ORACLE PARK — “I’m going to be honest with you guys,” Tyler Austin said on Monday in his first encounter with Bay Area media. “I didn’t play a single game of outfield in spring training.”
The San Francisco Giants had acquired Austin from the Minnesota Twins on Monday, ostensibly as their somewhat-everyday left fielder, a right-handed bat that could add some thump to the lineup.
The problem was, he had not played outfield in a Major League game since Oct. 1, 2016. He hadn’t played left field — his supposed landing spot — since Sept. 17, 2016. But, he was going to give it the old college try, and set about taking fly balls during batting practice. On Tuesday, manager Bruce Bochy said he may wind up in left during the next road trip — in a week. He’s starting there for Wednesday’s series finale against the San Diego Padres.
“I changed my mind,” Bochy said Wednesday morning.
The Giants (4-8) were going to let Austin take balls in the outfield over the rest of the week, and then possibly start him in left field when they headed to Washington next week.
Instead, Bochy gave Brandon Belt the day off in left, where he’d been stationed the last two days to allow Austin to acclimate by starting at first base. That allowed San Francisco to give Buster Posey a rest day at first, and keep Austin’s bat in against left-hander Nick Margevicius. One of the big reasons the Giants acquired Austin was because he hit a home run every 11.1 at-bats against lefties last season with the Twins and Yankees.
Bochy had hoped to get more practice reps for Austin in left, but figured there was no time like the present to throw him into a game at Oracle Park, with the sun in his face and the wind swirling.
“He’s got to get acclimated to our left field, especially in a day game,” Bochy said. “It’s tough out there. He looks like he’s a good enough athlete and I’m sure that he can handle it.”
Austin — whose sprint speed (27.1 ft/s) is right at league average (27 ft/s) — should be able to cover enough ground, at least as much as Belt (26.1 ft/s sprint speed).
“The onus is on me,” Bochy said. “Hemakes a mistake, I’m the one putting you out there, so don’t worry about making a mistake. Go out there and give it your best, and if it doesn’t happen, I’ll take the blame for it … Hopefully, this’ll work out.”
Kevin Pillar, who has eight RBIs in his last two games, is leading off again against a left-hander, and Yangervis Solarte is once again playing second for Joe Panik. Pillar won’t lead off as a rule, since that spot will mostly be reserved for Steven Duggar, but he will against left-handers.
“With the lefty, it helps balance it out, keep it right-left-right,” Bochy said. “In case they bring in a left-hander. Duggar will lead off for the most part, but it’s nice to have that option of Pillar there because of his experience.”