By Doug Bruzzone
Special to S.F. Examiner
AT&T PARK — For the last couple of years, Steven Okert was immediately distinctive on the field because of his hair, a flowing blond mane that reached his shoulders. But last month he cut it to a standard, short cropped look.
“I just thought it was time,” Okert said. “It wasn’t as good looking as [Dereck Rodriguez]’s. Thought I’d start over.”
Like many of the Giants, Okert was certainly looking to start over after a tough 2017. In 27 major league innings last season, the 27-year-old left-handed reliever sported a 5.67 ERA, and spent most of the year riding the Capitol Express train between the Bay Area and Triple-A Sacramento.
On the surface, Okert’s numbers in Triple-A this year don’t suggest a whole lot has changed. This season, he appeared in 33 games for the River Cats, pitching 31 2/3 innings with a 4.55 ERA.
However, if you look a little closer, you’ll find that 11 of his 16 earned runs in Sacramento came in two games. The first was a five-run inning against the Tacoma Rainiers in mid-April when he suffered a lat strain and tried to pitch through it, losing effectiveness along the way. In the second disaster game, he gave up seven runs (six earned) in a third of an inning in Albuquerque.
“Honestly, I just had to forget completely about it, just act like it never happened,” he said. “That’s about as bad as it can be, seven runs, six earned, and one out.”
And it worked. In the two months after that Albuquerque game, Okert sported a 2.37 ERA, giving up fewer home runs and fewer hits overall on his way to reclaiming a spot on the major league roster in September.
“He’s really attacking the strike zone really well,” catcher Nick Hundley said. “He has a real good grasp on both his breaking balls. He’s been getting ahead in counts in the sample size he’s been up here.”
To Okert, the difference comes down to relying on his teammates to help with his mental approach.
“Talking to Javy [Lopez], [Jeremy] Affeldt, Will [Smith], [Tony Watson], all these guys we’ve got that are great. Even our right handed relievers,” Okert said. “Basically, how they prepare themselves and look at hitters. I feel like that’s helped me a lot.”
As for what he’s trying to accomplish this September, Okert is keeping it simple. “Just try to do anything I can to help up win a game and do my job here when Bochy calls on me.”
Brandon Belt went for an MRI on his injured knee, according to manager Bruce Bochy. As of game time, the results had not come in, but Bochy indicated that there was a possibility the injury could be season ending.Brandon BeltMLBSan Francisco Giantssteven okert