Giants

Three Giants getting closer to returning from DL stints

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USATSI

Three Giants getting closer to returning from DL stints

SAN FRANCISCO — The Giants have one of their tougher stretches coming up, with the Astros and Pirates at home followed by a trip to Dodger Stadium. If they get through the next nine games, they can fatten up against the Reds, Mets and Rangers, and they may finally be pretty close to healthy.

Brandon Belt took early batting practice at AT&T Park and fielded grounders, and he is about a week away from returning, manager Bruce Bochy said. Belt still needs to test his bruised knee by running on the field, but he said everything has gone well to this point and he’s hopeful he’ll be back soon. The Giants may bring Belt back without a rehab assignment. 

Hunter Strickland (hand) started a rehab assignment with the San Jose Giants on Monday, but he cannot return until August 18 because the Giants placed him on the 60-day DL. 

Jeff Samardzija threw 30 pitches in a bullpen session and will face hitters on Monday at Dodger Stadium. If that goes well, Samardzija (shoulder) will start his own rehab assignment. The Giants have said that Samardzija will need a lengthy minor-league stint as he tries to return for the third time this year, but they could speed the timetable up due to their big-league situation. They currently are without a fifth starter, with Ty Blach likely getting that spot when it comes back up.

Bochy is looking forward to adding three players back to a club that is still within striking distance in the NL West, but there’s one player he definitely won’t be getting back. Pablo Sandoval will have season-ending surgery on his hamstring on Tuesday morning. Bochy said he spoke to Sandoval.

“Hopefully he’ll be around and helping keep guys upbeat, because he’s so good at it,” Bochy said. “He’s a little down. He misses playing.”

--- The Giants aren’t the only team dealing with injuries, obviously. The Astros placed George Springer on the DL, where he joins Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa. The Giants will face the reigning champs without three of their four best hitters. 

--- Bochy dropped a “Flying Frenchman” nickname on Chase d’Arnaud while explaining how d’Arnaud was his emergency catcher on Saturday. D’Arnaud said he’s actually only about three percent French, according to a test he once took, but the nickname was given to him earlier in his career. Bochy, who was born in France, liked it. 

By the way, d’Arnaud played a pretty good prank on another member of the staff during batting practice. Ron Wotus whiffed on a foul ball the other day in Arizona and made the mistake of telling d’Arnaud, who got the video from a clubhouse employee and edited it into a short clip that was played on the scoreboard at AT&T Park while the Giants were taking grounders. Wotus was shown missing the ball about a dozen times.

--- AT&T Park was briefly on fire Monday afternoon. For the second time this year, a concession stand down the third base line lit up. You can find video on my Instagram story: @pavlovicNBCS.

--- The latest Power Rankings give updates on George Kontos, Matt Moore, Andrew Susac, Phil Bickford and other former Giants. Let's just say some of them aren't doing so well in other spots. 

Could Giants trade Madison Bumgarner? Here's why Buster Olney believes so

Could Giants trade Madison Bumgarner? Here's why Buster Olney believes so

Madison Bumgarner forever will be a Giants legend for his 2014 playoff heroics. There was no way that former general manager Bobby Evans could emotionally separate Bumgarner from the Giants and trade the team's ace. 

Farhan Zaidi, the Giants' president head of baseball operations, doesn't hold the same history with Bumgarner, though, and that could be a good thing, writes ESPN's Buster Olney, who believes the left-hander's recent production shows the team should entertain a trade now sooner than later.

Bumgarner is 29 years old, and is scheduled to hit the open market after the 2019 season when his eight-year, $58.06 million contract comes to an end. Injuries from a dirt bike accident and a line drive off his hand in his last start of spring training have sidelined Bumgarner the last two years. When healthy and on the field, though, he hasn't been his former dominant self.

[RELATED: Giants Review: Bumgarner beset by injury for second consecutive year]

Over the last two years, Bumgarner has started 38 games, or four less than his dominant 2016 season. In that span, he has gone 10-16 with a 3.29 ERA and 210 strikeouts in 240.2 innings. It might all start with his slight dip in velocity. 

Since 2014, Bumgarner's average fastball, four-seam or two-seam, has slightly been slower, according to numbers from FanGraphs. He sat at 92.1 mph in 2014, was the same in 2015, fell to 90.9 in 2016, bumped up to 91 mph in 2017, and was back down to 90.9 mph this past season. 

Bumgarner also relied much more on his off-speed pitches than his fastball in 2018, according to FanGraphs. The lefty threw his fastball just 34.2 percent of the time last season, the lowest percentage of his MLB career. His fastball was heavily replaced by his curveball, which he threw a career-high 22.8 percent.

The rate of hard contact by opposing batters against Bumgarner also has increased every year since 2014, and reached a career high in 2018. According to FanGraphs, since 2014, Bumgarner's hard contact rate has gone from 26.9 percent, to 27.8 percent, to 31.6 percent, to 35 percent, and finally all the way to 41.6 percent last season. 

Here's the reality of the situation: The Giants have been awful the last two seasons, and while Bumgarner has been far from that, he's simply not his past self. He has to rely more on his off-speed as his fastball is slower and less effective, and batters are hitting him harder and harder. 

A contender will pony up for Bumgarner because of his playoff history, and he still can be at least a No. 2 on a playoff team. Is now the time to take advantage of the market? 

[RELATED: Farhan Zaidi says it's 'not absolutely necessary' for Giants to hire GM]

“Where we are, everything has to be on the table in terms of how we move this team and roster forward,” Zaidi said on a possible Bumgarner trade at his Giants introductory press conference. 

No matter if it's figuratively or literally, Bumgarner will go down as a Forever Giant. How much longer he toes the rubber at AT&T Park could be a different story, though. 

MLB rumors: Giants among nine Nathan Eovaldi suitors in free agency

MLB rumors: Giants among nine Nathan Eovaldi suitors in free agency

Nathan Eovaldi is a classic risk-versus-reward case. 

The right-hander is coming off a Madison Bumgarner-esque playoff run in which he had a 1.61 ERA over 22.1 innings in helping lead the Red Sox to a World Series title. He also already has gone through two Tommy John surgeries.

The postseason dominance is hard to ignore, though, and the Giants reportedly are eyeing the starting pitcher in free agency, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe reported Sunday.

[RELATED: MLB free agency debate: Where will Nathan Eovaldi sign this offseason?]

Cafardo noted that Eovaldi's preference is to return to Boston, and the writer lists the Brewers, Phillies, Braves, Angels, White Sox, Blue Jays and Padres as other teams showing interest. 

It's easy to forget Eovaldi still is just 28 years old -- he'll turn 29 in February. After making his MLB debut at 21 years old for the Dodgers in 2011, Eovaldi was traded one year later to the Marlins, and he already has pitched on five different teams.

He missed the entire 2017 season because of Tommy John surgery. 

Farhan Zaidi, Giants president of baseball operations, has a history of giving contracts to pitchers with injury issues in their past. And there's an occurring theme. 

As Dodgers general manager, Zaidi signed Scott Kazmir, Brandon McCarthy and Rich Hill to contracts worth three years and $48 million. Eovaldi, however, is expected to demand more.