Giants

Farhan Zaidi believes Giants' Austin Slater will play multiple positions

Farhan Zaidi believes Giants' Austin Slater will play multiple positions

Surprising breakout seasons from Giants outfielders Mike Yastrzemski and Alex Dickerson have created a plethora of headlines, and rightfully so. Don't overlook what Austin Slater has done, though. 

Farhan Zaidi certainly hasn't. 

"He's been a revelation for us," Zaidi, the Giants' president of baseball operations, said Thursday night on KNBR

Slater, 26, is batting .299 with four homers and a .952 OPS in 41 games for the Giants this season. His power numbers significantly have increased after hitting 12 homers and 17 doubles for Triple-A Sacramento this season, too. 

The ability was always there for Slater but he crushed far too many balls into the ground. He reworked his swing this offseason -- his launch angle is up nearly four degrees this season -- and the results have followed. Now, manager Bruce Bochy is finding more ways to get Slater in the lineup. 

"I think even Boch is trying to find different ways to get him in the lineup, not just against left-handed pitching. He's done well against righties, too. The at-bat quality is there, he's gotten some really big hits for us and he's played some really good defense for us in the outfield. He's fit in well with Pillar and Yaz."

Bochy usually slots Slater into his lineup against left-handed pitching -- he's hitting .349 against lefties this season compared to .266 when facing righties -- but just one of his eight career homers in the bigs have come off a right-hander. 

To get him in the lineup more often, Zaidi would like to see Bochy take advantage of Slater's defensive versatility. 

"One thing that I think we're gonna want to take a look at -- it might not happen this year -- but he's obviously got some experience in the infield at first base and second base," Zaidi said. "That may be a way to get him more at-bats going forward."

[RELATED: Yaz knows it'll be 'emotional' to see Mike play at Fenway]

Slater actually spent more time at first base than the outfield this season in Triple-A. He played 38 games at first compared to 17 in the outfield. Slater also played 11 games at third base and seven at second in Sacramento this year. 

With Brandon Belt struggling against left-handed pitching, especially lately, it would make sense to slot Slater in at first more going forward. As the Giants slide down the NL wild-card standings, it's time to turn an eye towards 2020 and see where Slater and many others fit on this roster.

Giants takeaways: What you might've missed in 5-1 loss vs. Astros

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USATSI

Giants takeaways: What you might've missed in 5-1 loss vs. Astros

BOX SCORE

The Giants knew this was going to be the toughest trip of the year. It lived up to expectations.

With a 5-1 loss the Houston Astros on Wednesday night, the Giants finished with a 3-7 record on the trip, getting one win apiece in Denver, Los Angeles and Houston. The last game was close into the middle innings, but the Astros pulled away with a big frame off of the Giants' bullpen and Gabe Kapler's lineup did nothing against old foe Zack Greinke.

Here are three things to know from the final night of a three-city trip ...

The Big Inning

The Giants have made a habit of falling behind, and on Wednesday it was because of a four-run sixth inning. The staff got away with a half-dozen early walks, but six hits in the bottom of the sixth helped the Astros pull away.

Martin Maldonado had the big one, a three-run homer off rookie Caleb Baragar.


D-Rod's Return

Dereck Rodriguez made his season debut in the third, and it was immediately clear that the velocity uptick that impressed coaches in recent bullpen sessions had translated. Rodriguez maxed out at 95.4 mph with his fastball, which was his best velo since his third month in the big leagues in 2018. He averaged 92.8 mph, which was better than any single-game average from his 2019 season.

The added velocity is crucial to Rodriguez, a right-hander who relies on a varied mix and was getting knocked around last year when he was around 91. The results in his season debut were mixed, though.

Rodriguez gave up three hits and walked two in 2 1/3 innings. He was charged with just one earned run, although he did leave a bit of a mess that Baragar cleaned up in the fifth.

[RELATED: New Giants catchers thriving in this advanced statistic]

Short Debut

Before the game, manager Gabe Kapler said Trevor Cahill had 45 to 50 pitches in him as he made his Giants debut. Cahill was coming off a finger injury that kept him from making the Opening Day roster.

Cahill ended up recording just five outs before his count got too high, but he didn't give up a hit. He walked four but the misses were pretty competitive. All in all, it was enough that Cahill should be in line to start again next week.

New Giants catchers thriving in this advanced defensive statistic

New Giants catchers thriving in this advanced defensive statistic

How do you make up the gap when you still have a large talent deficit most times you take the field? The Giants are trying to do it by exploiting every edge, from platoons to increased shifts to aggressive use of relievers. 

There have been mixed results, but when it comes to the catchers, there's a clear area where they're excelling in finding an edge. 

Tyler Heineman and Chadwick Tromp have had their growing pains as rookies, but both have done a pretty good job at pitch framing, an area of emphasis for new bullpen coach/catching coach Craig Albernaz. 

Per Baseball Savant's framing metrics, Heineman ranks 15th and Tromp is 17th (out of 55 qualified catchers) in strike rate, which looks at how often a catcher converts non-swing pitches into strikes when they're in the "shadow zone," which Savant counts as one ball width inside the zone and one ball width outside. In layman's terms, it's how often catchers are stealing strikes on the edges of the zone with their framing. 

The league average is 49.1 percent. Heineman is at 52.4 percent and Tromp is at 52.1.

"One of (Albernaz's) main points of emphasis is how we can swing counts in our favor for our pitchers, and some of the most important work that they can do is keeping balls that are strikes in the zone," manager Gabe Kapler said. "I think they've done a nice job of that so far and they've responded to Albie's emphasis, and as a staff I think we all believe that the number one job of a catcher is to kind of make a pitcher look great. From that standpoint, the catchers have done a nice job."

[RELATED: Giants activate Cahill, Rodriguez]

The two newcomers have gone about it in similar ways but with different styles. Heineman has been particularly adept at framing pitches on the left edge of the zone, ranking first overall in that area so far, while Tromp is 10th. Tromp ranks eighth on framing low strikes (Heineman has been good there, too, ranking 12th) while using a unique method. Like several other catchers around the game -- including Houston's Gold Glover Martin Maldonado -- Tromp often gets down on his right knee to receive low pitches. It's a setup that might cost him a wild pitch here or there, but should help him steal strikes. 

"The one-knee setup is something that we feel actually makes him slightly more athletic and enables him to push in both directions and be stable and balanced," Kapler said. "It's definitely a work in progress and a focused area of development for Tromp, but it also enables him to get up underneath the low strike, and I think part of the reason that his receiving numbers have been good so far is that the unconventional setup works well for him."

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