SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – You’ll hear a lot over the next six weeks about the Giants’ opening-day roster and which two or three jobs might be up for grabs.
But there is a variable that can impact any roster decision at any time: health.
Javier Lopez provided a benign reminder of that on Tuesday. He tried to short-hop a throw and it hit him on the top of the left hand near his wrist. Having broken my wrist twice myself, I know there are a couple of little bones in there that can break if they get hit in the right spot.
For good measure, the ball also deflected up and hit Lopez in the face. He stayed on his back in the outfield grass for a minute as trainers attended to him, then walked to the clubhouse under his own power and was taken for X-rays that ruled out a fracture.
Lopez got so lucky that he didn’t even have a fat lip – which is important, since photo day is Wednesday.
“He’s probably trying to get a couple days off in spring training,” said Giants manager Bruce Bochy, smiling.
Lopez was fine, but the incident was a reminder that this is a long spring and the No. 1 goal is always to get through it with as many healthy bodies as possible. The World Baseball Classic will provide one more potential obstacle to that end, especially since the Giants currently have 11 players in major league camp scheduled to take part. (Lopez, even pre-incident, was expected to remove himself from Puerto Rico’s provisional list, though.)
I remember one spring covering the Angels when Adam Kennedy got hit on the hand by an inside pitch from Mark Guthrie that broke the second baseman’s hand. He was out for six weeks, and that allowed a minor leaguer plucked off waivers from the Red Sox to make the team.
His name was David Eckstein, and he became a World Series MVP a few years later with the St. Louis Cardinals.
Back then, Eckstein was just a roster filler plucked off waivers, and a curiosity because he looked like one of the clubhouse assistants. But he got the break he needed, and never looked back.
I always remind myself of that spring whenever I think a non-roster player has no shot of making the club. As Dave Righetti told me the other day, he has 36 pitchers in camp and “they’re here because someone thought they could be a big leaguer. So that’s the way I’m going to look at them – with the same respect.”
Well said. And if they can avoid a black eye on the eve of photo day, all the better.
Team USA manager Joe Torre visited Scottsdale Stadium and held a lengthy chat with Bruce Bochy and Brian Sabean. They did not talk about how a rule might be created or amended to afford catchers more protection from being targeted in collisions at the plate.
Torre said he remained open-minded to something that made sense. Thus far, he hasn’t heard anything worth serious consideration.
“That’s fair,” Bochy said. “He’s got to be convinced and that’s my job – to make a strong enough case.”
Bochy said he’s thought of specific rules changes that he hasn’t discussed in public before. He’d like to keep those ideas private as he continues to caucus with other managers in an effort to build consensus.
Left-hander Dan Runzler will have a hard time making the club, if only because the Giants already have three left-handed pitchers in the bullpen. But if Runzler shows he has command along with filthy stuff, he could force his way onto the team.
Bochy said he wouldn’t rule out a fourth lefty to go along with Jeremy Affeldt, Jose Mijares and Lopez. Clearly, though, the last spot in the bullpen is most likely to go to one of the non-roster veterans: Chad Gaudin, Ramon Ramirez or Scott Proctor, who is throwing a splitter he learned while pitching in Korea.
Don’t count out Runzler, though. He worked a lot of his mechanics last year, when he finally got healthy after a long battle with a lat strain he sustained in the final game of the 2011 season. His delivery isn’t nearly as “segmented,” as scouts call it, and he had an impressive first session against good buddy Buster Posey and other hitters.
“Especially stuff guys, it takes them a little while to command their fastball because they can blow it by guys,” Bochy said. “But Runz, he’s got too good an arm not to be in the big leagues.”
Right-hander Boof Bonser threw a side session instead of facing hitters. He’s still being brought along slowly after having arthroscopic elbow surgery in December.
Still no home runs in two days of live BP on the main field at Scottsdale Stadium, although Pablo Sandoval did hit a deep drive off Sergio Romo that two-hopped before hitting the center field fence.
Jose Alguacil is the Giants’ roving infield instructor and their chief recruiter in the Venezuelan Winter League, which is no small thing. Gregor Blanco came to the Giants in part because Alguacil and Meulens sold him on the club.
I asked Alguacil if he helped acquire any more surprises this winter. He gave me a name: Javier Herrera.
The 27-year-old outfielder was once a top prospect with the A’s (and was on Baseball America’s top-100 list in 2005 and ’06) before injuries took him off track. He had Tommy John surgery and was released by the A’s in 2009, then played for three teams in the independent Golden and Frontier leagues.
He had a solid showing for La Guaira in winter ball and will be in minor league camp.
“He could be the next surprise,” Alguacil said.