TEMPE, Ariz. -- As the lineups flashed across a video screen in the Scottsdale Stadium clubhouse Saturday morning, a Giants pitcher noted that the Chicago Cubs essentially were using their Opening Day group on the first day of the spring. The Giants had more of a mixed bag, allowing for opportunities for young players in camp. Two took advantage in a big way.
Blake Sabol hit a two-run homer to dead center in a 10-8 loss to the Cubs and Casey Schmitt immediately followed with a blast that nearly cleared the entire grass berm beyond the left field wall. The Giants hit four homers in the loss, with LaMonte Wade Jr. and minor leaguer Shane Matheny also going deep.
Perhaps none were as important as Sabol's given the circumstances. The 25-year-old is a Rule 5 pick so he either needs to make the Opening Day roster or be offered back to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Sabol got the first start of the spring behind the plate and drove in three runs on a couple of hits.
"It feels good, obviously, when you can square up a couple baseballs in the first go," he said. "We all had nerves, and for me, I was super excited this morning waking up at six and getting into the facility. I was like, 'Oh god, we're going out there!' I played in this stadium in the Fall League and there's a lot more people now in it than in the Fall League. It was a really cool experience for me."
The Giants know Sabol's bat is just about ready for this level, but it'll be defense that they're watching this spring. Sabol has caught just 94 games in the minors and manager Gabe Kapler noted that the framing was good Saturday, but the throws are still inconsistent.
"He fought for every strike," Kapler said. "That's a really good signal."
While Sabol has a shot to win a job as one of two catchers, Schmitt is headed for Triple-A to start the season. His calling card is his glove, and he showed it off early by making a diving stop on a hard liner down the line and quickly popping up with a strong throw to first. Cubs right fielder Brennen Davis had been sure that the ball was going down the line and was preparing to round first as Schmitt's throw got there. Schmitt also started a double play, but had a couple of misplays, as well.
"I thought Casey shined because obviously he hit the big bomb to left field and made a spectacular play on the line," Kapler said. "Also he showed that he still has a ways to go and he still has work to do. I think the angle that he took on the dribbler down the line could have been better and obviously there was more of a physical error on that second groundball."
Schmitt's homer was a no-doubter. During his breakout 2022 season, he went deep 21 times.
"I was just looking for something in the zone that I could drive," Schmitt said. "I caught it out in front."
--- A ton is being thrown at Sabol this spring, but he seems to be a quick learner. This was his first time using PitchCom in a game so he took the device home on Friday night and had his fiancee quiz him.
Sabol laughed as he recalled how he noticed early on that he wasn't covering up the buttons as he pushed them, potentially allowing a hitter to sneak a peek. He was more careful in his second inning behind the plate.
--- Grant McCray was one of the best stories of 2022 for the Giants, hitting 23 homers and stealing 43 bases. He kept the momentum going with his first chance of 2023. McCray nearly homered to center but settled for a stand-up triple, showing off his blazing speed.
McCray just turned 22 and only played a few weeks in High-A last season. He's likely headed back to Eugene, but if he keeps hitting as he did last year, he's going to finish this year on a lot of top 100 lists. The athleticism is elite.
--- Thairo Estrada got drilled on the left knee and came out of the game, but it was his last at-bat anyway so the Giants were just being careful. Estrada was walking without a limp and Kapler said he only has some soft-tissue bruising.
Austin Slater was scratched from the original lineup with elbow tenderness and will be re-evaluated in a couple of days. He was supposed to start in center field.
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--- The Giants made six errors, although a lot of that damage was done by players who won't be on their initial roster. That wasn't much comfort to a manager who watched bad defense tank the 2022 season and has talked all spring of being more fundamentally sound.
"Both the kids and everyone can play better defense," Kapler said. "I would have liked to see a better showing on that front, but this is what spring training is for."