Giants

Giants

There was a strange stat line during a simulated Giants game last week, one that left Gabe Kapler unsure of how to feel. In a shortened game, Giants pitchers struck out 20 batters. But that also meant that Giants batters struck out 20 times. 

Kapler was not surprised, in part because he has a strong belief in this pitching staff and in part because pitchers always were expected to be well ahead of hitters this month. But the opener is just a few hours away, and in a 60-game season you don't have time to find your swing.

Are Giants hitters ready for this?

The front office built a roster dependent on platoons, but those matchups will only be exploited if a hitter is able to take his best swing. After a series of simulated games, Kapler said he was confident. The Giants vs. Giants camp ended up being a positive learning experience. 

"I think the first thing we learned is that we're pretty well equipped to simulate game reps," he said. "Our hitters in particular have gotten enough reps in the batter's box, combined with reps in the cage, combined with their elevated-intensity batting practice sessions, to be ready for the regular season."

The Giants will dig in against Clayton Kershaw on Thursday having played just 18 innings -- two exhibition games -- against another team over the last four months, but they tried to go hard in simulated games, which started the second weekend of camp and generally lasted from four to seven innings. Those at-bats were supplemented with live BP sessions and regular sessions in the cage that were treated with more urgency. Every swing had a purpose. There was no time to simply get loose. 

 

"That's the fun thing about a camp like this, you take away all the frills," said bench coach Kai Correa, the mastermind behind most of the summer camp schedule. "From a players standpoint, people associate spring training with a lot of eyewash, things that fill time. Kap believes in having very efficient workouts."

There was only so much the coaching staff could do, though. A lot of this was left to hitters themselves, and they had varying levels of success in trying to get ready for their return to Oracle Park on July 3. 

Players who stayed in the Scottsdale area were able to work out at the facility there starting in the middle of May. Austin Slater said he was there five days a week working on swing changes with hitting coaches Donnie Ecker and Justin Viele. Hunter Pence had plenty of live BP sessions against Jeff Samardzija. Alex Dickerson hit there and then moved back to his San Diego home, where he stood in for bullpen sessions against big leaguers who lived nearby. Mike Yastrzemski and Mauricio Dubon were among the hitters who stayed mentally sharp through a virtual reality system, and Dubon memorably set up a cage on the balcony of his high-rise apartment in Miami. 

Like for much of society, the ability to train normally depended in large part on where players lived. Brandon Belt went back home to Nacogdoches, Texas, and while the state has been hit hard in recent weeks, Belt said his small town stayed relatively open. He worked out at his old high school gym and hit in cages once they opened back up. Buster Posey ultimately opted out of the season, but before that point he mentioned the difficulty of staying in baseball shape in the Bay Area, where the shutdown was strict starting in late March. Posey is the only Giants big leaguer to live here full-time. 

"By and large, from my perspective, the state has done a nice job handling this and has been very cautious about it, but some of the downside of that for somebody like me is I haven't been able to access a facility," Posey said earlier this month. "It's been at my house, hitting off a tee. I was able to increase the number of swings I was taking and just really try to swing with intensity as much as I can off a tee."

Posey looked physically ready for a quick season, but the Giants now will have to move forward with a player who was set for the heart of their order. Belt and Evan Longoria will start the season on the Injured List, putting more pressure on young hitters and last year's breakout stars. 

 

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The immediate task will be difficult. It's Kershaw, Ross Stripling, Julio Urias and Alex Wood this weekend for the Dodgers, who have a deep and hard-throwing bullpen. But the Giants feel they're ready to dig in at the plate. Perhaps, in a season like any other, all it will take is a change of mindset. 

"You treat everybody like they're a reliever, whether they are or not," Dickerson said. "You have to be aggressive early. You're just going to go in there with your best plan and adjust on the fly."