After hitting three home runs on Monday night for the Sacramento River Cats — including a 511-foot blast — Mac Williamson returned to the Raley Field clubhouse to get a quick lift in before heading home.
Pitching coach Steve Kline told him to hang around. “It was a little strange,” Williamson told NBC Sports Bay Area. Minutes later, he was called into the manager’s office and told he would be returning to the San Francisco Giants for the first time since a concussion all but ended his 2018 season.
After a year of recovering from post-concussion syndrome, after being among the final cuts before Opening Day, Williamson got three hours of sleep Monday night, then hopped a 9:30 a.m. flight to Denver and went 2-for-4 with a home run, driving in four runs to back a second straight throwback start for Madison Bumgarner.
“A great debut, wasn’t it?” manager Bruce Bochy told reporters.
Over the first 35 games, all Giants left fielders combined to knock in four runs. Williamson did it in one night, tying Kevin Pillar for the single-game high for San Francisco this season.
When Williamson debuted last season, he hit three home runs in his first five games, before hitting his head after stumbling over a bullpen mound at then-AT&T Park while pursuing a Bryce Harper foul ball. Over the rest of the season, he suffered from blurred vision, personality changes and headaches. He all but lost the rest of the season recovering from his concussion, but by the time Williamson arrived in Scottsdale this spring, he was ready to start over.
He hit just .237 with 18 strikeouts in a team-high 59 at-bats in big league camp. San Francisco gave him plenty of opportunities, but needed to see consistency, so, president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi went out and acquired Michael Reed and Connor Joe, hoping to find a solution in left field.
Both Reed and Joe, though, were Rule 5 picks. The Giants had to carry them on the big league roster, so that meant that room had to be made, and Williamson was the casualty.
San Francisco had to wait eight days after designating Williamson for assignment, before all 29 teams elected not to put in a waiver claim. He was outrighted to Triple-A.
“I have no sense of where I stand,” he said at the time.
After seeing the Giants jettison Reed and Joe and hitting .378 with nine home runs and 22 RBIs in 23 games for Triple-A Sacramento, Williamson finally got his chance. Early Thursday, the team executed a flurry of moves to get him back to the big leagues for the first game of a three-game series against the Rockies.
“I said, ‘If there’s a time to call him up, it’s now,’” Bochy said. “He’s been swinging it, and he brought that into today’s game.”
After a leadoff home run by right fielder Charlie Blackmon, and an opposite-field solo shot by Evan Longoria to even things up, Williamson snuck a 371-foot line drive over the left field wall for a three-run home run, sparking a five-run fourth, capped by a Kevin Pillar home run to put San Francisco ahead 6-1. He finally felt like pre-concussion 2018 Mac.
“I really do, I feel confident at the plate, like I’m able to make the right decision at the right time,” Williamson said. “I had to cheat certain pitches, and now, I’m able to see it and react. I feel like I’m getting down in a good position to hit, and that’s a constant battle for all hitters.”
The Rockies answered in the bottom of the frame against Bumgarner, with a one-out single from Nolan Arenado cashed in by an Ian Desmond triple, but Williamson came up again in the fifth, and did even more damage.
Just as in the fourth, Brandon Belt doubled with two outs, and Evan Longoria (who hit a homer in the first) walked, and Williamson again came through, singling on a line drive to center to bring home another run.
“Mac’s going to give us more depth in this lineup, a little bit more of a fear factor,” Bochy said.
Colorado got another run in the bottom of the inning, when Chris Iannetta homered on a two-seam Bumgarner fastball on the inside corner, but that was one of few mistakes Bumgarner made on the day.
The left-handed ace, after a mechanical adjustment before his last start, averaged 91.9 mph with his fastball in his last start against the Los Angeles Dodgers — the hardest he’d thrown this season. On Thursday in Colorado, he averaged 92.0 mph with late run on his fastball, and had his second straight vintage outing, scattering eight hits and striking out eight while walking just one on 101 pitches, and leaving with a 7-3 lead after six innings, saving a bullpen that had to throw 22 innings in four games at Cincinnati.
“We needed it,” Bochy said. “All of our starters have gotten beaten up pretty good. That kind of effort was big for our bullpen.”
San Francisco added another two runs in the eighth — again with two outs — and five more with two outs in the ninth, highlighted by a two-run single from Brandon Crawford and a two-run RBI triple to left center by Tyler Austin, who will now have to fight for playing time with Williamson in left. The 13 two-out runs the Giants scored were the most in the San Francisco history of the team, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Beyond his bat, Williamson also made two big defensive plays, fielding an Iannetta double off the wall and firing a perfect throw to Brandon Crawford for a relay home to end the second by nipping Raimel Tapia trying to score.
He also helped Trevor Gott to get through the eighth, making a leaping grab at the wall on a drive by Nolan Arenado, flying upper-body-first into the outfield wall.
Twenty nine teams passed on Mac Williamson, and on Thursday, the Giants were glad they did.
“That guy’s got all the tools that anybody can ask for, and it’s just taken him longer than people expected to put them together,” Bumgarner said. “But, if you could put together a baseball player, he’s up there with what you would want.”