Ryder Jones

Has the game passed them by? Giants aim to join home run trend

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AP

Has the game passed them by? Giants aim to join home run trend

DENVER — When hitting prospects are called up by the Giants and they visit the home batting cage for the first time, they’re confronted by a strange sight: a yellow rope running alongside the side of the cage. The rope is meant to show the best launch angle for hitting home runs at AT&T Park based on data collected by the front office and dissected by the coaching staff. 

The Giants are not blind to the fact that the game seems to have passed them by. It’s a home-run-happy sport this season, and the Giants have just 112. They’re 24 homers behind the next lowest team, the Pirates.

There’s only so much you can do with veterans. Buster Posey has made adjustments to tweak his fly ball percentage, and he has seen his slugging percentage jump accordingly. Brandon Crawford has made subtle changes lately and the results in the second half are dramatically different. For the most part, however, these Giants hitters are who they are. 

But can the next generation be different? Can the Giants join the home run craze, even in the most restrictive ballpark in the majors?

Austin Slater will be a good test case, and Ryder Jones, Christian Arroyo and others are right behind him. When Slater went on the DL, hitting coach Hensley Meulens took a deep dive into the numbers and found a very low average launch angle that was 12 degrees below league average. 

In an interview that ran on this week’s Giants Insider Podcast, Meulens talked about adjustments some of the younger hitters need to make. 

“He’s way behind on launch angle compared to all major league hitters,” Meulens said of Slater. “We talked about that. He worked on it when he was coming back. I’m hoping that he catches on. He’s a bright guy.”

Slater, a Stanford product, said he’s already trying to make changes. 

“It’s clear there’s room for improvement,” he said. “My (three) homers were all low line drives. If I get my launch angle up, you might see more consistency.”

For Arroyo, Meulens said any swing adjustments will come after a change of approach. Arroyo showed some power during a hot start but he slumped to a .192 average. 

“He was swinging out of the zone a lot and they kept throwing it out of the zone," Meulens said. "Now, as he’s thinking about things as he’s (recovering from surgery), the adjustment he needs to make first is to get the ball back into the zone. And then he can work on other things mechanically.”

A hand injury has kept Arroyo from getting at-bats this month, but Jones has soaked many of those up. He has two homers, two triples and five doubles in 111 at-bats, with several long foul balls to right that he wishes he could straighten out. AT&T Park is death on lefties, but it plays fair right down the line, and Jones is a pull hitter. 

“He’s got long arms to begin with and he’s a tall guy but he’s got a quick top hand, which jumps ahead of the bottom hand, and that’s why you see some of the balls hooking at the last minute and not staying fair,” Meulens said. “That’s the quality he has, that he can pull the ball. We’d like to see more guys come up and be able to do that because of our ballpark — that’s the shortest distance to hit home runs. Now he has to work on making sure that that top hand is not rolling over as he’s hitting the ball, or before. Keeping that top hand underneath all the way through and extending through the ball (will) keep those balls back-spun and straight.”

As Arroyo shut down, Sandoval's numbers nosedive

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USATSI

As Arroyo shut down, Sandoval's numbers nosedive

SAN FRANCISCO — There is a Houston Astros prospect named Dean Deetz, and in a way, Pablo Sandoval can thank him for his second shot with the Giants. 

Deetz drilled Christian Arroyo on July 1, halting the young third baseman’s bid to return to the Giants for the final two months. With Eduardo Nuñez traded to Boston and Arroyo recovering from minor hand surgery, the Giants turned to Sandoval, who has been a fixture in the middle of their lineup the last couple of weeks. Arroyo hoped to get some time at the hot corner in September, but on Thursday the Giants conceded that won’t happen. 

Arroyo will miss the rest of the regular season, team officials said. The hope is that he can get healthy in time for the Arizona Fall League and then potentially make up lost at-bats in a winter league.

Arroyo is either the organization’s best or second-best hitting prospect, depending on which list you look at. He hit .396 in Triple-A this season and then provided a momentary jolt after he forced his way into the big league lineup. Then the slump came, and overall Arroyo hit just .192 in 34 big league games. He was sent back to the minors and promptly was hit by a couple of pitches. 

It was a season with plenty of highs but a disappointing ending, but Arroyo is still just 22 and looks to be a big part of the future. Has he done enough to go into next spring with a firm grip on a job? 

“I’ll have to answer that later on and see where we’re at,” manager Bruce Bochy said Thursday. “It’s all going to be competitive, that’s the way I look at it. You look at where we’ll finish, and not in the postseason, and you have to stay open-minded on everything.”

This could be setting up for a pretty intriguing spring battle. Arroyo and 23-year-old Ryder Jones were the internal candidates set for a competition, but Sandoval likely will be the everyday third baseman down the stretch. He has shown flashes of his old pre-Boston self and the Giants have been generally pleased with his play. Still, the results aren’t really there. 

Sandoval is hitting .200 since returning, with a .220 on-base percentage and .325 slugging percentage. That's good for a .545 OPS, which is nearly 100 points below his OPS in Boston this season. The Red Sox, at some point, had seen enough.  

Bochy said he has taken positives away from Sandoval's energy and some of his bigger moments, particularly the upper-deck homer he hit off Max Scherzer over the weekend. That’s his only homer with the Giants so far, but it made an impression. 

“He’s got the bat speed,” Bochy said. “That’s one of the longest homers we’ve seen this year. That shows (the bat speed) is there.”

Jones has been a fixture as well, playing first base in place of Brandon Belt. He has looked much better the second time around, but his average is still below .200 and his OPS of .559 is just about equal to Sandoval's. The Giants have not seen enough from anyone to have a favorite to play third base next season, and Bochy said the same holds true at other positions. 

"We've got to stay open-minded about who is going to be where next year (and) playing time," he said. "It's up to us to adjust and get better."

Giants give their view of Harper's knee injury: 'He was in pretty good pain'

Giants give their view of Harper's knee injury: 'He was in pretty good pain'

WASHINGTON D.C. — Ryder Jones saw two big men sprinting his way and thought that there was going to be a collision in the rain at Nationals Park. Jones and Jeff Samardzija avoided injury. Bryce Harper, however, wasn't as lucky.

Harper, the superstar right fielder here in Washington D.C., crumpled after slipping on first base in the first inning Saturday night. The injury stunned a crowd that waited three hours for the rain-delayed game, which the Nationals won 3-1. 

Harper was diagnosed with a hyperextended left knee. He will have an MRI on Sunday to determine if there are further injuries.

"It didn't look good. I hope he's alright," Jones said. "It was one of those freak plays where you think there's going to be a collision but there wasn't. The tops of the bases were wet from the rain. I stepped on the base and jumped out of the way. I didn't really notice anything when I tagged the base and then I heard all the fans go 'ohhhh.' 

"He looked like he was in pretty good pain. You never want that to happen to a player."

Harper was hurt about 20 minutes after the first pitch, which came three hours later than planned because of a storm that hit Nationals Park in the evening. It was unclear why Major League Baseball did not push Friday’s postponed game to Saturday afternoon, when the skies were clear. The teams ended up going through their routines for a 7:05 start, but as Samardzija headed to the dugout to start warming up, the Giants were told they would be delayed. 

They scrambled to get a new start time at a park where just about every rain-related decision this season has backfired. At 7:57 p.m., the rain finally arrived in sheets. The teams did not take the field until 10:06 p.m., and neither manager altered his lineup despite a steady drizzle that kept the field soaked from the start. Bruce Bochy checked the field and thought it looked fine. 

The Giants took an early lead on a Joe Panik homer, but the Nationals struck right back, threatening with Wilmer Difo’s one-out double in the bottom of the first. Harper pulled a hard grounder that looked like an RBI double before it found Jones’ outstretched glove. Jones got up and raced Harper and Samardzija to the bag, in what was an odd coincidence. It was Samardzija who was racing into a scrum earlier this season to get to Harper, but Michael Morse got in the way and saw his season end instead. 

As Jones stepped on first, he deftly moved to his right to get out of Harper’s way. Harper slipped on the top of the bag and skidded forward, his knee twisting grotesquely. After a couple of minutes on the ground, he was helped off the field with his legs hanging in the air. 

"I saw a guy hustling to try to get a hit," Samardzija said. "You wait around three hours and you come out and everyone wants to play. It was tough conditions. It's tough to see, especially with a kid who plays so hard and cares so much. Hopefully it's not as bad as they think and he comes back sooner rather than later."