By Doug Bruzzone
Special to S.F. Examiner
ORACLE PARK — With rosters expanding on Sunday, the Giants activated Pablo Sandoval off the injured list and called up four players from Triple-A Sacramento: catcher Aramis Garcia, outfielder/first baseman Chris Shaw, and pitchers Conner Menez and Burch Smith.
Sandoval, who will undergo Tommy John surgery on Wednesday, will only be active today and will not be on the team’s upcoming trip to St. Louis.
“Very excited. Very excited,” Sandoval said before the game. “I was very emotional last night … It’s gonna be special.”
“I think Pablo knows [I care about him],” Bruce Bochy said. “We’ve got a great relationship. This’ll be his last game here with me. I don’t know what’s in the future for him, but I’m sure we’ll have a hug after the game and talk a little bit.”
Sandoval, who will almost certainly get a pinch-hit at-bat, is well-loved in San Francisco, not just by his manager, and he feels the same way towards the city. As much as he wants to be back, he understands that the team might have other plans. Still, he is adamant that he will continue playing after he recovers.
“I know it’s not gonna be the end of my career,” Sandoval said. “It’s gonna be a tough road to get back quickly healthy and strong. That’s the thing that I’m gonna put my head after this at-bat.”
Aramis Garcia, up for his fourth stint with the Giants this year, will get the start at first base, but is mainly in the majors to act as the team’s third catcher. In 20 plate appearances in the majors this year, he’s slashing .167/.250/.500, while in the minors his slash line is .271/.343/.488.
Shaw, who was with the team last September as an outfielder, is back after slashing .294/.351/.559 in 481 plate appearances across Double-A and Triple-A, including a three homer game on Thursday night in Sacramento’s division-clinching win over the Reno Aces. The organization is pleased with his improved approach at the plate, and that progress is what got him the call.
“Quality of at-bat, that was the big focus for me this year,” Shaw said. “Not swinging at stuff that I can’t drive, and honestly, just relaxing and being competitive. I got away from that last year. I was trying to do too much at the plate. Just really getting back to my roots and just going up there and just hitting. See ball, react.”
Shaw will be used off the bench for now. He will get a start or two at first base down the stretch, but for the time being, his role will be either as a pinch hitter, or he will be double-switched into games.
Menez has made three starts for the Giants this year, pitching 12 2/3 innings with a 7.11 ERA. In Sacramento, he’s thrown 61 1/3 innings with an ERA of 4.84. After getting sent down, he spent time working on his fastball command, which he feels is what was contributing to his high walk totals and holding him back.
Smith, a waiver claim from Milwaukee on August 12, has a 2.63 ERA in 92 innings in the extremely hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. Across parts of three major-league seasons with the Padres, Royals, and Brewers, he’s appeared in 55 games (13 starts) with a 6.87 ERA. Smith and Menez are both in the bullpen for now, but they are also able to start if the need arises.
“I think the players see the excitement of these guys getting called up,” Bochy said. “It’s been a grind down here for them. This is an exciting time.”
Also in the clubhouse and expected to be activated soon is starter Johnny Cueto, who made his final rehab appearance for Sacramento Saturday night, pitching six scoreless innings, giving up just four hits and no runs, and striking out six.
“Physically, I have felt good in all the [rehab] outings,” Cueto said through translator Erwin Higueros. “It’s just executing. It’s just putting the pitches where you want, doing with the ball what you really want, and yesterday was one of those days that I actually was able to put the ball where I wanted to.”
While the team hasn’t yet set a firm date for his first start this year, Cueto is excited to get back on a major-league mound after a 13-month rehab process, where he was able to work through some of the harder days with the help of some kids just starting out.
“The kids at the minor league complex, they’re the ones that pushed me and motivated me to go work,” Cueto said. “I also know that I needed to work to get back here. I also had the motivation to help the team now that they’re in the playoff stretch.
It hasn’t been easy for Cueto to make his way back, but he’s at the end of that journey now, and he’s echoing what Sandoval, about to take his first steps on the same road, had to say.
“This is a long road,” Cueto said. “You gotta work hard. You gotta be strong mentally. It hasn’t been easy, but look where I am right now.”