawford, born in Mountain View, Calif., a graduate of Pleasanton (Calif.) Foothill High School and drafted by the Giants in the fourth round of the 2008 draft.
The only time Crawford has spent away from his Bay Area roots – apart from his time in the minors -- was his three-year stint in Westwood, Calif., where he started 179 straight games for UCLA, with a .319 career average.
“We had a few guys from the Bay Area, so there were a couple Giants fans, but there weren’t too many of us,” Crawford recalls of his time with the Bruins. “A lot of guys were from southern California, so they were either Angels or Dodgers fans.”
Beating the Boys in Blue, then, is made all the sweeter, given his time in enemy territory.
“It’s great. It’s awesome. It’s a huge rivalry -- one of the biggest in sports,” says Crawford. “Growing up a Giants fan, we always wanted to beat the Dodgers, and now playing them with the Giants, we want to be at everybody in the division, but with a rivalry like ours, we really want to beat them.”
Ryan Gorcey covers Major League Baseball and publishes CalSportsDigest.com for Scout.com and FOX Sports NEXT. Follow him on twitter at @RGBearTerritory.