ORACLE PARK — The last time that Buster Posey batted sixth or lower in the San Francisco Giants’ starting lineup was in 2010. He’s done it just 33 times in his career, but he’ll bat sixth on Friday against the Miami Marlins.
“We just tweaked it a little bit, with how it’s structured,” manager Bruce Bochy said.
Coming off a hip surgery that ended his 2018 season, and a winter dedicated to rehab instead of honing his swing, Posey is having the worst offensive year of his career. Every so often, though, he flashes his MVP form. Batting lower in the order may do a bit to get him into this offseason on a strong note.
“We just thought that would be a good place for him tonight,” Bochy said. “He’s still going to hit down in the 2-3-4 hole, but just wanted to take a look at it here tonight.”
Posey’s hip sapped his power last season, and he hasn’t quite been able to fire off of it consistently with any kind of force in 2019. There are times, though — like when he hit a line drive off the top of the brick wall in right during the first of two three-hit games in the span of three days — that he seemingly found his MVP form, if at least momentarily. Those moments, though, have been few and far between, but being moved down in the lineup should take some pressure off of him.
While the power hasn’t been nearly what it once was — his isolated power this year is .111, just a tick ahead of a career-worst .098 last season — he’s recently started to come around, at least in the pure hitting department. Though his hard-hit rate is the best he’s had since 2016, his expected slugging is .094 below his 2015 high of .498, his weighted on-base average (wOBA) is his worst of the StatCast era (.302) and his strikeout rate (16.4) is the highest of his career. He also has career-lows of batting average on balls in play (.298), RBIs, batting average, on-base percentage and slugging. Still, Posey has not used the hip as an excuse.
Over the last two weeks, Posey has gone 12-for-37 in nine games, and while all of those 12 hits have been singles, it’s an encouraging sign for him to be trending upward while most of the league is grinding down at the end of a long season. It may mean that, the further away he gets from the surgery, the more familiar his body feels, which bodes well for 2020.
Of course, complicating matters moving forward (Posey has two years left on his contract) is the emergence of Joey Bart, who, in a season shortened by a wrist injury, hit 16 home runs in 79 games at two levels this season. Considered by the organization to be the next Posey, if Bart’s trajectory holds to Posey’s, he should be called up by the middle of next season, which will mean that Posey will be able to mentor him as he perhaps transitions to first base, a move that’s been talked about since he was drafted out of Florida State, where he played mostly shortstop.
Posey’s defense, though, has not taken a hit. He’s sixth in defensive runs saved (11) among catchers who have caught over 500 innings. Among catchers who have caught 1,500 called pitches this season in the “shadow zone” — up to one ball’s width out of the strike one, and one ball’s width inside the zone — he’s fourth in the Major Leagues in framing, converting 52% of those pitches into called strikes.
At the very least, he’ll be able to help polish up Bart’s defense, but if he indeed does find his way back to form — thanks to a full, healthy offseason — he’ll be able to look back on the end-of-season cameos at the bottom of the lineup and gain some confidence that he was still able to put bat on ball, even when not 100%.
Pablo Sandoval, cuddly panda: The injured Giants third baseman held his Party With the Panda charity event on Thursday at the Cloud Club at Oracle Park, with proceeds going to the Pablo Sandoval Foundation.
The Giants’ nominee for the annual Roberto Clemente Award donated his prorated Giants salary to the Junior Giants upon his return to the Bay in 2017, and his foundation has helped donate meals to victims of the North Bay fires and Horricane Harvey, chartered a bus for kids from low-income families in fire-affected areas to the Holiday Heroes Eventat Oracle Park, and most recently, worked with the Good Tidings Foundation to renovate the youth game room at the Boys & Girls Clubs of San Francisco’s Columbia Park Clubhouse.
It was because of the event that he did not return to Los Angeles to get the cast of his elbow, following Tommy John surgery.
“That’s really what it’s about,” Bochy said. “We appreciate these players for being great athletes, but you see what great people they are. That’s an award that, to me, is as prestigious any award in baseball, so for him to be nominated, he takes a lot of pride in helping our community and doing what he can make lives better for other people.”
Asked if Sandoval would be accompanying the team to Boston, where Sandoval had an ill-fated two-year tenure — Bochy smirked.
“No,” Bochy said. “I think that’s why he had the surgery. I don’t think he needed it.”
Rookie outfielder Jaylin Davis’s wrist contusion will keep himout of Friday’s series opener against the Marlins. He’s day-to-day.
Outfielder Alex Dickerson, trying to get back from an oblique issue that’s nagged him for the last two months, took swings in the batting cage under the stands, and then took two rounds of batting practice on the field, before running some curves in the outfield.
On Saturday, he’s expected to run the bases, and should be available by the time the Giants head to Boston to face the Red Sox next week. San Francisco had hoped he’d be available this weekend in some fashion.
Closer Will Smith (back tightness) is also “making progress” and threw on flat ground on Friday.
“Yesterday was a really good day for him, he said,” Bochy said. “I think we’ll try to get him through this weekend before we use him, unless he comes out so well today. There’s a possibility he could pitch Sunday, but more than likely, we’re looking at Tuesday.”