Brandon Crawford remains everyday force for injury-riddled Giants

Brandon Crawford remains everyday force for injury-riddled Giants

SAN FRANCISCO —  The Giants played 17 consecutive games in the middle of June, traveling to Washington D.C., Miami and Los Angeles before returning home for a seven-game homestand. Brandon Crawford went the distance in nine of the 10 road games — including a 16-inning marathon — and pinch-hit in the other one. When the rest of the Giants headed back to AT&T Park after the trip, Crawford flew to Phoenix for the birth of his fourth child, Bryson Ryder. Then it was back to San Francisco, where he played all 38 innings in a four-game series with the Padres.

The Giants were off after the final game of that series, and it seemed like a perfect chance for the shortstop to finally catch his breath. But that’s not part of his schedule these days.

Crawford’s three older children spent much of Bryson’s birth at the family’s Scottsdale home, so he took a Sunday night flight back to Phoenix to see them and spend more time with his newborn and his wife, Jalynne. On Monday night, less than 24 hours after landing, he was on a flight back to San Francisco. The next day, Crawford had three hits against the Rockies and scored the winning run in the eighth. 

As he ran through the itinerary last week, Crawford shrugged. 

“That’s what I’m supposed to do, go out and be an everyday shortstop,” Crawford said. “But my main job is being a dad.”

Certainly, it is the job, and Crawford is compensated well to wear two hats. The Giants gave the hometown star a six-year, $75 million contract three years ago, and halfway through, he has lived up to expectations. But while much of the focus is on his Gold Glove-caliber defense or career-best offensive numbers, Crawford’s most important trait might be one shown off by that June stretch.

At 31 years old, Crawford started 88 of 98 first-half games and entered five more as a substitute, making a daily impact for a team that placed 14 different players on the disabled list in the first half. There have been just five games this season in which Crawford has not made an appearance, and he spent three of those on the paternity list. 

This is nothing new. Over the last five seasons, Crawford ranks second among Major League shortstops with 5,765 innings played. Among National League shortstops, only Freddy Galvis has made more starts and played more innings than Crawford the past three seasons, a time frame that includes his entry into his 30s. 

It’s easy to forget how important that durability is for a Giants organization that relies on Crawford’s defense up the middle and hasn’t had a suitable backup for most of his time in the big leagues. It’s so easy, in fact, that manager Bruce Bochy often does. Bochy is strict about off days for his starters, especially on the infield, where the players to the left and right of Crawford currently are on the DL, the first baseman has dealt with fluke injuries for years, and the catcher had a cortisone injection after Sunday’s game. But the shortstop is on a set-it-and-forget-it plan.

“You kind of forget about him sometimes because you’re so used to putting him in the lineup and you do forget that he needs a break sometimes,” Bochy said. “I know there are times I’ve worn him down, but it’s so important to have him out there, and not just with what he does with his offense. The defense itself will win games for you.”

This year, the bat has fully caught up, as Crawford is hitting .292 with 10 homers, 39 RBI and a .825 OPS. He was the hottest hitter in the game for a stretch, batting .412 in May. His defense remains elite, too, and Crawford looks headed for a fourth consecutive Gold Glove Award. Fans across the country noticed. Crawford earned his first All-Star start by garnering 3,212,103 votes, nearly 1.5 million more than runner-up Addison Russell. 

Crawford said it will be a bit more special to be in Washington D.C., this week as the starter. It also will be the culmination of years of meticulous body management, allowing Crawford -- listed at 6-foot-2 and 227 pounds -- to remain a star at an age when many shortstops are forced to move off the position. 

“It’s pretty amazing,” Giants senior director of athletic training Dave Groeschner said. “He’s a pretty big guy for a shortstop, and he’s got a big frame. But he’s a really good athlete and he’s strong. He knows his body and what he needs in terms of treatment each day. He has that feel of what he needs to do each day, whether that’s stretching or soft-tissue work or work in the weight room. He knows he’s going to get aches and pains, and he tries to get ahead of it.”

Crawford has been on the disabled list only once in his career, missing 14 games last year with a strained groin. But he’s with Groeschner and his staff on a daily basis. Over the last two weeks alone, Crawford has received treatment on his oblique, hamstring, knees, triceps, neck and forearm. For parts of the last week, he wore a sleeve on his throwing arm to keep his forearm and elbow loose. Earlier this season, Crawford often could be seen with ice bags on his calves, which acted up every time he would sprint, an every-inning occurrence for a player in the middle of the field. 

To combat the wear and tear of playing shortstop, along with the effects of aging, Crawford tries to focus on the details, targeting a different part of his body every series while working with strength coach Carl Kochan. He now does additional core work after a couple of oblique scares, one of which demonstrates the luck involved in durability. Crawford strained his oblique in 2013, but it happened during the final game of the season. He felt similar tightness two years later and pulled himself before it got worse, missing five games but avoiding the lengthy shutdown associated with oblique strains. 

Crawford’s shoulder acted up in 2014 so he now does extra rotator cuff and scapula exercises. Bochy made sure Crawford had a few extra days off before his spring debut this February, and at times, the staff will track the number of throws he makes in the offseason. 

“I probably always took that stuff for granted (earlier in my career) because my shoulder always felt fine and I never had any problems,” Crawford said. “But it was bugging me in 2014, and that’s when I was like, ‘OK, maybe I do need to stay on that stuff a little bit more.’ "

There have been other subtle changes. Crawford has joined Buster Posey and Brandon Belt in skipping on-field batting practice a few times a month to conserve energy. If the Giants have a long homestand, or Crawford feels comfortable with a visiting park’s infield, he’ll pick a day in the middle of the series where he doesn’t take pre-game grounders, focusing instead on maintenance with the training staff and Kochan, who broke in with the San Jose Giants in 2009 on the same day Crawford arrived there. The two train together three to four times per week at the Giants’ Scottsdale facility throughout the offseason. 

Asked how Crawford has so consistently stayed on the field, Kochan smiled.

“He’s a baseball player, plain and simple,” he said. “This is what he was born to do.”

Bochy echoed that sentiment, comparing Crawford to Cal Ripken Jr. and Derek Jeter, two players who could handle the rigors of shortstop on a daily basis. Those two, soon to be together in the Hall of Fame, learned there are limits to what the body will allow. Ripken moved to third base when he was 36. Jeter played shortstop until he was 40, but was a defensive liability late in his career. The clock always is ticking on a shortstop. 

“There was talk early on about the way Brandon is built,” Bochy said. “He’s a big guy, and some said eventually he would have to go to third base. I think people projected that about this point of his career. But he’s so agile and so acrobatic. He still gets up on those diving balls and bounces up like he did five, six years ago. I’m looking at him as being the shortstop here for the next five years or more.”

Crawford will be a few months shy of 35 when his current contract expires, and the Giants are confident he’ll spend the entire deal in the middle of the field. They doubled down on that confidence last December, acquiring Evan Longoria to play third base through 2022. 

That leaves shortstop to Crawford at a time when his peers are leading a youth movement. His backup at the All-Star Game, Trevor Story, is 25. The American League shortstops — Manny Machado, Francisco Lindor and Jean Segura — are 26, 24, and 28, respectively. 

“It’s not something I like to think about a whole lot, but yeah, it’s something I’ve definitely noticed,” Crawford said, laughing. 

Crawford will be the veteran of the group this week. He will be in Washington D.C. with his four children, none older than 5, playing the part of busy dad before and after he digs into the box at Nationals Park for his first All-Star start. In his eighth big league season, Crawford is better than he has ever been, giving his manager a luxury he doesn’t always have with others. 

Bochy will show up at the Coliseum on Friday and pencil Crawford in at shortstop, and he’ll do so again and again throughout the second half, through aches and pains and dives and dirt stains. Crawford said he isn’t sure how long all this will last. He hasn’t thought about the big picture much, but it doesn’t appear he’s ready to slow down anytime soon. 

“I’ve been a shortstop my whole career, and that’s where I’ve trained to be my entire career,” he said. “I’ll do it as long as I can. As long as someone is willing to sign me, I’ll come out and play.” 

After two straight losses, Giants looking to regroup during All-Star break

After two straight losses, Giants looking to regroup during All-Star break

SAN FRANCISCO — The clubhouse cleared out quickly after Sunday’s games. Players are always in a rush to get to flights home after the final game of the first half, but you have a bit more urgency in your step when you’re trying to leave a couple losses behind.

There is one member of the clubhouse, though, who will not soon forget the way the Giants lost 6-2 to the A’s in their first-half finale. Bruce Bochy watched a lineup that looked tired and incapable of backing a suddenly sturdy staff. Afterward, he promised to spend the next four days pondering some solutions.

“That’s what I’m going to sit on here the next four days — if they need more breaks,” Bochy said. “We’ll think of things to keep them fresher and sharper.”

The team that faced Sean Manaea on Sunday looked very much in need of a break. The Giants had five scattered hits and a performance that would have looked right at home in last season’s first half. Bochy said he saw some tired bats, and the numbers this month look all too familiar, in the wrong way. The Giants have just six homers in July, the least in the Majors, after showing increased power early in the season.

Two have come from Chase d’Arnaud and Pablo Sandoval, fill-ins for Evan Longoria. Alen Hanson and Gorkys Hernandez have the others. That’s not exactly how they drew this up. Bochy cut off a question about the backups having all the power this month.

“Oh I’m well aware of that,” he said, laughing.

Andrew McCutchen doesn’t have an extra-base hit this month, continuing a frustrating first season in San Francisco. Brandon Belt has three doubles but nothing more in July. Buster Posey also has three doubles and Brandon Crawford has a pair. Bochy is pleased with the additions of guys like d’Arnaud, Hanson and Steven Duggar, Sandoval’s improvements and Hernandez’s breakouts, but he knows he needs his big guns down the stretch.

“That’s what we’re missing as much as anything is power,” he said. “Not just homers — we’re not driving the ball like I think we can.”

The staff is hopeful that four days off will help. It’s not like the Giants have a tough travel schedule in front of them. They’ll regroup on Thursday in Oakland for a workout and then play three more in the East Bay, where most of this roster lives. After that it’s a day off and two in Seattle, and then it’s back home.

Bochy revealed that Dereck Rodriguez will get the opener in Oakland, followed by Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto and Andrew Suarez. Jeff Samardzija, placed on the DL on Sunday, is a possibility for the fifth spot, although Derek Holland seems far more likely.

Rodriguez got the nod in part to break up the lefties and righties, but also as a reward for the good work he has done. He has been a revelation, helping the Giants stay above water. Even after losing two straight to the A’s, the Giants finished the first half at 50-48 and just four games behind the Dodgers in the National League West.

A year ago at the break, this club was 34-56 and 27 games out of first place.

Giants enter All-Star break with a whimper, lose second straight to A's

Giants enter All-Star break with a whimper, lose second straight to A's


SAN FRANCISCO -- There were many positives in the first half for the Giants, but the All-Star break came with a whimper. 

The lineup scattered five hits, Andrew Suarez had a rare dud, and the Giants fell 6-2 to the A's in the third game of this six-game set. They've lost two straight after a good win on Friday night and enter the break with a 50-48 record and in fourth place in the National League West. 

Here's what you need to know from "Don't Miss Your Red-eye Flight" Day... 

--- Suarez was cruising through his final start of the half before the wheels came off in the fourth. Suarez didn’t allow a hit to that point, but Jed Lowrie walked with one out and the A’s followed with four consecutive singles. A sacrifice fly capped the four-run inning. Suarez gave up four earned in five innings, walking two and striking out five. He had allowed four total runs in his four previous starts. 

--- Because of all his injuries, Ray Black often wasn’t allowed to pitch back-to-back days in the minor leagues. Bruce Bochy tested him Sunday, sending him out for the seventh a few hours after Black got a couple outs in relief of Tony Watson. Black easily handled the test, striking out two and getting a pop-up to center. His fastball was down a tick… to 97. 

--- Chase d’Arnaud hit a solo shot, his second since being called up. The veteran is tied with Pablo Sandoval for the team lead in homers in July. That’s nice for d’Arnaud, not so great for this offense. The Giants have just six homers this month.