MESA, Ariz. — Nick Noonan left camp quietly on March 15, his name lost amid a flurry of moves that included the reassignments of top prospects Gary Brown and Heath Hembree, and the manager's son, Brett Bochy.
But there's been nothing quiet about Noonan's late surge that looks like it could win the 23-year-old an opening day roster spot. Noonan, brought back to camp after Wilson Valdez was cut last week, bolstered his candidacy Monday with a pair of sparkling defensive plays and his second two-hit game in three days.
"It seems like he's getting more and more confident and relaxed," manager Bruce Bochy said. "He's got a lot thrown at him and I like the way he has handled it."
While it's unusual for a demoted player to be given a second shot at making the team, Bochy said the Giants never fully ruled Noonan out as an option, even as he left camp with a .194 batting average.
"We tell these guys that even though they're optioned, they're not out of the picture," Bochy said.
Noonan, who started at third base Monday, still doesn't have a locker in the big league clubhouse, but he already has earned the trust of the Giants' pitching staff. Right-hander Ryan Vogelsong saw Noonan's defensive acumen first-hand Monday. Noonan, who started at third base, ranged deep into foul territory to make an over-the-shoulder grab on a first-inning popup. With the bases loaded and two outs in the fourth, Noonan dived to his left to stab a grounder by Alberto Gonzalez and made a strong throw to first to end the inning.
"He seems like he's handling himself well," Vogelsong said.
For a team that may open the season without All-Star third baseman Pablo Sandoval, Noonan's greatest strength may be his versatility. He moved to shortstop in the late innings Monday and this spring has played 29 innings there, 57 at third base and 492/3 at second base. That's a far cry from the output of the other infielder still vying for a backup spot, Tony Abreu, who remains sidelined by a quad strain.
"Defense is so important to us — we pitch and play defense," Bochy said. "(Noonan) is a shortstop and those guys are usually more comfortable playing third and second."
Shawon Dunstron Sr. clapped in the visitor's dugout and got a pat on the head from first-base coach Roberto Kelly. After Romo clinched the save, father and son met in front of the Cubs dugout for a long hug, and Shawon Sr. wiped tears away as the two took photos.
"I'm very proud — I'm proud," was all Shawon Sr. could say as he got on the team bus.
"Little Shawon," as he is known around Giants camp, was drafted in the 11th round of the 2011 draft by the franchise his dad played 12 seasons for.