Ron Wotus

Gabe Kapler earns first win as Giants manager thanks to young relievers

Gabe Kapler earns first win as Giants manager thanks to young relievers

There was only one coach at Gabe Kapler's introductory press conference in November. The Giants already had decided to clean house and let Kapler hire a completely new staff, but when Kapler met with Ron Wotus, he knew he needed to be the fourth consecutive Giants manager to have Wotus on his staff.

Kapler kept Wotus as his third base coach, and as the new manager went through a contentious press conference, Wotus sat in the third row and took in the scene. Nine months later, Wotus was again there for Kapler.

The Giants had to hold on by their fingernails in the ninth inning Saturday, but when Cody Bellinger flied out to deep left, Kapler had his first win as a Giant. The scoreboard at Dodger Stadium read 5-4, but Kapler didn't wait around to stare at it. He went straight into the clubhouse and watched video of some defensive plays before entering the coaches room. That's where Wotus was waiting with the rest of a 13-person staff.

"Ron Wotus opened up a nice bottle of wine and prepared a nice toast for the coaching staff," Kapler said.

Wotus gave a short speech. Perhaps at some point he mentioned "torture," one of the defining characteristics of the three-title run in San Francisco. As Kapler met with reporters a few minutes later, he was asked if he knew about the 300 or so nailbiting wins during the Bruce Bochy era, and whether his heart could handle the same. He smiled.

"Ask me after the 300th," he said. "We'll see."

The Giants were happy on this day just to escape with a first.

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Kapler had to sweat it out, despite pushing all the right buttons to get the Giants to the eighth with a 5-1 lead. Donovan Solano made a crucial error at third and Corey Seager's two-run single made it 5-3. Kapler had all three of his late-inning relievers lined up for the final six outs, but neither Tony Watson nor Tyler Rogers was particularly sharp.

That left the ninth to Trevor Gott, the hard-throwing righty who was a closer in college and the minors, but had just one previous big league save. He entered and immediately gave up a Will Smith blast that nearly decapitated a cardboard cutout in the left field seats. Gotts recovered, though, getting Max Muncy, Mookie Betts and Cody Bellinger to guarantee Kapler's first handshake/elbow bump line.

"I thought our bullpen did a nice job of holding it together under some tough conditions," Kapler said. "In particular, Gotter did a nice job."

Before those final two innings, it was relatively straightforward, and Kapler got huge contributions from two inexperienced relievers. Caleb Baragar made his MLB debut and faced Muncy, Betts, Bellinger, Justin Turner and Corey Seager. He got six total outs and recorded his first career win.

"The moment was not too big for him, and that's something our player development staff had pounded with us," Kapler said.

Kapler admitted it was easier to throw Baragar in that spot because the Dodgers have not seen him before. They have seen Shaun Anderson, but he struck out three in the seventh, showing a nasty slider and 97-mph fastball. 

[RELATED: What you might have missed in Giants' first win of season]

It got hairy after that, but that tends to be the case with a Giants-Dodgers game. Kapler has seen it from the other side. On this day, he got to retreat to the visiting clubhouse for a surprise toast. The celebration didn't last long, though.

"I'm already thinking about getting back to the hotel, putting some lineups together, wondering if some of our guys can go back to back, what's our bullpen situation going to look like," Kapler said. "One of my personal challenges is just learning how to soak in the wins a little better and enjoy this."

The hope, for the Giants, is that he gets plenty of practice.

Giants' Alyssa Nakken coaches first base late in exhibition vs. A's

Giants' Alyssa Nakken coaches first base late in exhibition vs. A's

The Giants have gone all-in on player development, hoping to build themselves into a contender that sees improvements not just from prospects, but established big leaguers as well. But the emphasis on development isn't limited to those who step into the batter's box or stand on the pitcher's mound. 

The 13-person coaching staff is filled with bright minds who were promoted several levels when they got hired by Gabe Kapler, and one of his focuses this year has been on seeing development from his coaches. With the Giants playing an exhibition Monday in Oakland, Kapler saw an opportunity to help Alyssa Nakken, the first female coach in MLB history, further her own growth.

Nakken is technically an assistant coach, but in the late innings of a win at the Coliseum she was coaching first base, becoming the first woman to coach in an on-field capacity at the big league level. 

"She did a great job out there at first base today," Kapler said. "I think you saw also (assistant coach) Mark Hallberg at third base a little bit. (Third base coach Ron Wotus) was able to get Mark some reps out there. It was nice to interact with him and Antoan (Richardson) stepped up and made sure that Alyssa continued her development as well on the bases."

Richardson is the first base coach and will be during the season, but he has worked closely with Nakken during both camps and they have teamed up to work with outfielders and baserunners. Nakken has been a first base coach during several intrasquad games and it seemed she could be headed for a cameo in that role at some point when the lights came on. The Giants wasted no time. 

[RELATED: Kapler, several Giants take knee during anthem]

Nakken will continue to break barriers, but Kapler has been adamant that none of this is viewed that way. He hired Nakken because he thought she would be a good coach, and thus far she has gotten rave reviews from fellow staffers and players. 

"We just see Alyssa as an especially effective coach, period," Kapler said earlier this month when asked about having a female coach on his staff. "At this point she's so ingrained in our culture and so ingrained as a member of our coaching staff that she's just going around making players and staff members better. That's how I see it when I see her out on the field."

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Ron Wotus believes Joey Bart will make Giants sooner rather than later

Ron Wotus believes Joey Bart will make Giants sooner rather than later

Giants prospect Joey Bart had plenty of eyes on him before Buster Posey opted out of playing in the 2020 MLB season last week. Bart's performance in camp since then has attracted even more, including a home run to one of the deepest parts of Oracle Park in Friday's intrasquad game.

The Giants' brain trust, including manager Gabe Kapler and president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi, has maintained all along that Bart won't be on the Opening Day roster. The Athletic's Andrew Baggarly noted earlier this week that Bart's service time undoubtedly has something to do with the decision, pointing to a stipulation in MLB's return-to-play agreement that a rookie only needs to be off the major league roster for six days -- assuming the 60-game season actually is completed during the coronavirus pandemic -- in order to accrue a year of service time. If the season isn't completed, that number drops and Bart is a year closer to free agency.

But Bart's play in camp means it's only a matter of time before he makes the team, Giants third base coach Ron Wotus said Friday.

“Young players are evaluated in the moment, but they’re also evaluated on last year, and at this point in time in his career, it would not hurt him to gain more experience,” Wotus told Mark Willard, filling in for KNBR's "Papa & Lund" on Friday (H/T KNBR's Jacob Hutchinson). “Now having said that, anything’s possible. I don’t know what’s being said out there whether he’s gonna be on the club or not be on the club, but he certainly has the ability -- and it’s right at the plate -- to help this ball club. So, I anticipate -- whether he starts with us or he doesn’t -- he’s gonna be with us very, very soon and help this ball club.”

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Bart has made 556 plate appearances since the Giants selected him No. 2 overall in the 2018 MLB Draft, including 338 in High-A and Double-A in 2019. He slashed .278/.328/.495 last season, hitting 16 home runs along with 48 RBI.

The 23-year-old catcher has played beyond his years in camp, drawing praise from multiple veteran teammates in their interviews with reporters. Despite publicly earning his older teammates' praise, Wotus said the Giants' veterans still remember to treat Bart like any other rookie behind the scenes.

"He's that talented," Wotus said of Bart earning compliments from his veteran teammates. "He's been around the guys a little bit. Believe me, they still rib him and give him the business like they do all the young guys. ... [But when] you can play, you can play, and he's got a huge upside and he's getting better all the time."

[RELATED: Giants still seek outfield consistency as Opening Day looms]

The Giants are scheduled to begin the season against the Los Angeles Dodgers on July 23. Six days later, they would host the San Diego Padres in their first home series of the season at Oracle Park.

Bart won't start the season with the Giants, but most observers' eyes will remain fixated on their top prospect to see if he gets a call to the big leagues. Wotus doesn't seem to think they'll be waiting long.