On the surface, Austin Slater looks like someone who should be in Gabe Kapler's lineup every day. Slater is batting .328 in 68 at-bats this season, with a .603 slugging percentage and four homers, two of which came off Clayton Kershaw.
He's hitting leadoff against the Seattle Mariners on Thursday afternoon with a lefty on the mound, but it's his first start in 11 days and just his fourth appearance since coming off the injured list. Because of a flexor strain in his right elbow, Slater is in a tough spot, but it's not necessarily a bad one for his manager.
Kapler has found himself with too many good options for the DH/1B spots in the lineup, with Brandon Belt having a career year and Wilmer Flores contributing just about every night. Flores can't move to second base because Donovan Solano is batting .351. The preference, particularly with the Giants facing so many right-handers of late, has been to start Belt at first and Flores at DH. With the Giants having a day game after a night game on Thursday, and a lefty on the mound, Kapler was able to move Flores to first and slide Slater in.
"We needed to get him back in there," he said. "I don't think it would be fair to ask him to perform with any more of a layoff than this one."
This is a problem that's not going away anytime soon. Slater hasn't played the outfield since Aug. 11, when his elbow flared up. He has played catch in recent weeks, sometimes with Kapler, but it doesn't sound like another test session is imminent. Kapler said Slater will attempt to play catch in the next week, but "probably not in the next couple of days."
"We'll see how that goes," he added.
Kapler was asked if Slater could play the outfield before the season ends.
"I think it's realistic," he said. "I don't think that it's the most likely scenario, but I do think that it's a possibility."