ORACLE PARK — The last time Stephen Vogt played left field was June 21, 2017, when, in his last game with the Oakland Athletics, manager Bob Melvin sent him in as a pinch hitter for Rajai Davis in the eighth, and with no other outfielders on the bench, sent him out to left.
Once he took the field, he saw the first four balls put in play, right at him: A deep fly from Brian McCann that he had to go back on to catch, a line-drive single from Yuli Gurriel, a double down the left field line by Alex Bregman and finally, a deep sacrifice fly by Jake Marisnick.
“Made the right play on every one of them,” said Vogt, who will make the start in left field tonight for the San Francisco Giants against the Atlanta Braves.
Vogt has not started in left field in the Major Leagues since July 2, 2014, and he’ll be doing it on a night where winds of 26 mph are expected to swirl around the Oracle Park outfield. Manager Bruce Bochy didn’t want to put Brandon Belt in left because of his still-balky knee, so, with a short bench, it’ll be Vogt who becomes the Giants’ 11th different outfielder this season.
Vogt will be the eighth different Giant to start in left this year, the 11th different left fielder in the team’s past 51 games and the 25th to start in left since the beginning of the 2017 season.
Vogt’s ability to play left field (as well as first base and catcher) was one of the attractions in signing Vogt this past offseason for the Giants. The combination of Brandon Belt’s balky knee and Vogt’s splits against righties (.278 compared to .182 against lefties) made it easy to tap Vogt against Atlanta’s Julio Teheran. The eight-year veteran will be making his sixth career outfield start in the Major Leagues, and will be playing in his 15th big league game in the outfield.
“I got a lot of reps in the minors over my career,” said Vogt, who started his final game for the Sacramento River Cats this season in left, before being called up. “It’s been a while, but I got a lot of good tips from the guys.”
Of the increased level of difficulty expected for Tuesday night’s second game against the Braves, with the flags atop the Oracle Park scoreboard blowing every which way, Vogt said simply, “Let’s go.”
“We’re just hoping for a quality start from him,” said manager Bruce Bochy, who later intimated that meant six innings of defense before he could be lifted for Mac Williamson, or as part of a double switch.
Vogt’s start comes in place of both Mac Williamson, who, with one hit in his last 15 at-bats, is getting a day to re-group, and may get two, Bochy said.
Brandon Belt will also likely not play left field until his intermittently inflamed knee calms down for a sustained period of time.
“He’s doing a lot better, but if I had to put him out there and that thing would have flared up, it’d have been shame on us,” Bochy said. “That was the biggest reason why he didn’t go to left field … Until he gets through this — and he may not this year, it may flare up on him occasionally, and that may keep him from going back out there to left field.”
Vogt will be the 60th player to start in left field since the start of the 2008, the franchise’s first season without Barry Bonds. Bochy has gotten comfortable with left field being a bit of a revolving door, one which allows him to get some bats into the lineup when need be.
“You’ve gotten rid of the fear of the unknown,” Bochy said. “You’re throwing [Travis] Ishikawa or guys out there who haven’t played left field, and they did OK. They’ve had their struggles and whatever, but we’ve won with guys who are not plus defenders out there. We kid about it, with the quality start, get six innings and make a change, but we’ve had success doing that. It does make it a little bit easier to throw somebody out there who doesn’t have a lot of experience in left field.”
San Francisco was short-handed on Monday, when they brought up left-hander Andrew Suarez to pitch and optioned backup infielder Donovan Solano to Triple-A Sacramento, leaving them without a backup shortstop.
On Tuesday, the Giants sent left-handed reliever Travis Bergen to the injured list with a strained throwing shoulder, making room once again, so Solano was recalled. Solano had not, in fact, left San Francisco, and was on the field taking early batting practice with Vogt, Pablo Sandoval, Kevin Pillar, Tyler Austin and Mac Williamson before his recall was announced.
Now, San Francisco has a four-man bench again.
“We were going to have to add another position player, but Bergen’s shoulder made it just a little bit easier,” Bochy said.
With the hubbub surrounding Derek Holland’s finger injury and so-called “fake injuries,” and frustration in the locker room because of president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi’s continual moves to incrementally improve both the 25- and 40-man roster, Bergen fielded questions about how severe the shoulder strain really was. Zaidi and Andrew Friedman used the 10-day injured list liberally with the Los Angeles Dodgers since it was knocked down from 15 days allowing them to improve their active roster while not putting strain on players who may have been more hurt than injured.
Bergen said that, were this a pennant race, he’d be able to pitch, but that the recurring shoulder soreness for the past week or so after his pitching outings probably meant he needed to rest his wing for a spell. Bergen has never had shoulder issues before, and isn’t too alarmed by the new soreness.
“The strides that we make to make it feel better seem to go away every time I go out there,” Bergen said. “I think it’s a good idea to take a few days and get me back going soon. It’s kind of a recovery thing. It’s pretty sore after I pitch, and by the time I can get it to start to feel better, I’m pitching agian, so it’s kind of a build up of maybe needing some rest.”
Suarez, who went 7-13 last year with a 4.49 ERA in 160 1/3 innings for San Francisco, helping to stabilize a rotation that was constantly in flux, may be due to stick with the Giants, at least for a stretch. After a hamstring injury and a 6.33 ERA in Triple-A this season, Suarez gave up just three runs in six innings and scattered four hits and four walks against the Braves on Monday.
“This guy had a pretty good year last year, and he made all his starts, spring was alright, and he did get sent down to Sacramento, but he was a guy that we’d been watching,” Bochy said. “He had a set-back with that hamstring injury, so yeah, I think you look at what he did last night, and not just last night, but this guy’s done it for almost a year. It gives us some depth in there. You look at the stuff, it was good. Velocity, loved his changeup, his breaking ball was even improved. He’s got the equipment to be a starter.
“I can’t tell you what’s going to happen the rest of the way, but he’s a guy that’s in the mix.”