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.”