ORACLE PARK — When Alex Dickerson feels any back pain, he makes sure his family is the last to know.
Almost exactly three years ago, on July 29, 2016, Dickerson collided with San Diego Padres teammate Travis Jankowski as both went to track down a first-inning Zack Cozart triple in the Petco Park outfield. The injury he suffered led to a back surgery to repair a bulging disc and a pair of lost seasons.
No, he has to tell them, his recent right oblique and back issues aren’t related to that incident. It’s just because he needs to adjust his routine after missing two full seasons. One of San Francisco’s most productive hitters over the last month, Dickerson will be available to pinch hit in the opener Monday against the Cubs, and will be back in the lineup on Tuesday.
“I have a certain prep routine that I’ve been using, mostly to success this year, but I knew there were going to be adjustments that had to be made,” Dickerson said. “It’s just tightness on my right side, which is the opposite of the side I dealt with, with my issues. Maybe it’s a little bit of an over-compensation thing. We’ve got a plan to make a couple adjustments to my prep routine that I think’s going to clear up the issue pretty quick.”
When Dickerson went down three years ago, he had hit home runs in each of the previous four games and hitting .286 in his first full big league season. He hit four more home runs over the next 53 games, and saw his average drop to .257. After back surgery, he played in just one spring training game in 2017 as a designated hitter. In spring training of 2018, he blew out his elbow trying too hard to re-prove himself and missed yet another year, thanks to Tommy John.
“I personally know it’s not the same thing [as the previous injury], but trying to explain it to other people is sometimes a task,” Dickerson said.
After hip issues early in his career, turning his ankle on a sprinkler head and having to have a cadaver bone inserted into his heel to replace a bone hollowed by a cyst, a stiff back doesn’t rank very high on Dickerson’s career list of injuries.
The tightness has been creeping up over the past few weeks, but Dickerson had been playing well —hitting .397 since his first game with San Francisco on June 21, with five homers and 21 RBIs — so he tried to play through it. It only recently became an issue, and he’s started only two of the previous five games.
In recent pinch hitting appearances, the tightness flared up in batting practice, and then in games when he reached for pitches — as he did grounding into two double plays against the Mets — or swing throughs.
“Sometimes it can be a positive thing,” he said. “It reminds you that you probably swung at a bad pitch It’s your body telling you to stay in your hot zone.”
Loosening up the upper back on his right side — he’s focused on his left, where most of the pain from his previous injury was located — should help to solve the issue. It’s an issue that would have come up whether or not he’d had back surgery.
Third baseman Evan Longoria still didn’t have a timetable for his return from a foot strain in the muscles just under his plantar fascia, but he was optimistic. Monday was the first day he was able walk without a walking boot, and the first day he was able to participate in baseball activities without it, too.
“Baby steps,” Longoria told The Examiner. “I’ve never been through this before.”
Though Longoria has suffered from plantar fasciitis in the same left foot, the strain — small tears in the muscle fibers — is different, and the most effective prescription is rest. Longoria said recovery could be day-to-day, or even minute-by-minute if he feels good moving around. If he’s comfortable, his rehab could accelerate, but any pain could also set him back. He played catch, swung the bat and took grounders on Monday.
Before going down, Longoria was one of San Francisco’s hottest hitters, hitting .400 (12-for-30) in the month of July with six home runs and 12 RBIs in nine games.
“It’s always good when a guy starts baseball activities, but we still don’t have a target date,” said manager Bruce Bochy. “I’ll know more tomorrow after he comes out of this.”
“We needed some flexibility with this rotation,” Bochy said. “He didn’t do anything wrong. He threw a very nice ballgame, but we still need some help in the pen. We’ve been using those guys so much. This gives us another arm.”
By optioning the 24-year old lefty and bringing up reliever Sam Coonrod, San Francisco made a play to keep its over-worked bullpen — which has thrown 20 innings in four games, including three extra-inning affairs — somewhat fresh. The Giants, because of days off on Friday and Monday, don’t need a fifth starter until Aug. 2 against the Colorado Rockies.
Bochy said it’s a “very strong possibility” that the Giants could go with a four-man rotation from now until then, which in turn means that Madison Bumgarner’s final start before the trade deadline would come in San Diego on Sunday, not in Philadelphia on Tuesday.
San Francisco will stay away from using closer Will Smith and Tony Watson out of the bullpen on Monday. Smith has thrown on six out of 10 days.
“That’s what happens when you play a lot of close games and you’re playing winning baseball,” Bochy said.