AT&T PARK — The San Francisco Giants lost a key asset when third baseman Evan Longoria broke his hand on June 14. Without any like-for-like replacements to hold down the fort until the three-time All-Star’s projected early-August return, a shaky infield has caused frustration.
Pablo Sandoval’s .OPS has dropped from .765 to .700 since Longoria’s injury, while Alen Hanson’s has fallen from 1.067 to .803. Sandoval is also considered one of the worst fielding third basemen in baseball by defensive runs saved (-4) and UZR (-1.9). He’s the one getting most of the time at the hot corner with Hansen mostly playing left field.
Plus, typically-reliable second baseman Joe Panik is mired in a 2-for-18 slump, which has caused his OPS to plummet to .651, making the infield’s downturn more striking.
“For a while there we were doing really well,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “Our issue right now is putting runs on the board. “
Indeed, San Francisco has mustered just five runs during a four-game losing streak. That output hasn’t been enough to change Bochy’s mind about recently-promoted utility player Austin Slater, who has started just seven of 14 games since being called up. Slater boasts .803 OPS and is viewed as a long-term asset by multiple members of the organization.
Bochy said on Friday that Slater could play left field and every infield role besides shortstop. Slater was a second baseman when he was drafted out of Stanford in 2014, but it’s been Hansen who has played on the infield this season, with 18 starts at second, and four each at third and shortstop, to go along with his six starts in left.
“I don’t want to wear Pablo down. He’s played a lot of games there, so I’m going to have to [rest him] a bit more than I’ve been doing,” Bochy said. “We were talking about maybe putting [Slater] in left and giving Pablo a day, but maybe tomorrow.”
Sandoval, of course, was not expected to still be in the organization at this point. After being released by the Boston Red Sox last year following a nightmarish three-year stint there, the Giants brought him back amid a 98-loss season. He didn’t hit or field well down the stretch last year, and he’s been worth less than a replacement player this year according to FanGraphs and Baseball Reference.
Even so, Slater remains the odd man out among the group of Sandoval, Panik and Hanson. Three of those four can theoretically play every day until Longoria returns.
Slater, 25, had excited the organization by implementing a leg kick that Triple-A Sacramento hitting coach Damon Minor said could increase his power. In 53 games with Sacramento this season, Slater put up his best-ever offensive numbers, slugging .564 and stealing eight bases.
“He’s kind of a unique player who has the ability to hit the ball the other way first, and now he’s learning to pull the ball,” Minor told the Examiner last week. “It’s just a matter of time … for the big league numbers to really show.”
San Francisco is expected to face two more right-handers this weekend in Carlos Martinez and Jack Flaherty, meaning Slater is at risk of additional bench time if Bochy sticks to platoon advantages. Bochy hasn’t yet committed to his lineups for those games.
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