ORACLE PARK — When faced with a particularly difficult, submarining left-handed pitcher while at Indiana in 2010, the left-handed-hitting Alex Dickerson — the eventual Big Ten triple crown winner — did something he hadn’t done since his freshman season of high school: He hit right-handed.
Turning the trick against Akron, and against Michigan’s Eric Katzman, Dickerson went 4-for-6. “See if you can goad him into taking BP right-handed,” his college coach, Tracy Smith, said to The Examiner. “He can hit right-handed. He flips around the batter’s box, live in a game, and laces a freaking base hit right-handed, and it looks like it should look.”
If he had to do it all over again, Dickerson said, he’d be a switch hitter. It would help keep him in the game in today’s analytics-driven league. Instead, he’ll get some rest on Saturday against the San Diego Padres’ Joey Lucchesi in favor of Joey Rickard, but that doesn’t mean San Francisco is looking to either treat him with kid gloves the rest of the year, or to make him a part-time player in 2020.
“[Our thinking] is throw him out there as much as we can and see what we have and give him time to show what he can do,” said manager Bruce Bochy. “We’re not thinking about getting him through to get to the winter. These are important games for all of us, as far as showing what they’re capable of doing, giving us a true evaluation what we have.”
The reason Dickerson hasn’t kept up his switch hitting experiment is the same reason why he probably needs more evaluation: His injury history. He started the experiment his freshman year of high school, but a football weight-lifting accident forced him to miss all of his sophomore year, and after a microdiscectomy on his L4 and L5 vertebrae, hitting right-handed caused pain to shoot down his left leg.
“At that point, I’d learned to hit lefties, so I just stopped,” Dickerson said on Saturday.
After toying with switch hitting in college — he said that was due to him being “a little OCD” about the way he set up in the box, and didn’t want to change against lefties coming from underneath — he would warm up swinging from both sides, to even out his back muscles.
Then, in July of 2016, he collided with then-Padres teammate Travis Jankowski in the Petco Park outfield, and needed another discectomy on the L5 and S1 discs. Between that and Tommy John surgery in the spring of 2018, he missed more than two years of baseball, and put the switch hitting aside. The last time he tried hitting righty — a more powerful, violent swing for him — his back went into spasm.
The reason why he was successful when he tried to hit right-handed, though, is why he’s been so impactful for the Giants: Simplicity. The simpler a swing, the easier it is to mirror. It’s why he used to hit right-handed to warm up — to give equal reps to the other side of his body, like any other exercise. But, since the second discectomy, he’s kept the right-handed swings to a minimum. He’s done just fine.
Since being acquired by San Francisco on June 10 for minor league arm Franklin Van Gurp, Dickerson has hit .331 with six homers, 24 RBIs, 12 doubles and three triples in 43 games, for a 165 OPS+. He’s been slowed by oblique issues — likely to give some in the front office some pause — but has been somewhat reliable, considering he’s still getting his body used to playing baseball after two seasons away.
He touched off a superb June and July that got San Francisco into the playoff discussion, a surge that has Bochy just eight wins away from 2,000 for his career.
The Giants acquired Dickerson in spite of his injury history, and he is under team control next season. So, why not see what he has against both lefties and righties? He has far from extreme splits: In Dickerson’s career, he’s hit .282 against right-handers, and .247 against lefties. It goes to how the game has changed.
At the start of his career, Dickerson spoke with likely future Hall of Famer Lance Berkman — with whom he shares an agent, and who, like him, hit for more power from the right side, but better average from the left — about switch hitting. Berkman said, if he were to do it again, he’d only hit left-handed, for more average. Dickerson, too, would do things differently. He’d be a switch hitter. He hit for more power from the right side.
“I talked to him about it, what, 10 years ago? Average mattered,” Dickerson said. “I think it still matters. The reality is, if you can hit .220 and hit 10 home runs from that side, and walk just a few times, all of the sudden, they value it more. That was why I’d given it up, because I knew that I could constantly put the ball in play left-on-left.”
The game now values incremental advantages gained by lefty-righty splits, which miffs Dickerson, but he sits anyway. He won’t start toying with the switch hitting again until he knows his body is right. Since it is his first year back, he didn’t want to complicate things. That doesn’t mean he couldn’t toy with it again in the future, even if it’s just in the batting cage.
“Honestly, I truly believe he could be a switch hitter,” Smith said. “He flat-out can rake right-handed, too.”
Call-ups: As the Giants continue to evaluate Dickerson, they’ll get a look at some other pieces that could impact 2020 and beyond, as well, once rosters expand.
San Francisco will call up four or five players from the Triple-A Sacramento River Cats immediately as rosters expand on Sunday, but Bochy would not reveal who those would be. It’s likely that trade deadline acquisition Jaylin Davis won’t be among them, as he’s not on the 40-man roster. He could wind up getting called up once the River Cats are eliminated from the postseason, and the Giants could use his power. Since coming over from Minnesota, Davis has hit .347 with 10 home runs and 27 RBIs in 25 games.
Other likely candidates to be called up include catcher Aramis Garcia, pitcher Andrew Suarez, reliever Sam Selman and reliever Williams Jerez. San Francisco could call Joey Bart up to Triple-A to replace Garcia, as he’s gone 13-for-27 since being summoned to Double-A Richmond, with two doubles and two homers in eight games. Chris Shaw — who’s had a bounce-back year after hitting .158 with the Giants and .259 in Triple-A — could also be an option, though it’s more likely that Burch Smith — a 29-year old reliever picked up off waivers from the Brewers — could get the call.
Smith had a 7.82 ERA in seven big-league appearances this year, but had a .233 ERA in 15 appearances for San Antonio before being designated for assignment the first week of August. He’ll likely be in the mix for a job next spring, as will Selman and Jerez.
Panda update: Pablo Sandoval swung the bat on Friday and felt no soreness in his right elbow on Saturday. The plan was for him to hit again on Saturday, and, if he feels good during batting practice, he would be activated with the roster expansion and pinch hit on Sunday. That would be the last home date before Sandoval is slated to undergo Tommy John surgery to reconstruct his ulnar collateral ligament, and a clean-up procedure to take out loose bodies in the damaged elbow that he’s been dealing with since 2013. He could also travel with the team to St. Louis for a game or two.
Rotation update, plus Cueto: Jeff Samardzija and Tyler Beede have flipped rotation spots, due to the recent off days. Samardzija will now go on Sunday, and Beede on Monday.
Johnny Cueto will thorw 75 pitches for Triple-A Sacramento in his final rehab start. He could rejoin the team as soon as Sunday, and his likely first start would be Sept. 8, although it’s possible, Bochy said, that he could go before then. When he gets back, Bochy can’t see San Francisco using a six-man rotation, though there could be times where Cueto is pushed back a a day or two.
Bochyism: When told that submarining reliever Tyler Rogers got engaged on Friday night, Bochy asked, “What, was he waiting until he gave up a run?”