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Kapler's tough lineup decisions seem to be paying off

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Evan Longoria, Brandon Crawford

Gabe Kapler broke into the big leagues as a 23-year-old and played until he was 34, so he had spent plenty of time thinking about the aging curve long before he was named manager of the Giants. It's something Kapler takes extremely seriously, and sometimes that can lead to a little grumbling from the fan base when the lineup is posted. 

There are no big games in May, but still, the Giants were trying to avoid a sweep Sunday and took on Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Julio Urias without Buster Posey and Evan Longoria, their two most important bats against southpaws. Posey had played the previous two games, and Kapler stuck to his usage plan, which hasn't allowed Posey to play all three games in a series yet. Longoria was scuffling and Kapler felt strongly that he could use a full 48-hour break, so he combined Sunday with the Monday off day. 

Those were decisions that took discipline, particularly after the Giants lost the first two games of the series. But Kapler has managed to stick to the schedule so far, giving players rest days that are mapped out far in advance.

"I just think it's kind of intuitive that players who are veteran players who have some wear and tear are going to need a little bit more rest," Kapler said after Tuesday's win. "It's not the same as dealing with a 24- or 25-year-old. From my own experience as an aging player, I needed more time between reps and I needed more down time. That's just the natural way the human body ages, it's part of it. These guys can still be great baseball players, but they need a little bit more down time."

 

Kapler wanted to stop short of drawing a direct line between the decisions for Sunday's game and Longoria's production Tuesday, but it wasn't hard to see the difference. Longoria, 35, had pretty much played every inning in recent weeks as the Giants dealt with injuries to Donovan Solano, Wilmer Flores and Tommy La Stella, and he was batting just .194 with one homer in May through Saturday's loss.

Longoria had three hits on Tuesday, including his longest homer as a Giant. He recorded exit velocities of 108 mph, 108 mph and 104 mph. Afterward, Longoria admitted he had been missing a lot of fastballs in recent days, whether because of fatigue or some mechanical change. He said "a couple of days off definitely helped."

"It's obviously very tough to sit on the bench (Sunday) and not be able to contribute, but long term, if we can as a group have all of our veteran players out there for 145-plus games, we're going to be in a pretty good spot," Longoria said. "If we start to stretch ourselves a little more than that, we may see a little bit of a dip in production. Maybe not, I don't know, but I know that there will be times during the season that it will probably be time for maybe a half-day off or something and I'll be going good and I won't take that, and then there will be the days that are a much-needed blow when I'm struggling and 0-for-15. 

"It kind of just helps reset the system."

Longoria is tied with three others for the team lead with 42 appearances, which puts them on pace for 142 over a six-month season. Barring another injury, it looks likely that Mike Yastrzemski will get past that mark, but he might be the only one. Kapler has been particularly careful with his everyday players, most of whom are in or approaching their mid-30s. 

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That includes Posey, who at the age of 34 is on pace to make 105 starts behind the plate. Posey hasn't played any first base yet, but he said on Monday's "Giants Talk Podcast" that it wouldn't really ease the load anyway, noting that sometimes a rare day at first will leave him more sore because of the unfamiliar movements and stretches required at a second position. 

Like the other veterans, Posey said he's in constant communication with Kapler over the playing time plan. He also noted that it's been working for a team that's a surprising 30-19, in large part because of the production of veteran hitters who are getting plenty of days off, no matter how much displeasure there might be on Twitter. 

 

"It's recovery, it's really that simple," Posey said. "As the miles add up on your body and you get a little bit older, it's harder to bounce back."

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