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Why Giants pitchers will have big adjustment in San Diego

NBC Sports
Anthony DeSclafani

There are many reasons why MLB and the Players Association gravitated towards the universal DH and negotiated -- unsuccessfully -- about having it this season. They talk of protecting the health of pitchers, adding offense to the game, making it more exciting for fans, and adding jobs for older hitters. 

But Logan Webb's reason for wanting the DH this season was the best one of all.

"A little part of me wanted the DH forever because my last at-bat in 2019 was a base hit," Webb said this spring, laughing. "I was hoping to finish my hitting career with a base hit."

Webb will get another chance to go out on top in September, but for now, he and the rest of the Giants rotation are adjusting back to National League life. The universal DH was put in place last season and teams and players liked it, but it's back to normal for 2021. The Giants played in Seattle to start the season, but they kick off a three-game series in San Diego Monday night and don't play in another American League park until June. 

The pitchers are going to start hitting again. Or, they're going to try. 

With Madison Bumgarner gone, the Giants no longer have a slight edge in this department. It's a staff without much history of success at the plate, so this spring the focus was on another part of plate appearances. The coaching staff was in no rush to get bats into pitchers' hands, and the current starting five combined for just four spring plate appearances -- three ending in strikeouts. The Giants did, however, work on bat control early in camp, and an emphasis was put on bunting. 


"It's going to be important for us and it's going to give pitchers an opportunity to stay in games longer if they can have a productive plate appearance," manager Gabe Kapler said. "Sometimes a productive plate appearance is just (seeing) four or five pitches -- we'll take that and chalk that up as a win ... But we're going to rep the daylights out of our bunting, we're going to have our pitchers prepared to slash. We want to have as many options as possible when they're walking up to the plate."

Anthony DeSclafani will become the first Giants pitcher since 2019 to take a plate appearance, and it'll be a familiar feeling. DeSclafani's only spring at-bat came in a late start against Adrian Morejon, a lefty who goes for the Padres tonight. Morejon was sitting in the upper 90s, a tough first matchup, and DeSclafani tried to get a bunt down before striking out. 

DeSclafani said he was happy to get back in the box and start to get comfortable, but overall, this is a staff that would have much preferred another year of the universal DH. MLB instituted it last year because of the quick run-up to the season and it's expected to be part of the next CBA, but for 2021, the two sides couldn't agree. MLB wanted expanded playoffs in exchange for giving the players the DH, which didn't fly.

Giants pitchers wish it had gone differently. 

Webb said he thought hitting would be a lot more fun, "and then I got to Double-A and saw these guys were throwing a little harder than the guys in high school were." He still tries to enjoy it, but he has just one hit in nine career at-bats. Johnny Cueto, who has a career slash line of .103/.128/.105 said getting back in the box will be hard because he has to "basically start from scratch" after missing so much time with Tommy John and then not hitting in 2020. Aaron Sanchez, in the NL for the first time, didn't hide his feelings. 

"I know my job here is to pitch," he said. "I'll let all that stuff come to me when the time comes. My focus here is to pitch."

Gausman, the staff ace, spent his early years in the AL and has just two singles in 56 at-bats. But that's not the main reason he likes a DH. 

"I'm not a big fan of facing pitchers, to be honest," he said. "I'd rather face a position player than face a pitcher, which sounds crazy but that's just the way I am. I feel like my numbers against pitchers are not very good. I've given up a good amount of hits and walks and I always feel like I'm behind in the count against those guys for whatever reason.


"I'd rather have the DH but that's not my say."

Gausman actually has never walked a pitcher, but he has given up 10 hits. That's only a .182 average, but you can see how every one of those stung more than a normal hit. The good news is he has a good first matchup. Gausman will start Wednesday against new Padres ace Blake Snell, who was 0-for-8 in his AL career and struck out in his only plate appearance in his Padres debut. 

The Giants ultimately should have at least two pitchers in the rotation who have a history of very modest success. DeSclafani has a .131 average in the big leagues and in 2018 he hit a grand slam off Chicago Cubs lefty Brian Duensing. 

Alex Wood, currently on the IL, has a .097 career average, but much of that is because he started his career hitless in his first 38 at-bats. He had nine hits in 2015, went 4-for-16 the next year, and after a couple of rough seasons at the plate, went 2-for-9 in 2019. 

"For a pitcher, I think I'm OK," he said. "The start of my career really hurt my numbers. I never touched a bat from high school until the big leagues basically so that (0-for-38) that I had to start my career really took my career numbers down, but I've gotten the hang of it. I can at least put a decent at-bat together."

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Wood said he's "not super-excited about having to hit again" after the year off from it but will try his best to sneak back above .200. No matter the results, he seems to be one of the few current starters who can see some benefits of a year with familiar rules. 

"I'm a purist," he said. "I love having a DH in the AL and no DH in the NL. I think the strategy is a lot better in the NL without the DH. When you put the designated hitter in there it can be kind of boring. The manager pretty much just sets the lineup and when the reliever is going to come in. There's not really any double-switches."

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