Programming note: Dodgers-Giants coverage starts tonight at 5:30 p.m. with Giants Pregame Live on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area
SAN FRANCISCO – The Giants began the season with Brandon Belt as their first baseman, with Michael Morse and Buster Posey next on the depth chart and Joaquin Arias or even Pablo Sandoval in a pinch.
Travis Ishikawa? He wasn’t supposed to make an appearance. Not until 2020, anyway, when the World Series team has its customary 10-year reunion.
But here he stands, back in the organization and in the lineup for a critical game against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the fire of a pennant race. With Belt and Morse still out, Ishikawa is forming the left-handed portion of a platoon at first base and he’s batting seventh as the Giants try to defeat right-hander Zack Greinke for the first time in his six starts against them.
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Ishikawa began the year with the Pirates but got designated and was told he’d be a reserve at Triple-A Indianapolis. It wasn’t the demotion that bothered him as much as the fact he wouldn’t be playing. So he opted out of his contract. He said he never dreamed the Giants would call, since they appeared to be well covered at the major league level. But when he glanced at Triple-A Fresno’s roster, he saw all the first basemen they were using – Mark Minicozzi, Adam Duvall – were listed as third basemen. So he gladly signed back, at least comfortable knowing he’d likely play and see some familiar faces.
Not only did Ishikawa make it back to the big leagues, but he’s batting .321 with two home runs in 37 games since joining the Giants in late August.
It’s apparent to anyone who’s been around him: He’s looser, smiling more and although it’s hard to put your finger on it, he seems to be taking command of his at-bats from the first pitch.
“Well, I thought he was a pretty good pinch hitter before,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “He has that calmness about him. Now it’s more the attitude. He seems like he’s really having fun now. He’s really enjoying his role.”
Young players often fret when they don’t play, Bochy said, and no wonder. Every professional athlete has a finite window to perform and put up numbers that form the basis for future earnings. When you’re spending your 20s on the bench, the clock ticks awfully loud.
“When they learn to accept it and enjoy it, they’ll probably be better at it,” Bochy said.
Ishikawa is 7-for-17 as a pinch hitter (.412) and hit his first splash home run off the bench Friday night.
Now, as for those other first basemen…
Brandon Belt will face live pitching Monday in Arizona, although Bochy wasn’t sure if it’d be at the complex or in a simulated game situation at Chase Field. Either way, Bochy said “at some point next week, I could see him activated” from the concussion DL.
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Morse is running and taking grounders but his strained oblique isn’t quite healed enough for him to start taking batting practice. He could be cleared to begin BP on Monday or Tuesday. So it’s sounding as if Morse will be out for the entire three-game series at Arizona.
One more update: Hector Sanchez said he has felt much better and had much more energy over the past week and his concussion symptoms haven’t returned when he lifts or runs. He won’t play again this season, but he’s hoping that following a visit to see Dr. Micky Collins in Pittsburgh next week, he’ll be cleared to join La Guaira for winter ball in Venezuela. Sanchez said he wouldn’t risk catching over the winter, but he’d like to play first base and DH so his swing is ready next spring. He’s missed a lot of at-bats either because of the injury or his backup role, and he’ll need to make up for lost time – especially since his ability to turn around a fastball might be the skill that allows him to continue his career, if it turns out he can’t catch again.