HOUSTON – The Giants were one stroke away from winning a ball game at Minute Maid Park on Tuesday night. And closer Camilo Duval refused to throw the ball.
“We were all yelling from the top of the dugout,” said quarterback Blake Sabol. “It was ‘Throw the ball! Anything you throw is good!’”
It’s never easy to decide what to throw to Yordan Alvarez, one of the best hitters on the planet. But the Giants went ahead 2-0. The bases were empty. The count was full. A field clock violation would have resulted in an automatic four punt and allowed the Houston Astros to bring the tying run to the plate. In this crucial circumstance, the breach simply could not have occurred.
So catcher Joey Bart used his second hit of the mound in the inning. And when the clock started ticking again, Bart climbed out of his perch again. The crowd booed when Bart made a third hill visit, with a short Cero Estrada joining the conversation to help overcome the language barrier.
One 101.2 mph catch and one swing later, the Giants snapped their four-game losing streak. They made a winner out of Anthony Disclavany, who picked off a tired, gut-challenged team by shooting eight pit stop runs. And when they needed a young hunter to take charge of a big moment, Bart did what was necessary.
“I think that was our last visit,” Bart said. “We got on the pitch and won the game there. I told him four seams, just throw the fastball away, it’s game over. I think he was waiting for me to send it back through PitchCom, which I did but I don’t think he heard him. Then she started giving signals between my legs And things accelerated.
“At that point, I was on it and the stash was on it. We were able to use that last visit and drive it away.”
Exactly one month ago, the case of catching giants was furthest from being squared. They had Sabol, a base 5 pick, on the Opening Day roster along with Bart and veteran Roberto Perez. And during that season-opening series in New York, they signed former Yankees All-Star player Gary Sanchez to a minor league contract with a salary of $4 million in the major leagues. Then before that series’ final game in the Bronx on April 2, Bart was a late scratch from his first start behind the plate and was instead placed on the 10-day injured list due to lower back tightness.
It was fair to wonder when Bart would be on the active list again.
But Bart is still here while the others are not.
First, the Giants lost Perez to season-ending shoulder surgery. Now Sanchez is out of the picture. He told the Giants he’ll opt out of his contract if they don’t add him to their major league roster by Tuesday. The Giants refused to do so. Although Sanchez was seemingly promised a final spot on the team once he got up to speed in Triple A, he went only 9-for-55 (. 164) with no home runs in 16 games for Sacramento.
The Giants also didn’t hesitate to burn another piece of depth in April when they added Austin Wiens to provide coverage for a few games and then lost him on a waiver claim to the Dodgers.
There’s always switch-hitting catcher Patrick Bailey, the Giants’ first-round pick in 2020, looming far and wide after the team promoted him to Sacramento from Double-A Richmond last week. But the Giants would like Bailey’s promotion to be a developmental decision and not based on the needs of a major league roster.
Otherwise, the Giants look ready to roll with Bart and Sabol behind the plate and live with the growing pains.
“I heard about[Sanchez],” Bart said. “I talked to Gary when I was on rehab assignment. Great dude. He’s obviously got a great past, you know, catching up with the Yankees. I wish him well moving forward. I’m sure somebody’s going to pick him up. He’s got a lot of talent.”
“But I try not to focus on that kind of thing. Just do my job and become a better player. That’s really my focus.”
Bart couldn’t talk Duvall out of throwing his catcher to Alvarez, but the coaches noted that the catcher was more forthright with everyone on the crew including the veterans. Bart made a long visit to the mound in the fourth inning when DeSclafani, who was shooting his own game on a PitchCom keyboard on his belt, wanted to throw a fastball away.
“I was on board with it, no discussion needed,” said Disclavaney. “He has the same opinion in the discussion. I just have an override.”
“He was trying to throw a pitch that I didn’t like as maybe the best hitter in baseball,” Bart said. “I don’t like to do that. I like men to be condemned for what they do because he earned it. I’m there to support him. He’s earned the right to throw whatever he wants.”
But still the catcher’s place is to act as an advisor, whether their advice is accepted or not.
Bart admitted his communication with Duvall “isn’t great. I’m doing the best I can. I think he understands me. The way to approach him is to match his calm. I don’t want to do anything to speed him up or stress him out. The way he is. And he’s a hell of a pitcher, man. He’s He’s got a real gift. So in this case, I don’t think it’s worth it for me to go out there and try to push him. It’s really like, ‘Hey, here we go.'” Four seams apart. Ballgame over. Let’s go home.'”
Bart was able to use the mound hits on three separate occasions in the ninth over because DeSclafani mostly bagged as he cruised his eight innings. When a batter from the cleat yielded a single and a throw with two outs in the eighth inning, manager Gabe Kapler went to check on him. DeSclafani was allowed to face another batter and grounded Jake Meyers on the right-hander’s 109th pitch. DeSclafani held the Astros on three batters and grounded the inside half of the plate while uncharacteristically getting 15 of his own in the air.
“Honestly, I didn’t feel comfortable starting the game,” said Disclavagne. “I felt like I had some luck. At first, I didn’t think I’d get eight goals.”
This sequel was very personal, though DeSclafani didn’t walk much. He has struck out just three walks in 38 innings over six starts and has a 2.13 ERA. The Giants rank in the top five among starting pitchers in the major leagues with 2.69 walks per nine innings pitched. DeSclafani (0.71), Alex Cobb (1.1), and Logan Webb (1.2) entered Tuesday in third, sixth, and seventh, respectively.
Kappler cites walking rate — a reliable consistent statistic — as a reason for optimism about his pitching team.
“We’ll really learn how powerful it is when there are fewer home runs (by opponents),” said Kapler. “You limit walking, you miss bats, you win baseball games. Unfortunately, we have stretching exercises where the ball goes out of the field.”
He may have the same optimism for his batters after watching them draw nine times on Tuesday night. They cashed in just one of the free passes. Jock Pederson and Michael Conforto pulled back-to-back walks in the fourth inning and Sabol hit a double off Crawford’s bins in left field to score a run in the fourth inning. The Giants scored their other run in the first inning when Estrada hit a one-out, stole second base and came home on a Pederson hit.
Estrada has reached base four times and still looks like the Giants’ best offensive player—and the only one who doesn’t have to fall back on a run from one station to the next. He raised his average to . 342 and his on-base percentage to . 397. The Giants aren’t pushing themselves to give up Mauricio Dupont last season. But the battered New York Yankees may regret not keeping Estrada before the Giants got him for the money at the start of the 2021 season.
The Astros were able to put cover on Estrada in the fourth inning, though. Catcher Yainer Diaz threw a hit to second base to catch him attempting a steal. Diaz made another perfect throw to catch runner Austin Slater in the eighth. It’s amazing to see those quick transitions and perfect throws when you’ve been watching the Giants all season. They caught four of the 27 base stealers, or 15 percent. The league average is 20 percent.
Their placement behind the plate is far from perfect. Some nights and some roles, it can get downright ugly. But at least he’s starting to focus now.
When you feel that you own your position, it may be a little easier to feel that you own the moment when it matters most.
(Top photo of Giants catcher Joey Bart visiting pitcher Anthony Disclavani: Kevin M. Cox/Associated Press)
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