AT&T Park — San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy had been counting down the days until third baseman Evan Longoria could return from a broken left hand, knowing the former Rays standout could elevate the play of his inconsistent infield. He began each pregame media session last week by updating Longoria’s progress rehabbing at Triple-A Sacramento.
As the leader of a ballclub hovering around .500, amid a season-long rash of injuries that had already sidelined three rotation stalwarts and two infielders for extended periods, Bochy perhaps shouldn’t have been so optimistic that getting Longoria back would mean things would get back to normal.
On Thursday, Bochy wrote Longoria’s name on the lineup card for the first time since mid-June, but the Giants also had to place first baseman Brandon Belt on the 10-day disabled list with a hyperextended right knee. Belt suffered the injury Wednesday, and a subsequent MRI showed a related bone bruise, Bochy said, which will shut Belt down from baseball activities for about five days.
As Bochy conferred with Longoria before San Francisco’s game against the Brewers, he avoided pressing for too much information about how he’s feeling. He understands the third baseman’s play will be particularly important without Belt in the lineup.
“I talked to him and didn’t go into detail,” Bochy said. “I just assumed he feels fine at the plate. He better, because he’s in there.”
Longoria, signed last offseason, hadn’t been at his best before going down. His .246 batting average and .278 on-base percentage were among the worst of his career. But as a three-time All-Star with a long record of big league success, he possessed a higher ceiling than primary replacement Pablo Sandoval. Now, he’ll be expected to carry a major load in the middle of the Giants order. On Thursday, he’ll bat fifth between catcher Buster Posey and shortstop Brandon Crawford.
Belt’s year has been better by comparison — both on and off the field. He’s hitting .278 and needs just five more home runs to establish a personal best in that category. After dealing with a concussion last season, he’s avoided similar health scares this campaign. Last week, his wife, Haylee, gave birth to their second son.
For the Giants to make a serious bid at the National League West crown, they’ll likely need their first baseman back soon, regardless of how Longoria performs following his return.
On Thursday, Austin Slater will start at first base and Hunter Pence will start in left field.
Longoria’s reinstatement from the disabled list and Belt’s injury sparked of a chain of roster moves. Right-hander Chris Stratton was called up to help in the bullpen and essentially serve as a second long-relief option alongside Ty Blach. Utility player Kelby Tomlinson was optioned to Triple-A Sacramento.
The decision to bring up Stratton, who was used as a starter earlier this year, was largely the result of heavy bullpen usage during the past five games.
“It gives us a little bit more coverage,” Bochy said. “It makes it a little bit easier to use Ty if needed for an inning or so. We don’t need to toe the line where we don’t have the long guy available, and we’ve been running short on pitching.
“Now we have two guys, so our concerns aren’t there anymore.”
Given his .575 OPS this month, outfielder Gorkys Hernandez will sit Thursday despite a potentially advantageous matchup against Milwaukee Brewers left-hander Wade Miley.
“Just want to give him a nice little breather here, so he catches his breath and gets back out there,” Bochy said. “You know, we all go through our own slumps or skids. Sometimes [it just takes] a break.”
Second baseman Joe Panik (groin strain) will begin a rehab assignment on Thursday and adhere to the same ramp-up regimen Longoria completed by playing five innings, seven innings and nine innings in consecutive games. If that goes well, he could be back with the Giants next week.
Starter Jeff Samardzija (shoulder) still does not have a clear timeline for coming off the disabled list. Initially thought to be in contention for a start this week, he’s currently getting some rest before potentially throwing another bullpen this weekend.