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Giants' La Stella-led lefty lineup shows what it's capable of

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The Giants did not score in the first inning Saturday, but as roster architects Farhan Zaidi and Scott Harris watched that inning, they were likely smiling. It was exactly what they expected when they put this lineup together. 

Tommy La Stella led off with a seven-pitch at-bat, lining an outside cutter for a single. Mike Yastrzemski followed with a seven-pitch walk, setting the table for the heart of the order. The Giants missed their best opportunity to score when Alex Dickerson's 100 mph liner found a glove, but La Stella's double in his next at-bat would lead to a run, and the left-handed bats came alive again in the sixth, with Brandon Crawford lining a three-run homer that was the difference in a 4-3 win over the Rockies.

The Giants felt they would have a dangerous lineup against right-handed pitchers, in part because La Stella now is leading off in those matchups. He showed off the full package Saturday, getting the leadoff single, doubling on a pitch at his eyes, and later drawing a walk. In four plate appearances, La Stella saw 25 pitches, leading manager Gabe Kapler to call it "Tommy La Stella as advertised."

"It makes you want to see a whole lot more of that," Kapler said. "It's such a controlled, competitive at-bat. He spoils pitches that are on the edges and hammers pitches that are in the zone. He's kinda like Donnie Solano in that he knows where the sweet spot is. He has great barrel accuracy. But at the same time, he sees pitches, he lays off pitches others would offer at. It's a luxury to have a guy like that at the top of the lineup. You're pretty confident he's going to put the ball in play."

 

The Giants still are not firing on all cylinders. Yastrzemski was hitless after the walk, dropping his average to .107. Brandon Belt is hitting .125. But La Stella's first big day since signing a three-year contract gave them a boost, and Crawford continued to carry a heavy load. 

A day after a big bases-loaded double, Crawford hit a three-run homer to swing the game the Giants' way. That inning unfolded in an unexpected fashion. Kapler entered the day with five right-handed hitters on his bench but revealed after the game that the bench was short. He wouldn't say what the situation was, only adding that it won't be an issue Sunday, but it would have made sense for Austin Slater to hit against lefty Ben Bowden to lead off the sixth. Instead, Dickerson stayed in the game and got a rare look at a lefty. He drew a leadoff walk. 

"He threw a lot of balls and ended up walking me," Dickerson said, smiling. "I've never really particularly looked at myself as someone who struggles against lefties. I feel I can get in there and have good at-bats."

Crawford feels the same way, even if this coaching staff prefers platoons. He got a shot against Bowden later in the inning and smoked a low 3-2 fastball into the arcade at 107 mph. 

"Craw wants every big at-bat, every big moment, and for good reason," Kapler said. "Put plain and simple, I believe in him in those big moments."

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It's the same way Kapler feels about his left-handed lineup, one he talked about all spring. Asked in March what made him most optimistic about the 2021 Giants, Kapler pointed to the way the Giants would match up against right-handed pitchers. They felt La Stella was the missing piece, and on Saturday, it looked like they were right. 

"La Stella just sets the tone. He has on every team he's ever played on," said Dickerson, one of La Stella's Arizona Fall League teammates years ago. "That's what you're going to see a lot of, what he did today, just battle, battle, battle and find a way on base. We're very confident in both of our lineups versus left-handed and right-handed pitching."

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