Versatile Kapler, Giants set to defend NL West title
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) — The San Francisco Giants will open defense of their NL West title without two key components. It’s a situation they managed well a year ago.
Third baseman Evan Longoria and outfielder/first baseman LaMonte Wade Jr. will begin the season on the injured list, although the Giants played through a host of absences while posting a franchise-record 107 wins last year.
“There are always injuries on every team,” versatile infielder Wilmer Flores said. “The good thing about this team is there are always good options where you can keep a good level of baseball going. That’s what it is right now.”
Longoria underwent surgery to repair ligament damage in his right index finger last week and no timeline has been set for his return. Wade had a bone bruise in his left knee in spring training, and it is uncertain how much time he will miss.
The Giants are optimistic that first baseman Brandon Belt will be ready for the start of the season Friday at home against Miami after he reported to camp with swelling in his right knee. Multiple MRIs showed no structural damage, and he played in his first game Saturday.
Belt hit a career-best 29 home runs with a .975 OPS a year ago after playing in only a handful of spring training games because of illness. He underwent heel surgery following the 2020 season.
“You always wish you could have a few more games to get ready for the season, but sometimes that’s not how it works out,” Belt said. “I did the same thing last year and I wound up being fine.”
Because of injuries or strategic off days, no Giants position player played in more than 139 games last season, and 14 played in at least 76. All but two of those pieces return, and the Giants added Joc Pederson to fill one of the outfield spots.
“We’re not trying to recreate all the incidents that happened last year, where one guys gets hurt and another guy steps in and performs great,” manager Gabe Kapler said.
“Rather, we are thinking about the processes and the practices that lead to those things happening. We are just going to stay really focused on that.”
Flores is expected be the primary third baseman in Longoria’s absence, and Pederson can provide a left-handed bat with Wade out. Flores and outfielder Mike Yastrzemski led the Giants with 139 games a year ago.
Yastrzemski and shortstop Brandon Crawford were the only players who had more than the 454 plate appearances made by catcher Buster Posey, whose retirement left an opening for Curt Casali and Joey Bart behind the plate.
The Giants were nothing if not versatile a year ago. Kapler, who likes to play matchups, never used the same defensive lineup more than five times, and that happened once. The Giants used 10 left fielders, eight right fielders and seven third basemen. The most common 1-through-8 batting order was used five times.
“That’s part of what made us so successful last year,” Yastrzemski said. “We all embraced what was going with our team strategy and our willingness to put our egos aside and say ‘I’m ready when I’m called upon.’”
Leftty-hitting Wade started in all three outfield spots and at first base. Righty Darin Ruf started at least 25 games in left field and first base. Crawford (130), Yastrzemski (119), Posey (102) and Belt (85) were the only players who started at least half the Giants games.
“‘Kap really likes matchups,” Ruf said. “There are so many ways to get at-bats that ‘Kap’ likes to figure out. We are always ready for anything.”
“With him we all know never to be surprised by anything. Be ready for an opportunity. More or less you know what that opportunity is going to be, and he makes that move more times or not,” he said.
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