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Kapler explains Giants' bat-first outfield vs. Fried, Braves

NBC Sports
Austin Slater

SAN FRANCISCO -- On Wednesday afternoon, a little more than four hours before the first pitch at Oracle Park, Kris Bryant walked out to the field with bench coach Kai Correa and started doing drills at second base. 

The Giants value versatility above just about everything else, and Bryant is as moveable a chess piece as any slugger in the National League. He has played six different positions this year, including third base and all three outfield spots in 40 games with the Giants. With all the shifting the Giants do, it's easier than ever before to put a big body at second base, and the staff wants that card in their back pocket down the stretch and into the postseason.

There's a downside to embracing versatility, though. The Giants on Sunday put Darin Ruf in left field, Austin Slater in center and Kris Bryant in right. It's not an ideal defensive alignment by any means, but the idea was to knock Braves lefty Max Fried around early and then bring on some combination of Steven Duggar, LaMonte Wade Jr. or Mike Yastrzemski to close it out. 

It didn't quite work out. 

The all-righty lineup did nothing against Fried, who threw seven shutout innings in Atlanta's 3-0 win, and the bat-first outfield struggled on a windy day, particularly Bryant. He couldn't quite get back on two deep fly balls to Triples Alley, and afterward explained how tough the adjustment is. 


"It definitely is one of the weirdest right fields in baseball," he said. "You really have to try to pinch the gaps more so than on other fields because you're dealing with such a deep right-center, and one where -- we saw yesterday Tommy La Stella crush a ball that doesn't even get out -- most of the time when the ball is hit over there it's probably not going to be a homer. If you can play deeper in the gap you give yourself a better chance to get to any ball hit in that corner over there."

Bryant went sprinting over to the alley twice, once in the fifth and once in the seventh. The first ball dropped just out of reach for a triple, although Anthony DeSclafani would strand the runner. He reached up for the second one but couldn't pull it in. The leadoff double was followed by a two-run homer that was all the support Fried would need.

"The first one I was thinking about diving for, I just had no clue really how much warning track I had and didn't want to end up diving into the wall," he said. "The second one I think was more catchable than the first one."

To be fair to Bryant, the triple would have been a home run in 23 other ballparks. The double two innings later would have cleared the wall in 22 ballparks. Both would have required impressive running grabs by any fielder, and the best outfielders Gabe Kapler has were watching from the bench against Fried, who has been red-hot in recent weeks. 

This is the gamble the Giants have taken just about every night in the early innings. They choose bats over defense and try to make up the gaps with positioning and good fundamentals, but on days when the bats go quiet -- and there haven't been many of them for a team that's second in the NL in runs -- it's not as easy to stomach.

"I don't think that any team has the luxury to have players that can move around all of the positions and be Gold Glove-caliber at all of them," Kapler said. "I think we have a lot of guys who move around the diamond for us who we can say the same about, so this is really not specific to Kris. We have other defenders who are somewhat limited at times depending on where they're playing, and that's just part of this. We're going to take the fact that they are flexible and can move around and then also get big hits for us and be dangerous in our lineup every day and understand that sometimes they're not going to make plays that some of the best defenders around the game make. 

"There's no such thing as a roster filled with guys who can do everything. I haven't seen it. What I'll say is I'm very confident in Kris' ability to play a quality third base, left field, center field, right field, and likely second base, although we haven't seen much of it there yet."


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