OAKLAND -- In the seventh inning Friday night, 26-year-old starter Dereck Rodriguez gave way to 25-year-old Reyes Moronta. Rodriguez jogged to the dugout and sat next to Andrew Suarez, 25, and the two rookies watched Moronta strand a runner. A few minutes later, 24-year-old center fielder Steven Duggar strolled to the plate and roped a single into right.
There's a youth movement in San Francisco, but you might have known that already. Rodriguez, Suarez and Moronta were a big part of the story of the first half and Duggar made waves over the final week.
What you might not have realized is that another player in the middle of all the action Friday night is actually younger than all four of them. Ryder Jones got 150 big league at-bats last season and had not been seen since, and it's often easy to write a player off when he disappears for a stretch. But Jones, a former second-round pick, is still just 24. He was born seventh months after Duggar, who previously was the youngest player on the roster.
There's still plenty of time for Jones to find his stride and live up to the promise he has shown at times. On Friday, there was another flash of that talent. Jones hit a long solo homer in the fifth, giving the Giants a lead they would never let go. With a 5-1 win over the A’s, the Giants got their second half off to a rocking start and tied this Bay Bridge Series at two games apiece.
Jones is likely headed back to Sacramento. The plan was for him to come up for one day to fill in while Brandon Belt witnessed the birth of his second son, and he certainly took advantage of the opportunity.
“I thought the homer was huge for him,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “It was huge for us. He’s been doing a nice job there in Sacramento the last month. He’s doing what we were hoping this year, having another big year. That’s all he needs is at-bats and experience. He’s got the tools to be a nice big-league player.”
Jones struck out in his first at-bat, but got ahead in the count 2-0 the next time up. Edwin Jackson tried to sneak a slider across the inside of the plate and Jones crushed it. Both players leaned — in different directions — and watched as the ball clanked high off the pole.
The Giants are leaning heavily on rookies this year, but Jones was part of a 2017 class that never found footing. Just about every player in that group got hurt, and most struggled in the majors. Jones batted .173 last year, striking out in a third of his at-bats. With Evan Longoria brought over and Pablo Sandoval locked in, Jones didn’t get much time this spring. He picked up outfield play in Scottsdale, hoping to increase his versatility, but he has primarily been the third baseman in Sacramento. At the time of this latest promotion, Jones was batting .299 in Triple-A, with nine homers, 15 doubles and 48 RBI.
He’ll head back to a River Cats squad that has provided plenty of help. Rodriguez started the season there. On Friday, he allowed one run over 6 1/3 innings, lowering his ERA to 2.72.
“I trust my stuff. I trust my stuff,” Rodriguez said. “I was just going after them.”