Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Lance Niekro Poised for Comeback with Giants

Former San Francisco first baseman Lance Niekro, who struggled at the plate for the Giants earlier this season, is poised for a September callup from the AAA Fresno Grizzlies, where he is on a tear. The 27-year-old son of former major league pitcher Joe Niekro is batting .321 while hitting a homer every 10 atbats for the hit-happy Pacific Coast League contender. Niekro, who had difficulty sharing time with Mark Sweeney when the two played first base for the Giants at the beginning of the season, appears to be recovered from injuries he battled earlier, including a groin injury that held him back for two weeks in June and a sore shoulder that caused him to miss 10 days in May. Look for Niekro to win a bench spot when rosters are expanded to 40 players Sept. 1, then compete to win a fulltime job next spring if not sooner. Ironically, his playing time will be limited now that the Giants have acquired veteran Shea Hillenbrand from the Blue Jays. Both Hillenbrand and Niekro bat right-handed. However, with aging outfielders Barry Bonds, Moises Alou and Steve Finley missing time or needing frequent rest, watch closely to see whether manager Felipe Alou moves third baseman Pedro Feliz to the outfield from time to time, allowing Hillenbrand to slide over to third and Niekro to start at first base.