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Yastrzemski’s big bat backs Bumgarner

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The 28-year-old grandson of a baseball legend wrote yet another chapter to one of the most compelling stories of the Giants’ 2019 season Friday night at Oracle Park.

Since rookie Mike Yastrzemski was called up to the big leagues in late-May, he’s contributed to one of the most productive outfields both defensively and offensively San Francisco (66-68)  has fielded in years. Leading off against the Padres (62-72) in the Giants 8-3 victory, he flexed both muscles behind another stunner from ace Madison Bumgarner (W, 9-8, 3.62 ERA).

This story has been updated with quotes and post-game material from the Giants clubhouse at Oracle Park.

Yastrzemski was drafted by the Orioles in 2013 and spent six years chasing his dream in the minor leagues. After finally clawing his way up to the Orioles Triple-A affiliate in Norfolk, Virginia, midway through the 2016 minor-league season, he spent the next two years wavering between Double-A and Triple-A, never getting his shot.

On the last day of Spring Training this year, the Giants acquired the grandson of the great Carl Yastrzemski for pitching prospect Tyler Herb. And, unlike Baltimore, they did not leave Yaz the younger to languish.

After hitting 12 bombs in 40 games with the River Cats in Sacramento and slashing .316/.414/.676, San Francisco called him up to make his debut May 25 and he’s never looked back.

With the Giants he’s played stellar defense in right field while providing power and prowess at the plate, impressing his manager and teammates alike.

According to Baseball Reference, going into Friday’s contest he had been worth 2.0 wins above replacement (WAR), which is second-best on the team behind Evan Longoria (2.5), who’s played 23 more games in 2019 than Yastrzemski. And Fangraphs tracks him at nine defensive runs saved (DRS) on the season.

Of being told about his value in WAR to the Giants, Yastrzemski said:

“Honestly, I still don’t really even understand what that stat means. It doesn’t mean a whole lot to me. I just want to be written in the lineup and have Boch have confidence to put me in there, and just try and win ballgames.”

A seventh-inning dinger Friday was his 18th in the big leagues this year, tying him with Posey for the most dingers in a Giants rookie season since 2010. That tally also means he has the third-most among all rookies in the big leagues this season.

Skipper Bruce Bochy  said he’s enjoyed watching Yaz seize his opportunity and he’s grateful that the Giants front office had the foresight to acquire the outfielder:

“It’s a great story, he’s really logged his time in the minor leagues, he finally gets this opportunity and the way he’s run with it and the at-bats that he gives you … I couldn’t be happier for the guy. It was probably frustrating for him at times when he couldn’t get that opportunity.”

As Bochy noted, he hasn’t wasted the opportunity.

Against San Diego on Orange Friday he led the Giants offense to success from pitch No.1, facing a Padres team that would retire him just once in four plate appearances. Behind him in the order, Brandon Belt and Buster Posey, both of whom have been mired in sub-par seasons, latched onto Yaz’s coattails with excellent nights of their own, contributing to a crooked number and an end to a three-game losing streak for San Francisco.

Leading off against San Diego starter Dinelson Lamet (L, 2-3, 4.24 ERA) in the bottom of the first, Yastrzemski walloped the righty’s very first pitch of the ballgame — a 95-mph fastball — down the first-base line with an exit velocity of 103.7-mph. The ball tipped off Padres first baseman Eric Hosmer‘s glove and bounced all the way into the right-field corner, landing Yaz on third base. The official scorer gave Hosmer an error for failing to wrangle the rocket.

Belt said Yastrzemski has been fun to watch this season:

“You don’t expect guys to come up and play like that right away and he did. And [even] when he struggled earlier, he found ways to to get out of it and to be successful and productive at this level. That’s hard to find in young players, so it’s been a lot of fun to watch.”

Belt, who went 3-for-5 with a homer and three RBIs Friday, didn’t let up against Lamet. He came up right after Yaz and swatted Lamet’s third pitch of the ballgame over Levi’s Landing (16) to give San Francisco a 2-0 lead right out of bed.

Meanwhile, Bumgarner tossed seven innings of dominant ball. He struck out nine Friars, eight of them whiffs, and limited San Diego to just one run on four hits. The one run came on the Padre’s super-star offseason addition Manny Machado‘s solo shot (28) in the fourth. 

While his pitching was top-notch it was battle of wills between him and home plate umpire Manny González, who made several calls with which the big lefty seemed to disagree. Ultimately Bumgarner came up with a hat trick at the plate, but the other bats in the lineup got the job done for him.

Though Lamet silenced San Francisco bats for most of the remainder of his outing, striking out 10 Giants, he lasted just five frames. And in his final inning, Yaz came back to terrorize him again.

Lamet had nibbled around the strike zone and eventually walked Yastrzemski in the second inning, in the wake of the hard contact Yastrzemski made against him in the first.

But facing Lamet for the third time as he led off the fifth, Yastrzemski sent another first pitch on a long ride, this one over the left-field wall for an opposite-field solo homer (18) to put the Giants up, 3-1.

In the past, power was not something Yastrzemski excelled in. He never hit more than 10 homers in a season. But between Sacramento and San Francisco, he has 40 in 2019 and he said he attributes it to some work he did in the offseason and simply getting older and perhaps wiser:

“I never really expected to do that, and honestly, I haven’t tried to, either. It’s just something that gives you confidence when you take a good swing, you’re hoping to get a good result. But just sticking with the process is the best thing to do.”

He said the ballpark he played in with the Orioles Triple-A affiliate, the Norfolk Tides, for several years contributed to his learning and evolving:

“I played in a really, really tough ballpark to hit in, in Norfolk. The wind there just beats you down and so I would get frustrated and try and hit it even harder and further. And that wasn’t the answer, so I’m trying to just figure out how to hit the ball on the barrel more consistently.”

Lamet escaped the inning without allowing further damage, but at 95 pitches, his night was over. 

The Giants would add on five more facing San Diego reliever Robbie Erlin over two innings. Erlin gave up five consecutive singles to open the sixth, one of which was Posey’s third single of the evening, but naturally, the lead-off single came off the bat of Yastrzemski.

By the time Erlin got the Friars off the field the Giants were up, 6-1.

Of Yaz’s contribution this season, Bumgarner was effusive:

“It’s definitely nice to have him out there. I think everybody’s appreciative of what he’s done, and it’s awesome to see.”

In the seventh, Erlin gave up a lead-off double to Austin Slater before finally retiring Yastrzemski for the first time all night. But Belt and Evan Longoria then hit back-to-back doubles to add on a couple more insurance runs. 

Belt has spent the better part of the summer slumping, and has just started to find his rhythm at the plate again in the last few games. Of the work he’s done he said:

“I think I just want to be more on time, I stayed in the middle of the field a lot this year, and that’s a good thing — that’s what you want to do — but it’s kind of hurt me a little bit. It’s nice that whenever they’re throwing balls inside, I’m able to turn on ’em a little bit better and pull those balls down the line [now].”

The 8-2 lead was enough to give the Giants regular closer Will Smith the night off, allowing rookie submariner Tyler Rogers his second big league appearance.

Despite allowing a double to Machado and an RBI single to Hosmer, Rogers came away with his second successful outing, earning his first big league strikeout when he whiffed Nick Martini. 

Up Next

Rookie Logan Webb (1-0, 4.66 ERA) will make his third big league start facing Friars southpaw Joey Lucchesi (9-7, 4.11 ERA) in game three of four with the Padres Saturday night at Oracle Park. First pitch is scheduled for 6:05 p.m.

Notes

Kevin Pillar took a 2-2, 97.4-mph fastball from Lamet on the shoulder in the first inning. The heater ricocheted onto his jaw drawing Bochy and Giants training staff from the dugout to check on the centerfielder.

Bochy said there are no concerns about a serious injury and Pillar argued his way onto first base. He remained on the field for a full nine innings, something that impressed Bumgarner:

“He’s a tough guy — I knew he was anyway — but I like seeing stuff like that. I obviously don’t want him to get hit, but if you are and then to see someone [stay on the field like that] — he wants to play and, and we need him out there, so that was pretty cool to see.”


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