Morse out at least two weeks; Giants hopeful he keeps playing

Morse out at least two weeks; Giants hopeful he keeps playing

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Michael Morse came to camp last month with two options in mind: Make the opening day roster or go home and settle into retirement. With a week left in the desert, Morse is all of a sudden left with a third choice. 

Morse injured his left hamstring during Monday’s game in Glendale and he’s expected to miss at least two weeks. At some point after he celebrates his 35th birthday Wednesday, Morse will have to decide if he wants to rehab and potentially head down to Triple-A to get ready to try and join the Giants.

“I don’t know … I don’t want to think about that yet,” Morse said. “If it gets to that point, I’ll think about it, but right now it’s (about) how I feel every day. I don’t want to get ahead of myself.”

Manager Bruce Bochy is hopeful that Morse decides to play this out. 

“It’s going to be a little while for him,” Bochy said. “It’s hard to say exactly how long, but two weeks minimum. It’s really too bad for him. He was doing all he needed to do to make the club. It’s a shame.

“I think, not just the way he was swinging the bat, but he was playing a good first base and I put him in the outfield. I think he was moving around well. He came into camp in tremendous shape. That should show him he still has some baseball left. Good baseball.”

Morse has three homers this spring and he was coming on in the days before he got hurt. On Monday morning, a few hours before the game against the White Sox, a member of the staff said that -- barring an injury or unexpected breakthrough elsewhere  -- Morse would open the year with the club. While he was sprinting out of the box later that day, Morse felt tightness. An MRI showed enough damage to sideline him the rest of spring training.

The timing is brutal, but if Morse rehabs and then goes to Triple-A Sacramento to get at-bats, he would still be in a solid spot. The Giants like his presence, and not just on the field. 

“Hopefully we get him back pretty quickly,” Madison Bumgarner said. “We definitely enjoy having him around. He’s definitely a big contributor.”

Morse has had a smile glued to his face throughout 37 days at Scottsdale Stadium. Even Tuesday, a day after a sprint out of the box cost him dearly, he was a boisterous presence in the clubhouse. He took the bad news in stride. 

“I came in knowing I’d either do really bad or really good,” he said. “I thought I played pretty good. It just sucks that I had to get hurt. I don’t think this is something that’ll stop me from getting a shot at playing. I always thought I wasn’t done. I always thought I could keep playing, I’ve just been dealt a couple of bad cards the last couple of years. 

“I proved to myself that I can still play,” he added, smiling, “And I proved to myself yesterday that I’m not really a fast runner.”

As Giants return to Oracle Park, they prepare to deal with 'the unknown'

As Giants return to Oracle Park, they prepare to deal with 'the unknown'

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 may 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 are almost 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."

That process has already taken place to an extent. The original safety proposal by MLB in mid-May was just 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 may 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.

Manager Gabe Kapler and Zaidi 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 may 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 are also planning to harp on the fact that the best teams may 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 after a game in San Diego. Avoid your favorite breakfast spot when the team visits Denver. 

[RELATED: Highest-paid Giant in 2020 won't even play for team]

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."

[GIANTS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Giants roster breakdown: Johnny Cueto, veterans to fill out rotation

Giants roster breakdown: Johnny Cueto, veterans to fill out rotation

In recent Giants seasons, it has become relatively commonplace for a team's PR staff to put out game notes that list a bunch of TBDs as the pitching probables. Managers are becoming more and more hesitant to give away even seemingly innocuous information, and the surge of openers has made it even more difficult to predict what a series might look like. 

This season, you can expect even more of this, but for a whole new reason. With just three weeks to prepare for a 60-game season, teams do not expect to have true five-man rotations. Giants manager Gabe Kapler made it clear earlier this week that his starting staff will carry a much different type of workload, but there still will be a starting staff in some form.

Here in Part II of our Summer Camp preview, we take a look at the guys who likely will start the most games for the Giants over 60 games. 

Johnny Cueto

The last thing Kapler did before spring training shut down was name Cueto his Opening Day starter, and there's no reason to think that'll change. Kapler and his coaches have been regularly checking in with their pitchers, but all you need to keep tabs on Cueto is an Instagram account. He has been posting regular videos of his bullpen sessions and recently uploaded a fun series of matchups with former Giant Eduardo Nuñez:

Cueto returned from Tommy John for four up-and-down starts last September, and on Opening Day, it will have been 24 months since his last big league start of more than five innings. But the Giants have always thought Cueto would age well, and if he can find his healthy 2016 form (18-5, 2.79 ERA) they'll have a much better shot of staying in contention. 

Jeff Samardzija

Few, if any, Giants have more at stake this season than Samardzija, who is coming off an underrated 2019. He threw 181 1/3 innings last year with a 3.52 ERA, and this is the final season of a five-year deal he signed on the eve of the Winter Meetings in 2015. 

Samardzija turned 35 in January and is the type of mid-level player you would expect to have a tough time this offseason given the grudge owners will hold, but he has 10-12 starts now to state his case. 

Kevin Gausman

It seems like it's been three years since the right-hander signed a one-year, $9 million deal. Back in December, the Gausman agreement looked like it could set both sides up for the future. Gausman, a former first-round pick, had a great chance to rebuild his value before hitting free agency again. For the Giants, Gausman and Drew Smyly represented opportunities to potentially repeat the Drew Pomeranz-for-Mauricio Dubon deal they made last July.

What does this all look like after the hiatus? The 29-year-old should have a dozen starts to build his value, but the Giants likely will not be in a position to be all that active at a deadline that comes after just five weeks of games. 

Gausman had some success as a reliever for the Reds last season and he was throwing well this spring. Perhaps the Giants will have him air it out a bit more than he normally would in the early innings, making him more of a power starter than he would have been over 162 games. 

Drew Smyly

The Giants gave Smyly a $4 million deal in January and immediately threw him into the rotation, and like Gausman, he was throwing well in Scottsdale. Smyly should be right at home in a strange season, as he has started and relieved in his career. 

Smyly hasn't been a full-time member of a starting rotation since 2016 and has dealt with some serious injuries, but the left-hander is still just 31 and he has a chance to set himself up nicely for the offseason. Teams are expected to be stingy, but left-handed starters are always in high demand.

[GIANTS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Logan Webb and Tyler Anderson

The fifth starter spot was supposed to go to Tyler Beede, but his elbow started barking in Scottsdale and he had Tommy John surgery in March. Beede won't miss nearly as many games as first anticipated, but he'll be out all of this year and could miss the beginning of next season. 

It seems unlikely that Kapler even names a full-time fifth starter at this point, but there are two guys who stand above the rest -- the Giants have plenty of former starters headed for their bullpen -- as likely candidates to take the ball.

Webb might have given Beede a true run for this role in spring training had it not been for an innings limit. Because of a suspension, he only threw 103 innings last year. The Giants were going to slow-play Webb early in the year, but now the harness can be taken off. Webb is just 23 and showed flashes of his potential last season. Over 60 games, perhaps he'll grab a long-term spot in the rotation. 

[RELATED: How Giants highest-paid player in 2020 isn't with team]

Anderson had knee surgery last year that was supposed to keep him out until about June. Well, it's July, and he'll be a full go in camp and ready for Opening Day. The lefty had a 4.69 ERA in four seasons with the Rockies and the Giants were excited to get him to sea level. 

It's unclear how deep he'll be able to go in starts given the long layoff, but Anderson and Webb might form a pretty effective duo if the Giants piggyback their fifth starter. Webb is a hard-throwing righty and Anderson relies heavily on a cutter and changeup from the left side. They would give completely different looks to an opposing lineup.