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Giants make big changes to Oracle Park before July 1 training begins

Giants make big changes to Oracle Park before July 1 training begins

Oracle Park has hosted more than 1,600 Giants games, four World Series, and an All-Star Game. It has been the site of concerts by Beyonce and Metallica, and sporting events ranging from rugby to the XFL to the U.S. men's soccer team.

In the offseason, it gets used for corporate holiday parties, Top Golf and, back in the day, a college football game called the Emerald Bowl. Kanye West proposed at Oracle Park. Dustin Johnson hit golf balls into the cove from the infield grass. The Rock once parachuted onto the infield as he searched for Alexandra Daddario in the middle of an earthquake. 

The ballpark has seen just about everything -- but it hasn't hosted spring training. Until now.

The Giants have spent three months trying to figure out how to reconfigure the game's most picturesque ballpark for spring training, and they have settled on a plan that turns a fan-friendly area behind the center-field wall into a new training facility. Where there once was a speed pitch machine set up for former high school stars straining to hit 80 mph, there now will be actual bullpen mounds and batting cages. The player's parking lot will be transformed. Pathways to the clubhouse have been changed. New showers might be used.

All of this is necessary, because MLB sent a 113-page manual this week outlining new safety rules and suggestions. The word "disinfect" appears on 28 of those pages, including this ominous warning: "Clubs must establish a process for cleaning high traffic areas with EPA-approved disinfectant before, throughout, and after each day."

This is a massive undertaking, but the Giants expect to have a new look at Oracle Park when players report next week, with the first workout taking place Friday, July 3. 

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"I think once we stopped in Arizona (in March), we knew there was a high likelihood of coming back to San Francisco, and as a result, we came up with a plan for that very early on and recognized that there's a big difference in dealing with a 25-man regular-season roster and dealing with 60 guys in spring training," said Alfonso Felder, the organization's executive vice president of administration. "We needed to figure out how to spread people out throughout the building, and beyond just spreading people out, how to deliver facilities that would facilitate training, too."

The Giants at one point hoped to stay in Scottsdale, where they have two full fields, a row of bullpen mounds, several half-fields for infield drills, and a new weight room and clubhouse that can be accessed without ever stepping foot indoors anywhere else. But it became clear in recent weeks -- as COVID-19 surged in Arizona -- that San Francisco was the preferred base, and the work ramped up at Oracle Park, where new bullpens were already being put into place. 

That process, which has been completed, actually set a nice template for the new look. The Giants already had opened up that area of the park in hopes of having a full "bullpen experience" for fans, and one benefit -- now crucial -- was that there is now additional ventilation and sunlight in the area underneath the scoreboard. 

Essentially, the plan is to use the main field for training and then have a new facility, so to speak, extend from Triples Alley to the player's parking lot, which sits beyond the left-field wall. In addition to the four new bullpen mounds, the Giants will have two cages set up in tunnels that will be used as extra bullpen mounds. They also will have three hitting tunnels, two of which can also hold full-length pitching mounds. The plan is to be flexible within those nets, allowing for BP sessions but also bullpen sessions. 

The coolest addition may come in a space usually reserved for Audis and oversized trucks. The Giants plan to turn the player garage into a turfed area for drills, with the added benefit that the massive doors there can be opened and provide ventilation. This might actually not be that much of an adjustment for infielders. During spring training, new bench coach Kai Correa took advantage of a new ballroom-sized space at Scottsdale Stadium to have infielders compete in indoor drills where baseballs were shot out of a pitching machine and off of the concrete floor. 

"We see our staff and our willingness to embrace this as a challenge as a bit of a competitive advantage," manager Gabe Kapler said this week. "In our practices in Scottsdale, we utilized every inch of that space. And it wasn't just because it was raining, it was because we have a really big staff and we have a lot of players, and we definitely want to spread them out and challenge them."

The garage is just a few steps from where players will check in every day and go through a screening process, and the whole setup should allow the Giants to limit how much time players have to spend in shared spaces. In theory, a player can walk to the ballpark from a nearby hotel, get screened, do fielding drills in the open-air garage and then walk for about 30 seconds and reach a cage hidden under the bleachers, where he can take BP and then head back home to shower, having spent time in just a small portion of the ballpark. 

Showering at the ballpark is discouraged by the new MLB operations manual, but not prohibited. The Giants will adjust by using both the home and visiting clubhouses for Spring Training 2.0 and staggering workouts throughout the day, and they also may take advantage of another unexpected benefit of the new bullpens. 

In traditional years, the Giants hold several concerts each summer at Oracle Park, with the stage in center field facing the plate. When the new bullpens were going in, they added two showers so that the area could also be used as a green room for concerts. 

The hope, though, is that players opt instead to go home to clean up after a workout, limiting their time spent in enclosed areas of the ballpark, where some air filtration systems have been upgraded to help add an extra layer of safety. As part of this effort, players who want to reach either clubhouse will walk on the field, not through underground tunnels as they always have. 

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That is especially necessary given the need to disinfect surfaces on a daily basis. Felder said the Giants are confident they have a full plan in place. It helps that they no longer have to clean 40,000 seats every night. 

"It's taking what used to be done at scale and taking all of that energy that we had to put into cleaning huge areas," he said. "Now, that's put into intensive cleaning of a smaller area."

Zack Greinke calls pitch out loud, reaches new level of Giants ownage

Zack Greinke calls pitch out loud, reaches new level of Giants ownage

Zack Greinke was so good Wednesday night that the Giants couldn't make contact when he told them what pitches were coming.

No, seriously.

Greinke signaled his pitch to Astros catcher MartÍn Maldonaldo in the top of the seventh inning of Houston's 5-1 win ... with runners on first and second, nobody out and Giants shortstop Mauricio Dubon stood in the batter's box.

Dubon then flew out to center on the pitch Greinke called.

“Today, there was a man on second base and it got all messed up and it took longer than I was hoping it would take,” Greinke told reporters on a video conference call (H/T MLB.com's Brian McTaggart). “It’s 50 percent my fault and 50 percent Maldy’s fault. ... I don’t like taking a long time with a man on second base especially. I’m trying to find a way to speed that up. So far this year, it's been good. It got messed up today.”

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Greinke wasn't just showing off, but he had every right to with Wednesday's performance. The longtime thorn in the Giants' side struck out seven and allowed just one earned run 6 1/3 innings of work. Greinke picked up his first win of the season, improving to 14-3 in his career against the Giants and lowering his all-time ERA versus San Francisco to just 2.18. The 36-year-old has now won more games against the Giants than all but one other team.

Ownage is ownage, but signaling your own pitches ownage? That's something else entirely.

Austin Slater, Donovan Solano injuries show Giants' offensive weakness

Austin Slater, Donovan Solano injuries show Giants' offensive weakness

The Giants have made a habit of coming back in late innings, but that probably wasn't going to be in the cards on a night when Houston Astros starter Zack Greinke slipped into cruise control.

Even if he did have a shot late in Thursday's 5-1 loss, Giants manager Gabe Kapler would have been without two of his best weapons. 

Donovan Solano missed a second straight game with abdominal soreness and Austin Slater was a late scratch with right elbow pain. While the Giants are hopeful that Solano is ready Friday against the A's, the news on Slater feels more discouraging. 

Slater had a sprained elbow in 2018 but didn't miss time because it happened the last weekend of the regular season. Kapler said Slater felt discomfort swinging and throwing Wednesday, and it seems likely he's headed for an MRI when the club returns to San Francisco. 

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Without their two best right-handed bats, the Giants went down quietly Thursday to finish 3-7 on the road trip.

It was a 10-game journey that cemented Solano's status as an everyday player, and it showed off the improvements Slater has made at the plate. But it also demonstrated just how toothless the Giants can be when their bigger names continue to slump.

Brandon Belt went 5-for-32 on the trip with two extra-base hits, and Brandon Crawford was 6-for-28. He doesn't have an extra-base hit all season. Evan Longoria was 4-for-33 on his first road trip of the season. While Hunter Pence had a huge homer Tuesday, his 0-for-4 a night later dropped his average back to .105 for the year. Pablo Sandoval is at .179 and was notably absent on Wednesday when the late scratch of Slater forced Kapler into lineup changes against a right-hander. It's hard to see where he fits in at the moment. 

Asked about his struggling veterans, Kapler said baseball is a team game.

"I don't ever put the onus on any one individual or even on two or three," Kapler said. "I think the right way to look at this is when one guy is struggling or not consistent, then the rest of the group has to surround that player or that group of players with support."

[RELATED: Where Giants' farm system ranks in BA's mid-year update]

The problem with that is that the onus has been put on two or three guys every night because so many others are struggling. Mike Yastrzemski (who had three more hits Wednesday), Slater and Solano all have an OPS above 1.000. Nobody else on the team is above .800, and the more familiar names are all several levels below that.

That's a recipe that's not going to work, especially when two of the three main contributors are in the trainer's room.