Giants

Giants' Buster Posey, Brandon Belt face inevitable coronavirus risk

Giants' Buster Posey, Brandon Belt face inevitable coronavirus risk

To help keep players, coaches and umpires safe, MLB has eliminated the pre-game exchange of lineup cards and instituted new rules regarding how close players can get on the field. The operations manual asks that players stand at least six feet apart during the anthem every night and discourages pre-game fraternization with members of the opposing team. 

The manual includes two full pages of bulleted on-field protocols, including one that says "Players, umpires, and other on-field personnel should practice physical distancing to the extent possible within the limitations of competition and the fundamentals of baseball."

When people around the game started examining the new rules, though, one thing became crystal clear. There are parts of every game that you can't regulate, particularly at the plate and first base. 

You can ask players to do all they can to socially distance, but there's no getting around the fact that every night at least 18 of them will dig into the box, many at the back of it because of hitting preferences, with two catchers in the crouch, breathing heavily as they go through a game. Behind the catchers there still will be an umpire, and they tend to lean on shoulders and get as close as possible to get a better view of the pitch.

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"I've definitely thought about that," catcher Buster Posey said. "I don't know if umpires will have to wear masks or not. I think that would be one thing that would help, but obviously you can't expect the batter to come up and wear a mask or a catcher to wear a mask (under his catcher's mask) during a game."

The current version of the new rulebook does not ask that umpires wear masks as they stand behind the catcher, although it does encourage distancing when possible and demands that they complete COVID-19 education before the season and during.

Posey will be at the greatest risk of exposure on a nightly basis, with Brandon Belt also sticking out from most regular fielders, and not just because the first baseman is the endpoint of so many plays (last year Belt caught more than 1,000 outs at first). When opposing runners reach first, Belt will have to hold them close, often swiping down on throws over to first. 

"Obviously we're going to be pretty close over there," he said. "I'll try not to get in anybody's face anyway. I think I can do the same thing I've always done. Obviously we're going to be close but I'll do my best to stay as far away from them as possible while still being able to play my position. There's probably going to be a little less talking over there for me, which I probably shouldn't be doing anyway. Avoiding face-to-face talking will help go a long way."

While Posey expressed serious reservations about playing this season, Belt, in his first interview since March, said he's optimistic about the season. 

Belt has spent the hiatus back home in Nacogdoches, Texas, but he said his county wasn't a hot spot in recent weeks like the rest of the state, which was slow to react to COVID-19. Belt said he has spoken to doctors "quite a bit" about the risks and will continue to take precautions. 

The Giants are doing the right things during training sessions and continue to mold their plans for the season. But when the games start and wins and losses are on the line, there's only so much that can be done to parts of the game that have been around for a century. The first few actual games later this month will give them a better idea of how to handle nine innings. 

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"The landscape is going to continually change and we're going to have to adjust and modify how we do things," Posey said. "That's just the reality of the world we're living in right now."

Why Giants' Gabe Kapler pulled Kevin Gausman after 80 pitches vs. Dodgers

Why Giants' Gabe Kapler pulled Kevin Gausman after 80 pitches vs. Dodgers

The Giants coaching staff spent weeks preparing for the opening series against the Dodgers, and while some of the pitching decisions looked strange at the time, there's no doubt that overall they worked. The Giants came out with a split, a great result for any team that visits Dodger Stadium these days. 

The second time through called for a bit more spontaneity, coming in the middle of a tough three-city trip. For the second straight night, a decision made when a starting pitcher was nearing the end of his leash backfired. This time it cost the Giants the game and a chance at a series win. 

On Saturday night, Johnny Cueto was allowed to extend to 93 pitches, but a three-run homer on his last one nearly proved costly. A day later, Kevin Gausman was pulled after just 80 pitches, and he watched from the dugout as Tyler Rogers gave up a three-run homer, blowing the lead in a game the Giants would go on to lose 6-2. 

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Gausman had an outstanding fastball going on an 82-degree afternoon, averaging 97 mph for the first time in four years and hitting 99 mph several times. His final pitch was his hardest of the day, a 99.3 mph heater that Cody Bellinger redirected into center field for a one-out single. Kapler came out and held up his right hand as he got to the mound. 

"I think it was just a hot day, seventh time up, third time through the toughest part of the order," Kapler said of the decision. "He had done a tremendous job. He had carried his stuff into that inning, he had carried his location into that inning, and it just felt like the right time to keep him healthy and strong and safe all the way through the season based on getting into the seventh for the first time. 

"At the same time we had a reliever ready who we felt confident could get us a groundball with a runner on first base and get us out of that inning."

Rogers gave up a single to Justin Turner and then struck out Max Muncy. He was on the verge of getting out of the inning, but he grooved a 3-2 curveball to A.J. Pollock and it sailed into the empty bleachers in left. 

Rogers had pitched two strong innings the night before, and the Giants feel he's someone who can bounce back. But the Dodgers were seeing Rogers for the fifth time in 17 days. Pollock had faced him a night earlier and flown out on a curveball. 

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Kapler disagreed with the notion that the novelty had worn off when it came to the submariner. 

"I think it's not just novelty with Rog, it's the ability to throw strikes with two pitches that are unusual. It's an unusual look. He can attack the strike zone with those two pitches and they're actually just flat-out good pitches," Kapler said. "Pollock made a nice adjustment, got to two strikes and two outs, and he was able to elevate the ball."

The blast cost Gausman a win on a day when he became the first Giants starter to record a quality start this season. Gausman gave up just three hits in 6 1/3 innings and struck out six. He made a sour face as he came off the field and threw his gum, and said later that he would have liked an opportunity to finish the seventh. 

"I definitely felt like I had more in the tank. My limit is not 80 pitches, but Kap's job is to make those decisions. That's his job description," Gausman said. "I'm not the one that's calling down to the bullpen and getting guys loose, that type of thing. Obviously I thought I pitched well enough to warrant getting a couple more guys out, but we're trying to win the series and it's a hot day. Maybe those were factors in his decision."

Giants takeaways: What you might have missed in 6-2 loss vs. Dodgers

Giants takeaways: What you might have missed in 6-2 loss vs. Dodgers

BOX SCORE

Kevin Gausman had the best start of the year by a Giant, and one of the most dominant we've seen from any starter early on this season. But it wasn't enough for the Giants, who dropped a heartbreaker in the late innings and lost a series at Dodger Stadium.

Gausman was sitting in the upper 90s all afternoon but was pulled after just 80 pitches. He watched as Tyler Rogers gave up a three-run homer to A.J. Pollock and the Los Angeles Dodgers got another blast later from Mookie Betts, walking away with a 6-2 win. 

The Giants fell to 2-5 on this road trip with three games coming up against the Astros. Here are three things to know from one that truly hurt ... 

Made of quality

The bar to clear for a quality start -- six innings, three earned runs -- is not a high one, but the Giants had not had one through 16 games, which is pretty remarkable. Gausman sailed past that mark in his fourth appearance as a Giant, but took a brutal no-decision. The right-hander left with a 2-0 lead and a runner on first in the seventh. A few minutes later, the Giants trailed. 

What was so notable about Gausman is how he did it. He was throwing gas, hitting 99 mph three times -- including 99.3 on his final pitch -- and averaging 97 with his four-seamer. That was his best average fastball since 2016. The final pitch was his hardest since June 9, 2018.

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Maybe pump the brakes a little?

Rogers had a huge spring and was just as sharp in the second camp, but manager Gabe Kapler might be playing that card a bit too often. To be fair, Kapler doesn't have a lot of great bullpen options, but Rogers' appearance Sunday was his fifth against the Dodgers in 17 days, and even pitching two innings in Saturday's win.

At some point, that submarine delivery isn't as much of a surprise, and Pollock swung the score with a three-run shot on a hanging curveball. One pitch earlier, Pollock had walked a few steps toward first, thinking he had walked on an inside pitch. 

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Not slowing down

Mike Yastrzemski provided the offense, driving a two-run single into center off former Vanderbilt teammate Walker Buehler. Yastrzemski is eighth in the NL with 12 RBI, and one of the players he trails is a teammate, Donovan Solano (14).

Solano extended his hitting streak with a two-out single in the eighth inning. This was not a barrel for Donnie Barrels. He hit a slow roller to third with a launch angle of negative 46 degrees, exit velocity of 55 mph and hit probability of 17 percent, but it died on the grass and Solano easily beat Justin Turner's throw to first. 

The 14-game hitting streak is the longest by a Giant since Angel Pagan went 19 games in 2016. 

Those were the only two hits of the day for the Giants.