Austin Slater

Austin Slater gets first start at first base with Brandon Belt on DL


Austin Slater gets first start at first base with Brandon Belt on DL

SAN FRANCISCO — When he was first called up in late April, Austin Slater said he was just starting to get used to first base. 

“I’m still fresh with the taco at first,” he explained. 

He no longer is fresh with the taco. Slater played 91 1/3 innings at first base before his latest promotion and he’ll get his first big league start there on Thursday night. Manager Bruce Bochy said Pablo Sandoval and Buster Posey will get most of the time at first while Brandon Belt is out, but he wanted to keep Hunter Pence in the lineup Thursday, so Slater was shifted to first. That gives the Giants another right-handed bat against lefty Wade Miley. 

As for Belt, the injury is technically a bone bruise. Belt had an MRI on Thursday morning and was going to be inactive for at least five days, so the Giants put him on the DL immediately. 

Evan Longoria should take some of the pressure off the lineup, and the Giants made another series of moves while swapping corner infielders. Kelby Tomlinson was optioned and Chris Stratton was brought back up to serve as a second long reliever. Bochy said Stratton’s presence will allow him to use guys like Reyes Moronta or Ray Black earlier in games if he feels he needs a big out. 

--- Blach was actually optioned after Wednesday’s game and then brought back when Belt was put on the DL. It’s unclear why the Giants felt the need to rush a move on Wednesday, and it may have some impact down the road. Blach used an option, which is a very minor thing, but could potentially come in to play if he’s out of options at some point. 

--- Bochy said he wanted to get as many right-handed bats in as possible against Miley. But Gorkys Hernandez, who has had such a good season, is on the bench. Steven Duggar is starting in center. 

“I want to give him a little breather,” Bochy said of Hernandez. 

Hernandez is batting just .220 over his last 14 games. 

--- Joe Panik starts a minor league rehab assignment tonight. He’ll play five innings, then seven on Friday and nine on Saturday. Then he’ll join San Jose for additional rehab work. He should be back next week sometime. 

--- Grant Brisbee of SB Nation and Giants Outsiders was my latest podcast guest. We talked quite a bit about what the Giants should do at the trade deadline. You can stream it here or download it on iTunes here. If you listen on iTunes, please consider leaving a review and subscribing to the podcast!

--- Joakim Soria did not get here in time to be active. The Brewers traded for Soria earlier today. 

--- From this morning, I answered some Twitter questions on the trade deadline and the future of this franchise. 

--- If you're not already following along on Instagram (pavlovicNBCS), I post a story from just about every home game. Today's includes a clip of Madison Bumgarner swinging left-handed ... 

As Giants try to make a run, it's time to lean on a couple of young players

As Giants try to make a run, it's time to lean on a couple of young players

PHOENIX — The Giants are trying desperately to make one last run with an aging group. Practically the entire lineup is on the wrong side of 30, two starters in their 30s are on rehab assignments after arm injuries, and the bullpen is full of guys who are generally pitching well but need plenty of rest days. 

And hey…it’s working. 

The all-in plan has this group just 4 1/2 games out of first place in late June, with reinforcements on the way. The plan is working. It also could use an alteration. At some point, the Giants will have to part ways with some veterans in favor of young players who are simply better, and perhaps that process started Friday night at Chase Field. 

Andrew Suarez capped a strong month with one last gem, throwing six innings and doing the heavy lifting in a 2-1 win over the Diamondbacks. Both runs came courtesy of Austin Slater, who, like Suarez, is just 25. On this team, that practically makes you a teenager, and another 25-year-old, Reyes Moronta, pitched a scoreless frame out of the bullpen. 

“It’s fun,” said Will Smith, the closer-for-the-night. “It’s fun to see young guys come up and have success like that.”

Will it continue, though? Suarez and Slater look more than capable, but they also need an opportunity. 

Suarez, who had a 2.62 ERA in June, appears to have vaulted to the front of the line in the race to stay in the rotation. His last four starts, coming with Jeff Samardzija and Johnny Cueto just about ready to return, have been particularly sharp: 23 innings, six earned runs. But this goes deeper than numbers. 

Few young pitchers called up by the Giants in recent years have competed better than Suarez, who has the stuff to match his makeup. Five of the seven Diamondbacks hits came on infield singles, often because the defense had taken a poor step, but Suarez buckled down and allowed just one run on a sacrifice fly. 

“That kid pitched his heart out,” Bochy said. “The kid is not in awe of anything. He’s got a quiet demeanor there, but he’s very confident.”

Asked about all the infield singles, Suarez shrugged, smiled, and said, “It happens.”

“I made sure to minimize the damage,” he continued. “It was weird. I’ve never seen it like that. It worked out, thankfully.”

Moronta, Tony Watson and Smith carried it home, making a winner of Suarez for the third time in his rookie season. He certainly looks more than worthy of continuing on, but Bochy is hesitant to publicly set any rotation plans with so much uncertainty. Samardzija will make a final rehab start Monday. Cueto threw four shutout innings in Sacramento on Friday and will be evaluated when he arrives in Phoenix. 

“We have some difficult decisions,” Bochy said. 

The decision in left field appears cut and dry. Slater has hit at every level, and he might have won this job last season if not for an injury. He had two opposite-field doubles against Patrick Corbin, the Diamondbacks’ ace, and later added a single. Bochy indicated that Slater and Alen Hanson have pulled ahead in left field. 

“You’ve got to go with the guys swinging the bat well, and you hope the other guys understand and have patience,” he said. 

The Giants have had plenty of that this season. But it’s almost July, the season is more than half over, and it’s time to ride the hot hands, no matter how young they might be.

Not ready for major moves, Giants swap one young outfielder for another


Not ready for major moves, Giants swap one young outfielder for another

SAN FRANCISCO — Here’s all you need to know about the current situation in left field, an ongoing black hole for the Giants for years on end: Alen Hanson, a utility infielder, has gotten two of the last three starts there, and that could be the norm for a while. 

The Giants made an outfield move Saturday morning, but it was not one that will particularly shake things up. This was more about kicking a painful decision down the road. Mac Williamson, who was struggling since returning from a concussion, was optioned back to Triple-A. Austin Slater, who was hitting .344 at that level with 24 doubles and five homers, was recalled, but he will not get an everyday look. 

Manager Bruce Bochy said Hunter Pence likely will start in left on Sunday and indicated that Hanson will get additional time there as the Giants try to take advantage of one of their hottest bats. There are no indications that the team is ready to make a more serious move, such as parting ways with Pence — who has a .463 OPS — or Austin Jackson, who is at .603. 

“These guys have had success in the major leagues,” Bochy said. “It could be a game or two that everything clicks.”

Pence is a fan favorite who is in the last year of a lucrative deal, and Jackson is not even a quarter of the way through a two-year deal. Both were relegated to backup duty recently by Gorkys Hernandez and Williamson, but the latter had seen his OPS drop to .516 after hitting three homers before his concussion. 

“We just want Mac to get back to playing every day and get his swing back to where it was when we brought him up earlier before his concussion,” Bochy said. “

Williamson has a 1.525 OPS in two minor league stints this season. If he can recapture any of that magic, made possible by an offseason swing overhaul, perhaps the Giants will come to terms with the situation at the big league level. For now, they will continue to roll with veterans, hoping that they break out. Bochy said Pence and Jackson are working hard every day to contribute in limited roles. 

“I know how hard this game can be when you’re not playing every day,” he said. 

The problem is that that is the role. The Giants need their backup outfielders to produce as pinch-hitters, but Jackson is 2-for-15 off the bench and Pence is 1-for-10. Slater, with his simple swing and gap power, could be intriguing in that role, and perhaps he’ll stick. For now, he appears to be the only reinforcement coming. Bochy said there have been no discussions about promoting Steven Duggar.