Early returns: Checking in on newly traded stars
Many who changed teams adjusting to environment, making on-field contributions
Hunter Pence stood in the Giants' home clubhouse on an early-August morning, wearing his third uniform since the middle of last season, just a matter of days removed from a second consecutive July trade to a contender.The powerful and gangly outfielder seemed comfortable enough in his new duds and new cubicle, sharing a clubhouse neighborhood with two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum and injured closer Brian Wilson. The 29-year-old newcomer already appeared to be feeling right at home. "They've made it easy on me, all the way from when I first got here -- the fans, the whole organization from top down and the players -- so it hasn't been tough at all," Pence said. That's all a player in transition can ask. Making the move from one team to another is one thing in February, when everything's new to everyone. For players like Pence who are brought in to help clubs down the stretch, the learning curve is much sharper, the stakes of the moment much higher. Around baseball, there are several players making first impressions with contending clubs, from the still-striking sight of Ichiro Suzuki in Yankees pinstripes and Hanley Ramirez in Dodger blue to Zack Greinke, Ryan Dempster and Francisco Liriano pitching for new clubs, each outing carrying increased postseason implications. Pence, dealt from Houston to Philadelphia last year and then Philadelphia to San Francisco this year, knows getting comfortable in his new confines is Job One if he's going to have any success as a late-season acquisition. "Once you get out there, you're playing the game the way you know how," Pence said. "There are a few things you have to understand about how guys play, and strategies of where they want you to play. It's maybe a day or two to get a rhythm of the organization and how they play the game." Entering that particular day's game against the Rockies, Pence's numbers were not yet telling a story of being in rhythm. He'd gone 6-for-43 for the Giants to that point, but Pence delivered a clutch double after the Rockies walked Buster Posey to face him, showing the type of boost he can deliver. "He had some good swings up there, and he's a good player," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said after the game. "He's going to help this club, and he's going to be out there and getting his at-bats and he'll get settled in." With Pence, who followed up the next day with a three-run homer, showing life in his bat and infielder Marco Scutaro already having delivered a seven-RBI game, the Giants sought a boost in their chances to hold on in the National League West. Not to be outdone, the Dodgers brought in a pair of lineup upgrades of their own, adding Ramirez and Shane Victorino. So far, Ramirez is 19-for-69 (.275) with a homer and 18 RBIs for the Dodgers, and Victorino is 13-for-47 (.277) with three steals and eight runs scored -- including his first homer for the Dodgers on Monday in a 5-4 over Pittsburgh win that pulled Los Angeles into a tie with the Giants atop the NL West standings. "This is not going to overwhelm him, going down the stretch," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said of Victorino. "For us, it's great to have a guy with experience -- not only just experience, but a guy who can do some things." For a franchise icon like Ichiro, meanwhile, the transition to a new uniform can be striking -- and sometimes confusing. Ichiro already has posted a five-RBI game that matched his career high, delivered while playing center field in a game for the first time since 2008. Things are definitely different for the veteran hit machine whose first 8,483 Major League plate appearances were with the Mariners. "Sometimes I get up to the plate and they say ... 'Ichiro Suzuki for the Yankees,' and that kind of takes me a while, to [think] 'Oh, I'm on the Yankees.' Everybody on the Yankees has been great, I play with a bunch of great guys," Ichiro said. Like Ichiro, the players who made the transition from one team to another close to the July 31 Trade Deadline are still working within a small sample size. There is time for first impressions to build into a lasting one. Kevin Youkilis, dealt to the White Sox on June 20, has a more substantial body of work with his new club, and he has contributed more offense in a similar number of at-bats as he had with the Red Sox before the trade. His OPS is up (.856 from .692), and his power numbers are up in almost the same number of plate appearances: 10 homers to four, 29 RBIs to 14. The White Sox also picked up Liriano (5.65 ERA in three starts while getting accustomed to the extra rest in a six-man rotation) and Brett Myers (0.58 ERA in 11 setup outings) in an effort to separate themselves in the American League Central. Since their first move with Youkilis, they have gone from three games over .500 to 10 and from a half-game out of first to up by two over Detroit. Perhaps the greatest early impression was made by the Braves' Paul Maholm, another starting pitcher who is becoming acclimated to a new club. Maholm tossed a three-hit shutout against the Mets in his second start for Atlanta -- his eighth consecutive quality start. On the other hand, Greinke hasn't had as much success since arriving at his new home in Anaheim after being sent off with a group hug from Milwaukee. Greinke went seven innings in each of his first two starts with the Angels -- a loss and a no-decision -- and allowed four earned runs in five innings in his third outing against a new rival, the A's. And then there's Dempster, probably the most talked-about player of the Trade Deadline season. He finally landed in Texas, and after posting a 2.25 ERA in 16 starts with the Cubs, he has an 8.31 ERA in three starts with the Rangers. Dempster may have an advantage, though, as he continues his transition. His name is Geovany Soto, the former Cubs catcher acquired by the Rangers just in time for starter Mike Napoli to go on the disabled list -- putting Soto right into the fire. "He's done a good job getting familiarized with our pitchers," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "It's a hard-enough thing going to a new team," Dempster said. "Then, all of a sudden, you have the guy that you've had for the last five years there catching you. It makes the transition a lot easier. We're obviously very comfortable with each other." And for players making the change to new teams in the middle of a pennant drive, that's a good thing.
John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.