Giants planning for 'unknown' in return to Oracle Park for Summer Camp

Giants planning for 'unknown' in return to Oracle Park for Summer Camp

The 2020 Operations Manual sent to MLB teams is 113 pages long and includes a sample questionnaire players will have to fill out about their symptoms and graphics on how cutoff drills should be handled in an age of social distancing. There are sections on testing protocols, the proper way to store batting practice baseballs, and visas for players coming from foreign countries. 

The manual says teams can have mascots this season, but "under no circumstances are mascots permitted on the field of play." It encourages teams to book the lower floors of hotels on the road, not the suites and rooms with a view, so that players can use the stairs instead of elevators. It asks players to tip clubhouse employees through Venmo so cash is not exchanged.

The manual is extremely thorough and clear in most areas, and yet, as the Giants prepare to gather today at Oracle Park, they do so with the knowledge that the new protocols almost are certainly incomplete and flawed in many areas. 

"I think one of the challenges, not just for us interpreting this stuff but for MLB and the Players Association, is that all of this planning has really been kind of done in abstract," president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi said earlier this week. "To be honest, I think we're all going to have to be willing and able to adjust on the fly. Once teams and travel parties start moving around the country and going on these trips, we may find certain areas that we really need to tighten up."

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That process already has taken place to an extent. The original safety proposal by MLB in mid-May just was 67 pages and many league employees were shocked to find how much was lacking. There was no guidance in that initial document about what a team should do if a player started showing symptoms of COVID-19 during a flight. There was very little information about road trips, which loom as one of the greatest threats to this season. 

A month later, there are more details. But teams are still finding gaps and attempting to adjust health and safety protocols on the fly. 

"Certainly everything we've thought of and everybody involved has thought of, there's been an attempt to cover," Zaidi said. "I think as much as anything, the biggest concern is the unknown. Hopefully we can make adjustments quickly as we think there are areas of exposure."

Exposure might end up being the most important word in the 2020 pennant race. The Giants are trying to limit it, from testing to workouts to day-to-day life. Players and staffers who reported for antibody testing this week were given specific times to show up and reported in groups of four, and they were spread out even as they waited. The Giants will work out at Oracle Park in three different groups throughout the day, with the staff being given breaks when possible.

Zaidi and manager Gabe Kapler have talked of ordering heat lamps that can be positioned in outside areas to encourage players to eat their meals away from the indoor clubhouse as often as possible. In the past players might gather around a TV or iPad to look at the specifics of a drill, but those now could be shown on the $10 million scoreboard. Team meetings used to be held by having dozens of players and coaches pull chairs into the center of the clubhouse. Now, they will gather outdoors or on Zoom. 

More ideas will come from the first few days together. In recent days, the Giants have scrambled to complete previous projects. They have been getting both clubhouses ready, and that massive responsibility largely falls on clubhouse staffers and trainers, many of whom are barely sleeping this week.

Because the Giants broke camp in March and spread out across the country, they had to get more than 60 players and coaches to San Francisco in just a few days, and that brings additional concerns. Many of the team's veterans live in the Phoenix area, where there has been an outbreak of the coronavirus in recent weeks. The second-most popular area for players is South Florida, another region with an outbreak. 

All of these players took part in intake screening this week, getting a blood test for antibodies and a saliva test to see if they currently have the coronavirus. During summer camp and the regular season everyone will have their temperature tested twice per day and will be tested for the virus at least every other day. About once a month, players, coaches and staffers will take another antibody test, regardless of how they've been feeling. 

This will all become part of the daily routine for baseball players in 2020, as normal as throwing a bullpen session or getting treatment on a tight hamstring. What will be new is the level of trust teams are asking for off the field. 

As much as the 2020 season might boil down to simple luck in terms of who gets COVID-19 and who doesn't, the Giants also are planning to harp on the fact that the best teams might be the ones who act most responsibly. A positive test result could keep a player out for three or four weeks, which makes it crucial to stay at home as much as possible, wear masks, practice good hygiene, and avoid people who are not going through the same daily routine. That message already has been passed along to players. 

During the season, players and coaches will be asked to forego what has become their norm. Don't go out to get a drink after a game when the Giants visit the Astros this season. Don't go for a group meal in the Gaslamp District after a game in San Diego. Avoid your favorite breakfast spot when the team visits Denver. 

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MLB has not publicly set a fixed threshold of positive tests that would result in play being deemed unsafe, but it's easy to see how a few positives could derail a season. As he prepared to address a team he hasn't seen since March, Kapler noted that all teams are in "uncharted waters" but that the Giants would have clear intentions to "adhere to the protocols Major League Baseball has put in place."

That's all the Giants can do right now. The rest, they hope to figure out as they go. 

"We really don't know what can happen over the course of the next two weeks," Kapler said. "I think COVID has shown us that we need to be prepared for anything."

Annual Bay Bridge Series takes on extra meaning in shortened season


Annual Bay Bridge Series takes on extra meaning in shortened season

Trevor Cahill knows all about the Bay Bridge Series. The right-hander was drafted by the A's in 2006, made it to the big leagues three years later, and spent three seasons in Oakland before getting dealt. In 2018 he returned to the A's for 20 more starts, including a solid one in a win over the Giants. 

This time around, Cahill is on the other side of the rivalry. It won't be the same without fans jawing at their Bay Area counterparts, and Cahill, after his Giants debut Wednesday, recalled how intense some of those matchups used to be. 

"When I came up with the A's the Giants series was a big one," he said. "You could feel that excitement because my rookie year we weren't in a playoff race, so that was the matchup every year. Oakland fans always came out. It was exciting."

The first three of six matchups this season will be played at Oracle Park this weekend, with more than 10,000 cutouts in the stands instead of fans. But in an odd way, the games might be more meaningful than ever. 

Because of the shortened season, the Bay Bridge Series makes up 10 percent of each side's schedule, the equivalent of 16 games in a normal year. These matchups will go a long way toward deciding each team's fate, and right now they're headed in different directions. 

The A's enter with the best record in the American League (13-6) and a four-game lead in the AL West. At 8-12, the Giants are last in the NL West after a 3-7 road trip. They need a quick turnaround to keep hope alive of grabbing a spot in the expanded playoffs. 

The Giants are at least set up well from a starting standpoint, with Johnny Cueto, Kevin Gausman and Logan Webb. But they'll face Frankie Montas, Jesus Luzardo and Sean Manaea, getting a close-up look at what is perhaps the biggest difference for the two organizations in the coming years. 

The A's built their lineup around the Matts -- Chapman and Olson -- and as good as those two are, the Giants don't have to squint too much to picture a day when perhaps Marco Luciano, Joey Bart, Heliot Ramos and Hunter Bishop can give them a similar homegrown blend. But the starting staffs are wildly different, with the A's boasting a young and super-talented group. Montas, acquired in a trade with then-Dodgers GM Farhan Zaidi, is 27 and a Cy Young candidate. Luzardo, 22, is one of the game's most exciting prospects. Manaea is off to a brutal start, but the 28-year-old has a track record of big league success already. Left-hander A.J. Puk, another top prospect, will join the group if he can ever stay healthy.

The Giants have Webb, 23, locked into their long-term rotation, and he's off to a good start, but Gausman will be a free agent at the end of the year and Cueto at the end of 2021. The rest of their mix consists of Cahill, Tyler Anderson, Drew Smyly and Jeff Samardzija, with the latter two currently on the injured list. There's a decent chance none of those four are around next season. 

The Giants have Sean Hjelle, Seth Corry, Tristan Beck and others on the way, and they drafted Kyle Harrison and Nick Swiney in June, with hopes that both are top-end starters. For now, though, they're piecing the rotation together, often a day at a time. 

It's the biggest difference between the two sides right now, but this weekend it might not matter. Webb has thrown well all year and Gausman and Cueto are coming off their best starts. Gabe Kapler will need all three to step up this weekend, because the pitching on the other side looks tough, and the Giants can't afford to give up any more ground. 

How Dave Stewart would have pitched to Barry Bonds in his playing days

How Dave Stewart would have pitched to Barry Bonds in his playing days

Dave Stewart faced the Giants 14 times over his 16-year big league career. He never had the chance of pitching against Barry Bonds, not even during Bonds' days with the Pittsburgh Pirates. 

But what if he had? The three-time World Series champion, and 1989 World Series MVP for his efforts dominating the Giants, is known for his iconic stare down from the mound. The former A's star pitcher, and Oakland native, was about as intimidating as they come. When he gives you that same stare down, truthfully, it's still as intimidating today.

No hitter ever has been more intimidating than Bonds when stepping to the plate, though. Stewart certainly would have welcomed a chance to battle with the Home Run King, and he knows it would have been a tall task. 

"Barry, from at-bat to at-bat is a guy that you had to make adjustments on," Stewart told me recently over Zoom. "You couldn’t pitch him the same way every at-bat. Maybe in the first at-bat I’d make him inside conscious, crowd him with fastballs in. Get him to open up a little bit or try to be quick on that inside pitch. And then ultimately get him out away with my offspeed pitch, the forkball, or with the fastball away. The next time up, maybe start him off with something offspeed, drop a breaking ball in first pitch. Then, fastballs away to get him out to then get him on a fastball inside.

"To me, it’s just varying in what you do from at-bat to at-bat, because he’s such a smart hitter."

Stewart never faced Bonds, but he still knew the secret to him. Sure, there are some obvious traits that made Bonds great. Make one mistake and he made you pay. Some coaches (see Showalter, Buck) would rather walk a run in and put Bonds on base than let him hit with the bases loaded. 

What made Bonds so great, as Stewart could see from afar, was that a pitcher could never get him out the same way two times in a row. Beat him with velocity once, you better not try it again. The same goes for if you were able to get him out with a plethora of offspeed pitches one at-bat. 

"What’s crazy about Barry, what made him such a great hitter, is most hitters have the same weakness all the time," Stewart said. "Barry was different from that. You pitch him one way one at-bat, you pitch him another the next at-bat, you pitch him another the last at-bat. You hope by the fourth at-bat, you’ve got enough weapons and you’ve done enough different things, that you keep him guessing.

"The key to getting Barry out is not pitching him the same way for every at-bat, doing something different each at-bat."

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Bonds hit his first home run against the A's in what is now Oracle Park on July 13, 2000. It came off lefty Mark Mulder, a solo shot to center field in the fourth inning of a 4-2 win over Oakland. His last long ball in San Francisco against his Bay Area rival was on June 24, 2006, when he hit a two-run blast off Dan Haren in his second-to-last MLB season. If the NL adopted the DH back then, there's a good chance Bonds could have kept launching balls over the wall for years to come. 

The all-time home run leader was 43 years old when he played his last game. He still was jogging out to left field, nine years after his last Gold Glove award. The NL hadn't yet added the DH, a rule that still feels like a one-year experiment this season. Bonds served as the Giants' DH 39 times over his career, six times in his last season.

If the rule had been put in place during Bonds' playing days, Stewart believes he could have played well into his mid or late 40s.

"Barry could have played, no doubt," Stewart said. "Reggie Jackson played well into his 40s. And was a great DH, by the way. So Barry, I’m sure could have played into his 40s just as easily and still have done a great job as a designated hitter.

"There’s no doubt in my mind about that."

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Don't get it wrong, though. Stewart, who pitched 13 seasons for AL teams, is not a fan of the DH joining that other league.

"I mean, I’m a traditionalist," Stewart said. "I like that the two leagues are separated by one league having the DH and one league having the pitcher hit. I’m a fan of the DH in the American League, because that’s where it started.

"I am not a fan of it in the National League, because now the two leagues, there’s no real separation."

There will be a Giants DH on Friday when they welcome the A's to San Francisco for a three-game series. There won't be a Barry Bonds, though, or a Dave Stewart. Instead, we'll have to settle for Mr. Great Story, aka Mike Yastrzemski, against ace Frankie Montas and rookie phenom Jesús Luzardo.

In any rivalry, however, it's fun to play the hypothetical game. Stewart knows just how he would have battled Bonds in this battle of intimidation, and he knows just how great the challenge would have been.