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Posey's hot start could be product of pregame change

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Buster Posey

When the Giants take batting practice in Miami on Friday, Buster Posey won't be taking aim at the space beyond the center field wall that formally held the infamous home run sculpture. In Philadelphia next week, he won't be trying to launch baseballs towards the Tony Luke's cheesesteak stand on the concourse, and when the Giants visit San Diego later this month, fans standing on the Western Metal Supply Co. decks shouldn't expect a souvenir from Posey. 

In Year 12 in the big leagues, Posey is mixing up his pregame routine to try and stay fresh through a 162-game season. He hasn't taken BP on the field yet and doesn't plan to for most of this season, opting instead for a new plan that calls for indoor hitting in the cage much closer to game time.

"My goal is to try to get hot -- meaning get loose -- just one time and not necessarily stretch at 4:15, 4:30 and hit, and then go cool down," Posey said earlier this week. "I'd say that's probably the biggest difference for me this year to year's past is trying to time out my preparation and schedule to get stretched out, get hot, and then go warm up the pitcher and play the game. So far, I feel like it's been good. I think the more times I can limit (getting ready), the more loose I'm going to be able to stay."

The new method is not limited to Posey. Manager Gabe Kapler mentioned Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford as others who will take the approach, and even said they'll try to limit the pregame reps for young outfielder Austin Slater, who has struggled with injuries. The idea is to have shorter, more intense sessions in the cage rather than standing around on the field for the traditional lengthy BP. 

 

"A lot of volume and the wear-and-tear happens in practice before the game even begins," Kapler said. "We certainly have to train, but we really want to train in an efficient way."

Posey already was limiting his on-field work before Kapler arrived, and before he opted out of the 2020 season, but this is another big step. In 2019, he still was normally seen on the field during BP, at least to stretch with teammates. Posey had hip surgery in 2018 and felt like a new man last spring, and the catcher and new staff are eager to keep that going. 

Much of the focus since the start of February has been finding ways to keep Posey fresh and on the field as much as possible, leading to another change. Posey has embraced the one-knee-down style taught by new bullpen and catching coach Craig Albernaz. He said he sees value in it when it comes to blocking certain pitches, but also resting his legs. 

"It's definitely easier on your body," Posey said. 

The daily and in-game routines have changed, too. The 34-year-old was able to get in the gym right after the 2020 season ended and put on noticeable muscle heading into camp, but once the opener came around, the focus shifted to stretching and staying loose day-to-day. It's early, but the results are promising. 

Posey homered in his first two games back and is batting .286 through eight games. His OPS+ of 139 is his highest since 2014. His average exit velocity of 92 mph is his highest since tracking began in 2015, and his line drive and fly ball rates are both up from 2019. 

"I see him as really in his legs, and sometimes that allows for players to get the ball in the air because their angles are just a little bit better, their swings are less flat, and they have a tiny bit more arc to them," Kapler said. "I think he's seeing the ball really well, swinging the bat really well, and those two things in combination allow a player to put the ball on a line more often. Sometimes hitting the ball on the ground is a result of poor timing and rushing, and I think his timing is really good right now."

There are other signs that Posey is feeling more like his old self. He has caught three of seven on the bases and nearly threw out three Rockies in one game last week. Posey always will be a below-average runner, but his average sprint speed is slightly up from 2019, and he finished a long run from first the other night with a flourish at the plate. 

 
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Posey, cautioning that it's only been 10 games, said he has been "really happy with the way" his body has felt and the way he's able to move at the plate and behind it. The Giants slow-played him for a stretch when his hip flared up in the spring, but he hasn't had any issues since the season started. 

"I felt like last spring my body was moving better than it has, and I think it carried over to this year, as well," he said.

The key now is making sure that continues, and not just by limiting his on-field swings or time spent in a full crouch. The eight games Posey has played have been evenly distributed -- two in each series -- and he hasn't come off the bench yet. Backup catcher Curt Casali has started the third game of every series, allowing Posey to already get three full 48-hour breaks between opponents in the season's first 16 days. 

Kapler had a schedule set for Posey but admitted it's a challenge to stick to it when he's playing this well. The Giants hope it pays off over a six-month season, though, and so far, Posey is happy with all the changes and the way his season has started. 

"I think the exciting thing for me is I feel like I'm still progressing to where I think I can get to even a better place offensively," Posey said. "But it's definitely nice to be off to a good start. The goal is to try to just get better each day."

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