OAKLAND — As of Opening Day, the San Francisco Giants had the third-oldest roster in the major leagues, at 29.6 years of age.
With utility man Pablo Sandoval (31), Brandon Belt (30), Hunter Pence (35), Austin Jackson (31), Andrew McCutchen (31), Buster Posey (31), Nick Hundley (34), Jeff Samardzija (33) and Evan Longoria (32) on the roster, many of San Francisco’s principles were decidedly in the latter halves of their careers.
On Friday, Brandon Belt was on paternity leave to witness the birth of his second son with wife Haylee — August “Augie” Kyle Belt, named for Belt’s college coach Augie Garrido — so the Giants went young. In the first game of the second half, San Francisco started four players 26 years of age or younger against the Oakland Athletics, including starting pitcher Dereck Rodriguez. They each played pivotal roles in quenching one of the hottest teams in baseball to the tune of a 5-1 win.
Steven Duggar played center field and led off. Speedy Alen Hanson (25) — acquired from the White Sox this offseason — started at second for the injured Joe Panik (27). Rodriguez (26) started on the mound, and Ryder Jones (24) was called up to start at third, while Sandoval — like the rest of the youngsters, making the big league minimum — manned first in Belt’s stead.
“I can’t say enough about what these guys have done coming up here,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “Hanson, [Chase] d’Arnaud, Rodriguez, Jones comes up and gets a big hit.”
Rodriguez went 6 1/3 innings with one run allowed and Jones broke a 1-1 tie with a leadoff solo home run off the top of the foul pole in the fifth off of A’s starter Edwin Jackson. It took Jones 18 at-bats to get his first hit with the Giants in extended action last season, but it took him two to make an impact on Friday.
“Big homer there for us,” Posey said. “I think any team that makes the playoffs is gonna have to get production from guys who come up.”
Jones played in 53 games last season for a 98-loss Giants team, and hit just .173 in 164 plate appearances. He was hitting .299 with Triple-A Sacramento before being called up.
“He was out there pretty much every day last year, and it was a tough go for him trying to get settled in, so I thought the home run was huge for him,” Bochy said. “And it was huge for us. He’s doing a nice job down there in Sacramento. His last month and a half, he’s just been on a nice roll and swinging the bat well. It’s good for him to have a little success here.”
Duggar and Hanson played major roles as San Francisco manufactured some insurance runs in the top of the eighth. After a leadoff single by Gorkys Hernandez, Duggar punched a single to right, and Hanson moved both men over with a sacrifice bunt. McCutchen sent a sacrifice fly to center to bring home Hernandez to give the Giants a 4-1 lead, and Brandon Crawford singled off reliever Ryan Buchter to bring home Duggar.
This offseason, the Giants brought on veteran hands in order to win in the short term while they still had their core of Madison Bumgarner, Posey, Belt and Pence. Injuries to Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto, Samardzija, Panik, Pence and Mac Williamson, though, forced them to tread water.
First came Andrew Suarez and Rodriguez to bolster the staff. The two are a combined 7-7 with a 3.58 ERA in 23 starts for the Giants this season.
Then, with the promotion of Austin Slater — one of the organizations’ top five prospects — and then the promotion of Duggar — the Giants’ No. 3 prospect — all of the sudden, San Francisco got a lot younger, and in a middling National League West, they are only four games back of first place.
“I thought coming into the year that we were really going to need a couple of our minor league guys to come up and pitch well, and Suarez and Rodriguez have definitely done that,” said Posey, who caught Rodriguez’s gem on Friday.
“We’ve had a lot of help,” Bochy said. “We’re not where we want to be, but they’ve helped us stay in contention. That’s what it takes because we’ve dealt with a lot of injuries, but we have a lot of depth.”