San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey was scheduled to take batting practice with the club on Saturday and do some running, manager Bruce Bochy said before San Francisco’s afternoon tilt with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The All-Star catcher, sidelined since June 2 with a right hamstring strain, came up lame on a grounder in Baltimore, but said he’d felt it tighten up early in the game. The sprint, and avoiding Orioles pitcher Miguel Castro covering first, only brought it to a head. He ran a bit on Friday and played catch, and ramped up his activity on Saturday, all in line for a return on Wednesday against the San Diego Padres.
That midweek game against the fourth-place Padres is sure to continue the club’s seasonlong attendance slump. As moribund as San Francisco’s offense is to begin with (28th in runs, 29th in batting average), and as sub-par a year as Posey is having, the other catching options in his absence have been thoroughly uninspiring, even in an uninspiring season. Posey won’t turn this season around, but his healthy presence — particularly late in the season — could prove pivotal.
“He’s doing well, he’s doing really well,” said manager Bruce Bochy. “It’s going as well as it could. It looks like Wednesday when he should come off. He should be ready.”
Apart from Posey, who has played in 46 of 62 games this season, Giants catchers have hit .202 (18-for-89) with an on-base percentage of .282. That’s to say nothing of the defensive accumen and pitch handling the Giants miss when Posey is out. In 317 1/3 innings behind the plate, he’s been worth six defensive runs saved this season, well ahead of where he was last year (10 in 759 1/3) and the year before (2 in 826 1/3).
Though he owns a career-worst slash line (.257/.321/.408), Posey is actually hitting better when he’s behind the plate this season (.266/.322/.403), the reverse of a career-long trend (.299/.369/.454 at catcher, .332/.390/.518 at first base, .306/.382/.435 as DH)
All that is to say that shorter his IL stints, the better, and he’s been on the injured list twice in the last month.
Make no mistake: Posey’s return wouldn’t turn this season around. This is undeniably Year One of at least a three-year rebuild project under Faharhan Zaidi, a project which likely ends with Joey Bart catching on an everyday basis. However, a healthy and active Posey is at the very least a salve, an attendance draw that can keep ownership happy amidst the ticket sales downturn (San Francisco is averaging 32,496 per home game this season, the club’s lowest attendance since their final year at Candlestick Park).
Posey, after all, is likely going to be the only piece left from the three title teams earlier this decade, when all is said and done. Madison Bumgarner’s no-trade list shows where he’s thinking he may wind up at the trade deadline, even though the Braves may be crossed off that list with the acquisition of Dallas Keuchel.
Brandon Crawford’s bat is once again sluggish (.210), but he also has a ghastly .257 batting average on balls in play, his lowest since his rookie year, and well below his career average of .296.
Brandon Belt is having at least a somewhat healthy season with his highest OPS since his All-Star 2016 season and nine homers in 60 games, but dealing him could be complicated.
Belt likely wouldn’t bring a huge return of prospects, and San Francisco needs the flexibility at first (where Posey is eventually likely to end up). Next year, even if the Giants bring Bart up, they won’t want to be forced to hand him the reins immediately, so trading Belt and moving Posey to first may be a bit premature. Even Posey, brought up the year after he was drafted, played just seven games.
The healthier Posey is at that point (with a hamstring, it’s far better to be safe than sorry, and whatever extra days off the Giants can find should pay off down the road), the less of a load Bart would have to take.
Joe Panik, who hit .328 between May 3 and May 23, has cooled off quite a bit since then, hitting .190. He gets a day off on Saturday, but will play Sunday.
“I talked to Joe last night, and we’ve been riding him pretty hard,” Bochy said. “He hasn’t had a break in a while, so he’ll play tomorrow. This gives Donovan a chance to get a start, and gives Joe a break.”
Mike Yastrzemski will hit in the leadoff spot for the first time this season (he’s hit second seven times) and play right, and while he only stole two bases this season in the minors, he’s been a base stealer in the past, with as many as 20 in his final season at Vanderbilt and 18 in 129 games his first full professional season.
“He’s got some pretty good discipline at the plate,” Bochy said. “He’s a guy who can hit a left-hander. [Dodgers starter Rich] Hill’s splits are pretty balanced. Yastrzemski, I think he can swing the bat fairly well and draw a walk. Gives you some speed there. Thought he was a pretty good choice.”